Author raises awareness of the difficulties around childbirth in US
"We are in a maternal mortality crisis."
Pregnancy and natal care in the country is at a breaking point, according to journalist Allison Yarrow.
Yarrow, who wrote the book "Birth Control: The Insidious Power of Men over Motherhood," said many of the medical guidelines and training are based on outdated and even racist concepts, and that in turn has led to serious complications for birthing parents and their newborns.
Yarrow sat down with ABC News Live's Phil Lipof to talk about her book, her own personal experiences and what needs to change to help birthing parents.
ABC NEWS LIVE: I think right off the bat, you tell everybody what you're going to do in this book. You say, "Birth is dangerous, medicine is safe." That's the narrative, but it's far from reality, and that's what we're all told.
ALLISON YARROW: The reality is that birth in America and how we become parents is broken, and that's because of a number of factors, but one of the big ones is that we are led to believe that birth is scary, [and] that it's dangerous routinely.
ABC NEWS LIVE: Every time we see it in a movie, right?
YARROW: Every time we see it in a movie, you see [a] cut to the gurney flying down the hall, right? The woman is screaming. She's crazy, right? The doctor's the only sane one in the room. Right? This narrative, this is the narrative that I grew up with. This is what birth is like. We know from the research. The safest thing for you is to look at birth as a physiologic experience. It is a process in the body, but we have made it into a procedure in a hospital.
ABC NEWS LIVE: You're an award-winning journalist. This is not your first book, and you did extensive research for this book, but you also had life experience. You gave birth three times, two at the hospital, one at home. So you have real experience with both. In your experience, which do you think was safer and better?
YARROW: I preferred my homebirth, and that was because I was given space. I was given time. I was under the care of a midwife and a doula. We had a really strong, [and] trusting relationship.
My two first births in the hospital were great births, but there were ways in which I was plugged into a managed care system where I had to sort of fend off care that I didn't want. I felt coerced into care, that I didn't need: pelvic exams [and] they asked if, can we break your water when I was taking too long and I didn't want that to happen. I wanted to go into labor, naturally, but I felt pressured.
ABC NEWS LIVE: In your chapter, "Childbearing Hips…" you write how birth became increasingly medicalized and even in your words, "racist," being based on beliefs from the past that pelvises and baby's heads come out in different shapes and sizes. So how did that shape the modern birthing industry?
YARROW: We are in a maternal mortality crisis. It's the highest it's been in my lifetime. And Black women are three to four times more likely to die. Their pain is not believed when they claim that they have pain. And what I try to show in this chapter in "Childbearing Hips" is that this is rooted in anthropology this idea, that Black birthing hips are hearty and pain tolerant, that white birthing hips are frail and fragile and require medicine. And these ideas, though they're old, they're old medical textbooks, old journal articles, they still they show up today in the care.
ABC NEWS LIVE: The book is not only for men, but doctors as well. What do you want men and doctors to take away from this book
YARROW: I want pregnant people and people who want to be pregnant to read this book to protect themselves. I want people who have given birth but had experiences that were less than rosy, [and] not what they expected to feel validated by this. And for doctors and men and midwives, everyone who cares for people who are pregnant and giving birth, I want them to see that, yes, their experiences matter too. I want them to seek to be validated in reading these pages. And what we need is we need a medical system that can support the birthing body. Giving birth can support after the birth, during the postpartum period.
And I think what would really help is often when women are giving birth. Not all birthers are women. Some people who give birth do not identify as women and mothers. They identify as birthing people, but most people identify as women and mothers, and many of their partners are men. So their men are already there. They're in the room. They're at the doctor's visit. You're invested, you're there. So you can do so much to ensure that your partner is being listened to, [and] being heard.
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