Institutional vs. Family Thinking
[Excerpt from The Home Birth Advantage by Mayer Eisenstein, M.D.]
I have found no one who writes today about the demise of the American family has explored the negative impact of hospital birth. I believe that the decision to have an institutional hospital birth is at the heart of the destruction of American family life. The family starts with birth, and home birth traditionally was a cornerstone of strength in a family’s life. Hospital birth deprives the new family of this most primal and strengthening experience.
In 1920, when birth was leaving the home and entering the hospitals in the U.S., there was an outcry. People didn’t like it. There was a rise in infant and maternal mortality in the hospital. But control of birth, medical schools and hospitals were in the hands of powerful and wealthy families like the Rockefellers and the Morgans. It was in the best interest of their financial empires to influence the move of laboring women to hospitals. A major study as early as 1933 showed that hospital births were not as safe as home births.
It seems inevitable that if families are strong in a society, then the institutions are weak; and if the institutions are strong, then families are weak. Our American institutional way of life is firmly implanted. Our families have been weakened by powerful economic and political forces most interested in perpetuating themselves.
You don’t find people these days who will tell you that they were happy with the hospital births of their children. They may be pleased to leave the hospital with their new babies but at best describe the hospital experience as necessary if one wants a baby.
It is never described as an emotionally uplifting moment, not as the greatest day in their lives, not as the happening that brought them closer than ever before, but as a necessary experience if you want to have a baby. Hospital birth is something new mothers try to forget quickly. A mother who wants to have another hospital birth in the future has to block the experience from her mind in order to have the courage to go through the experience another time. The hospital is a necessary experience only if one knows of no other way of having a baby.
Institutional childbirth will never be a joyous experience because institutions do not aim to please any of the families they serve. They aim to perpetuate their own existence. In the U.S. the goal of hospitals is to ensure that you feel dependent on them. This dependent feeling guarantees that you will call on the institution again and again. The hospital will step in to weaken your family’s strength. They will deliver your baby, direct the care and feeding of your baby, cure your illnesses, take care of your elderly family members for you and manage your death. And they extract a great price, personal and financial, for their services.
If an institution can control the beginnings of your family life, the birth of your first child, then they can control everything else in your life. They “help” you decide on institutional formula feedings for your baby; institutional day care, maybe even from birth; institutional schooling beginning at a very early age; institutional careers to which your children may aspire; even the institutional care of anyone in your family who is sick or dying.
In contrast, “family thinking” brings questions and problems back to the family to solve rather than taking them to the institution. Dr. Robert Mendelsohn, on of America’s leading pediatricians, used to say that one grandmother was worth two pediatricians. Families can provide their own “in-house” birthing rooms, child care systems, educational opportunities and care of the sick and dying.