Then there are those like my young self and young Kate in Chapter 3 who, in classic teenage denial, steer well clear of the doctors and any form of pregnancy confirmation, until the onset of morning sickness at 6 - 8 weeks confirmed our worst possible fears!
More and more nowadays, pregnancy (with its predominantly medical approach) is becoming a routine. It has become routine in the sense of – “It’s nothing to worry about. We’ve seen lots of these pregnancy thingies before”, and also routine in the sense of – this follows that follows this follows that. It has become neatly mapped out week by week, rather like there is some model plan for gestation a woman and a baby should fit into. It is a model in the sense of – something not quite real but made up out of bits and pieces to make a miniature version of the real thing look sort of like a whole. It has also become a model in the sense of – “the proper way it should be done”.
Within the usual medical model of care, pre-natal checkups are advised every 4 weeks up to about 20 weeks pregnant. From 20 to 36 weeks the recommendation is for fortnightly. From 36 to 40 weeks weekly checkups are the norm and beyond that, a woman may be advised to be monitored twice weekly until the birth. This makes a rough total of 20 visits. Whilst some women may attend more or less than this, many women are comforted by these checkups, most of which serve no other purpose than to confirm that everything is alright. And, if by chance it isn’t – “well, we’ll know sooner rather than later and can then do something about it”.
Most doctors and many women see all this medical management of pregnancy as a sign of human advancement, through which the woman is better informed and feels more secure about her progress. Her pregnancy is examined, measured, charted, prodded and poked, and records are kept of every aspect so that everybody knows more about everything, and the primary desired outcome (a live, non-deformed baby) is achieved.
To these ends there is an ever-increasing armoury of tests and procedures which are available to a woman and her doctor. Some are designed to simply forewarn of likely birth complications whilst others may be used for foetal selection (i.e. termination of undesired sorts of babies) or else in-utero treatment. Some tests are considered worthy of compulsion and others are seen more as informational tools. Here I will only be describing their procedures in brief. In a later section entitled “An Alternative View of Pregnancy Tests” on page 166, they are critiqued from the natural pregnancy and natural birthing standpoints.
In the end, the necessity and benefits of any medical technique should come down to a woman (and her partner) being fully informed about each test’s true purpose, methods, outcomes, advantages, disadvantages and so on. As the mother carrying that child, ultimately, each test you opt for and its outcome is fully your responsibility.
Most first time mothers attend the free (or very cheap) pre-natal classes run by the hospital in which they will be having their baby. These classes usually cover the anatomy and physiology of childbirth, the range of hospital procedures you may encounter, and a bit of pre-birth psyching. They are usually run over a 4 to 6 week program, fill up quickly and don’t always fit into the woman’s timetable for birth. Therefore, some women do the course too early to remember much, some don’t complete the course before the baby is due and others miss out completely.
These hospital pre-natal classes have some-times come under criticism for merely promoting hospital birthing procedure, rather than actually educating women on all their birthing options, the likely outcomes of those options, and providing them with real and practical birthing preparation. However there are a growing number of independent childbirth educators who are not influenced by hospital policy and who approach birth as a holistic experience for a woman, not just a medical one. Such teachers offer courses in the broader community that focus on providing unbiased information, practical advice and maternal support wherever a woman is choosing to give birth.
Pre-natal tests can be broken into two categories: those which monitor the health of the mother, and those investigating the status of the unborn baby. If you are attending a general clinic or a private doctor for your pre-natal care, many of these tests will be done simply as routine, whereas if you are planning a homebirth with an independent midwife, she will discuss with you any necessity for any of these tests and together you can make appropriate decisions.
Every medical procedure, and more so the invasive ones used upon pregnant women, can carry some element of risk, and your medical practitioner is obliged to inform you of those risks and obtain your consent before performing any screening procedure.
Blood Pressure. A mother’s blood pressure is usually monitored regularly during pregnancy. Raised blood pressure, also known as hyperten-sion, can lead to maternal stroke, kidney