Traditions are cornerstones in any society. They develop out of what are usually common-sense responses to common needs. Usually, the needs are basic and deeply felt, and the responses are simple, becoming more sophisticated and complex as time passes and the society evolves. Traditions are typically more static than the society which spawns them; ultimately society must evaluate their usefulness and desirability.
Giving birth to new members of the population is a most fundamental need anywhere. Every social group develops ways to deal with birthing, and each method is shaped by its cultural attitudes toward cleanliness, birth, death, anatomy, sex, fresh air, “health care,” and a host of other things. In short, there is no way to separate a society’s traditions for birthing from its cultural perceptions of life as a whole.
Our society gave birth to the super-scientific approach to solving problems and meeting needs, medical, surgical, and obstetric practice not the least to be affected. The scientific traditions developed during the last 50 years pervade every aspect of our lives. Our society welcomed these new directions almost without exception, wholeheartedly and actively incorporating them into the fabric of American living. The tradition was born in order to meet needs. It, and the society, evolved together to a point. Now one senses that the scientific tradition and the society are moving apart. The need to evaluate the tradition’s usefulness and suitability against a background of new ideas and perceptions is clear to many.
Many? How many? Actually, not too many at all outside of small clusters around the country. America HAS embraced the scientific tradition. And, as with all traditions so deeply seated, it will take time, growth, new ideas and education to change things. This process has many faces; sincere people on all sides frustrated, anxious, proud, indifferent, patient, loving. The dedicated obstetrician at The Big Medical Center, surrounded by bright lights, stainless steel, and medications, is no less “right” than the brave and beautiful parents struggling to do it “naturally” in the warmth of their home. Right now, the perfect culmination of the scientific tradition’s logic, meticulous methodology, and rationality is what that obstetrician in his hospital represents. And that is precisely where most of America wants him.
Standing there, he offers everything we have come to desire in accordance with the traditions of the last 50 years: sterility, competence based upon years of high-powered training, security, convenience, control. In fact, we have grown so accustomed to those things that to be without them evokes a variety of unfortunate reactions, from simple disbelief to outright panic. In our evolving as a society we have allowed — most willingly — what was once simply a method for meeting needs to become a complex force which dominates much of our lives. A force which has us convinced that we are no longer capable of being anything like self-sufficient. As though without it we would somehow perish. In the eyes of those young parents birthing at homes, many of us have given up being responsible for our own lives and well being. We have turned that vital responsibility over to a cold, insensitive, soulless system. A system born out of the scientific tradition and represented by practitioners who no longer see patients as people in need, but as particles of data, objects for study, grist for the medical mills, or simply as sources of income.
Wow! you can see the passions flying on both sides with the slightest provocation. What will that get us? More of the same for sure. Possibly some satisfaction for our egos now and then. But not much progress in the redevelopment of ideas and re-education of everyone involved. Certainly some confusion and conflict will happen, that is part of the cycle as well. Hopefully, out of the chaos will come the calm and the Golden Mean will prevail as usual. Patience, wisdom, graciousness, truth, and the strength we derive from these will somehow restore men to their high position in the scheme of living things. Responsibility will be assumed by individuals for their own lives, and systems will be returned to their rightful places in service to mankind.
Women will be seen as Divine Mothers fulfilling a sacred and vital mission in childbirth. Fathers will be there to assist in fulfilling that mission. And medical practitioners and facilities will be there to help parents and children in the most loving, compassionate, and intelligent ways possible for every given set of circumstances.
We HAVE evolved as a society and we DO have an extraordinary scientific tradition. By appealing to the highest qualities in man, there is no reason we will not be able to create a new tradition, tapping all the resources of this wondrous age, all God given, for the uplifting and betterment of mankind. Perhaps we all need to evolve a little further for this to happen. All it takes is time.