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The Slow Childbirth Movement

The cesarean rate in the United States hit an all-time high of 31 percent in 2006, a record likely to stand only until figures are released for 2007, and then only until new numbers arrive for 2008. But are one-third of women actually unable to birth without high-tech support? And is there an endpoint in sight? I know of one large community hospital that is revamping its labor floor for a 50 percent cesarean delivery rate.In a recent essay on the subject of childbirth, surgeon and author Atul Gawande makes a case for the standardization of obstetrics. He lauds the obstetricians whose names live on in the many life-saving maneuvers to usher babies into the world, but observes, “Obstetricians decided that they needed a simpler, more predictable way to intervene when a laboring mother ran into trouble. They found it in the cesarean section.” While this is a fascinating perspective on the changing of obstetrical practice, industrialized childbirth conjures up images of the factory floor. In fact, cynical staff at hospitals serving large numbers of well-insured upper-middle-class women often refer to their i …

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