Friday, June 20, 2014

The War that Never Ended

The War that Never Ended
            Most people are taught that Americans slowly came out of their isolationism in the 1930s and ended up joining the fight in the second World War, eventually ending years of blood and violence with an ultimate act of attack. Ask any American and he or she will quickly tell you that our country is at a fair level of peace and that the World Wars ended, guiding us into not only a baby boom, but also a higher level of prosperity. In many ways, our entire population is in denial as to the effects and long term influence of going to war. We are, summarily, still stuck in a post-war period without healing in sight.

            The elite, the scientists, the followers of Hitler’s regime in that time, instead of surrendering in Germany, appear to have simply crawled over to our country and slowly influenced the values and behaviors of our population to this day. A popular point of contention in this topic is Margaret Sanger’s American Birth Control League, which she founded in 1921. This league included prominent members of euthanasia and eugenics groups, and was focused on passing laws in America to restrict the sexual freedoms of races or individuals deemed unfit to have children. The American Birth Control League was later changed to the name we now recognize today, Planned Parenthood

In 1938, The Montreal Gazette printed a list of prominent scientists and researchers of the time who were expanding the league to include euthanasia:

Mrs. F. Robertson Jones, honorary president of the American Birth Control League. Dr. Clarence Cook Little, managing director of the American Society for the Control of Cancer. Dr. George H. Parker, professor of zoology in Harvard University (Montreal Gazette, 19).

The cold, clinical science of the time rolled right into the industrial mindset, the two becoming a force against nature and gripping every part of our culture. We met it with open arms, indeed, it was an integral part of our fighting, unleashing plane upon plane into battle and putting every citizen to work. But, once the last bomb had dropped and the last soldiers lie prone on the ground in surrender, our assembly-line detachment towards other human beings had only just begun. 

With the Baby Boom spreading across the country, doctors and hospitals hurriedly turned the medical field into a cold and efficient industry. Women rushed out of their homes to work during the war and now men rushed in to an area that up to this time in history was almost exclusively reserved for females. Judith Rooks, in her book, Midwifery and Childbirth in America, points out the change:

Early in this century American obstetrics became committed to a path that has led to a highly medicalized approach to the care of women during pregnancy…robbing many women and their loved ones of a powerful, potentially life-enhancing experience. Highly medicalized pregnancy care is based on a view of pregnancy that focuses on its potential for pathology (Rooks 1).

Just as factories had taken raw materials and pieced together planes and ammo for the war in a speedy, efficient manner, doctors were now lining women up and delivering babies as if creating products on a tight deadline. And it took some marketing to persuade women to abandon their private homebirths and move into the assembly lines at the hospitals.

First, midwives and doulas needed to be discredited and scorned to restrict women’s choices and have women turn to the hospitals more readily. This was easy enough to do with carefully placed smear campaigns, utilizing the immigration politics and racism of that time. Keith, Reynolds and Brennan explored the use of photography to manipulate feelings about midwifery and physicians in their article, In Defense of Lay Midwifery: The Visual Culture of Midwife Education. 

The authors analyze one such photo, pointing out that the midwives were positioned in a particular way around state officials to portray a certain hierarchy of authority. In addition to tearing down the authority of midwives and the population’s trust in them, these and similar images, “also work to convince physicians that midwives pose no threat to the advancement of obstetric medicine (Keith, Reynolds, Brennan 2013).” War no longer involved Allies and Nazi soldiers, but had moved to the battle ground of wombs.

            While pushing a heavy campaign to change public opinion on care providers, the scientific approach leftover from the wars became the primary obstetrical behavior towards birth. Women were viewed as obstacles at best, tied to their hospital beds and blinded with head wraps for days, suffering on the Nazi invented Twilight drug. Medical interventions were used before establishing safety and effect on the mother and baby, resulting in several historical embarrassments. 

             For example, obstetricians began using x-ray technology on pregnant women to view inside the womb, unaware of the long-term detriments of this intervention. A drug called Thalidomide, derived from a chemical used for war crimes during the Holocaust, is heralded as the worst drug scandal in our history. It was heavily promoted by Nazi doctor Heinrich Muckter and another Nazi, Otto Ambros, who was convicted for war crimes. Heinrich was given large monetary bonuses from the drug’s company, Grunenthal, to promote it as a morning-sickness relief drug despite knowing its potential for birth defects. 

            Grunenthal patented the drug in 1954 as a sedative, claiming it was safe for pregnant women. Thousands of stillbirths and severely deformed babies resulted. The scandal sounds old, yet it was only in 2012 that the head of Grunenthal made amends, offering only a public apology, something Thalidomide survivors found offensively paltry. As Geoff Adams-Spink says, “Thalidomide has deprived us of the lives we should have had and many more of any life at all (Adams-Spink 2012).”

            The desire to innovate and intervene before considering the humanity and safety of the mother and child has continued to this day. Similar to a stealth battalion invading foreign ground for the upper hand, surgeons today speak of “going in to remove it” from the womb, extracting babies in a needlessly rough and detached way, without scientific evidence to prove the benefits of their methods and despite some scientific evidence pointing to great harm. 

            Cesarean surgery skyrocketed and continues to climb, posing increased risk of morbidity and mortality to the baby and mother. Inductions, which frame the birth in a controllable, timed context as opposed to waiting patiently or following the individual mother, are blamed for causing a 50% increase in c-sections and for increasing the risk of pre-term birth and birth injuries. The battleground in the womb has turned mother against child, using doctors as soldiers and medical instruments as weapons of war.
        Caution, patience and striving for humane standards fell to the side of the road as doctors donned their armor and entered the war in hospitals. As the American Medical Association boldly states:

In many U.S. hospitals today, the management of labor and delivery doesn’t look very evidence-based. Many well-intentioned obstetricians still employ technological interventions that are scientifically unsupported or that run counter to the evidence of what is safest for mother and child. They do so not because a well-informed pregnant woman has indicated her values contradict…They do so out of tradition, fear, and the (false) assumption that doing something is usually better than doing nothing (Sousa, Dreger 2013).

          Despite how Americans feel about previous wars, it’s clear that we as a society still need to acknowledge and process the experience of back to back war in our country, in addition to the ongoing wars in our current time. In some kind of twisted way, the trauma of war imbedded itself in the Baby Boom, carrying on the cycles of violence not out in a battlefield, but inside what should be the most peaceful and private area of our species.

            We must somehow address the overbearing themes of war and violence that took hold of the obstetrical industry before it is too late. Other developed countries have steadfastly improved their childbirth mortality and morbidity rates annually, while the U.S. stands alone in continuing to drop down the list. We are dead last for infants and mothers compared to our western counterparts. 

           The CIA ranks us at 136 out of 184 counted countries, meaning 135 other countries have better outcomes, horrifying, seeing as our country is in first place for amount of money spent on healthcare in the world. For the sake of our children and our country, it’s time for us to end the war.

Works Cited
"Move to Legalize "Mercy Killings"." Montreal Gazette, 17 Jan. 1938. Web. 1 May 2014. 

Rooks, Judith. Midwifery and Childbirth in America. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1997. Web.

Keith, Katherine, Marcia Brennan, and Preston Reynolds. "In Defense of Lay Midwifery: the Visual Culture of Midwife Education." University Of Virginia School Of Medicine, n.d. Web. 1 May 2014. 

Adams-Spink, Geoff. "Opinion: Why Thalidomide Apology Is Not Enough." CNN. 6 Sept. 2012. Web. 1 May 2014. 

Sousa, Aron C., and Alice Dreger. "The Difference Between Science and Technology in Birth." Virtual Mentor 15.9 (2013): . Web. 1 May 2014. 

"Maternal Mortality Rates." The World Factbook (2010): N. pag. Web. 1 May 2014.
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