Pushed is a dark piece of the pregnancy puzzle. Written by Jennifer Block, former editor at Ms. and an editor of the revised Our Bodies, Ourselves, it's a stark piece of investigative journalism focusing on current ob-gyn practices such as the planned caesarian, induction of labor, over-management of anesthesia, and other questionable interventions in the childbearing process.
Accompanying a midwife who works with the Amish, Block offers exhilarating first-person accounts of women in the final stages of labor, delivering their babies at home - generally called “unassisted birth,” though it may include the services of family or a midwife. Childbirth is a bloody, thrilling event with many risks, but since most pregnancies conclude normally, who can blame women for wanting to deliver their newborn directly into the bosom of the family? Nevertheless, the weight of the law is generally against them. One mother cited in Pushed went to the hospital with a slow but normally progressing labor and returned home determined to complete the process there. Moments before the baby was born, medical and law enforcement personnel burst into her home and forcibly transported her to the hospital against her will.
This is reading for the strong of stomach, even if you are female and have birthed some babies of your own by whatever method. The blood really gushes along with other body fluids, bodies are contorted, and there is genuine pain. Much of the action, appropriately, takes place in the wee witching hours of the night. I have a pregnant daughter and I’m not sure I would recommend she read Pushed.
There are important issues at stake that Block delineates with exhaustive care in Pushed. Sky-rocketing costs can be a significant barrier to hospital births; religious and cultural factors also play a role, along with previous negative birth experiences in conventional medical settings. Chemical experimentation with and benign neglect of women in labor are factors in creating suspicion of the whole OB machine. By contrast, midwives and mothers who have experienced home birth refer to it as “emergence, not emergency.”
Compelling and significant as Block’s findings may be, I found her agenda heavy-handed. I’m sure that mine is not an uncommon critique: childbirth is an event that we like to consign comfortably to a mental space that rates it as safe, legal and normal.
Mindful parents-to-be have a lot of crucial choices to make. Pushed exposes thought-provoking issues that can play into those decisions. It should be read. Just be warned: it’s strong stuff.