Gold Medal Performance

This week as the Olympic Games capture global attention, we think of success in terms of Gold, Silver and Bronze. And while I enjoy watching the athletes compete, I enjoy it more if I know more of their story than just what country they represent. I also think of how many things we don’t give out medals for, things where success isn’t measured in Gold, Silver or Bronze.

Imagine an Olympic event with the sports announcer, “And today the discipline we award medals for is who can birth the largest baby, and then tomorrow stay tuned as we watch the race for the fastest labor!” Such a ridiculous thought is hardly even laughable, and yet somehow in more subtle ways we attempt to make the idea of ‘success’ in childbirth something that can be quantified.

As a student, I completed about 95% of my clinical experience after I completed my academics. So when I first started, my academic knowledge outweighed my experience like an elephant trying to ride a unicycle.I had read about birth and complications and all manner of related information. As well as these books are written, and as much as I studied them, these things were still words and numbers on a page. Academics are a vital and important aspect of midwifery, but as my apprenticeship unfolded I became more aware of the reality that these words and numbers all equate with real people, who have real lives in a real world.

I am so glad to see that recently a large study by MANA (Midwives Alliance of North America) addressed the safety of homebirths. The study examines more than 16,000 planned homebirths from 2004 to 2009 where the woman consented at the beginning of her care to have her chart entered in the study. The size of this study is pretty impressive considering that homebirth still accounts for only about 1% of births in the United States. Over 89% of women who began labor at home succeeded in having a homebirth, the remaining 10% were transported to the hospital. The study included the outcomes of the women transported as well as those who had a homebirth and concluded that the risk of homebirth was relatively the same as the risk of hospital birth, but with fewer interventions.This is exciting additional proof of something the midwifery community has long been sure.Kudos to the many mothers, midwives, authors, and supporting staff needed to accomplish and publish a study such as this. Success for homebirth! I award a gold medal! (If you want to read the article you can find it here http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/jmwh.12172/abstract )

As I celebrate the findings of this study, I also think back to when the data was first being collected and one of my preceptors was participating in the study. It’s pretty crazy to think that a few of the births that were in the study were births I attended in some capacity. These I can connect with in ways beyond the ‘numbers’ on this page. These I can remember the anticipation, the defining moment, the anguish of pain, and the ecstasy of joy. From this I can better connect into the life lived beyond the pages of the study and into the homes and lives of the women behind those 16,000+ births. Births where success was not measured the place where birth actually occurred, but rather birth was an intimate and extraordinary event in these lives.

So tonight, I applaud the new MANA statistics study, I revel in the success of such a study, but I also applaud the women behind such a study, the real lives that are in the numbers we read on these successful ‘Gold Medal’ pages.To these women, in gratitude, I say thank you for allowing us all to benefit from your experience, whether your birth was one of textbook perfection or of great difficulty, thank you for letting us benefit from your ‘number’ and gather more information to those who will come after.