Sixteen years ago I made a decision that I’ll never regret. I chose to jettison my traditional Ob-Gyn for a (illegal-at-the-time) midwife. I labored in a big blow-up swimming pool and had Asher on the bed. Two years later, Solomon came so fast that he was born right into the water! I was a young healthy mom who lived just a stone’s throw from the hospital: an ideal candidate for home-birth.
But why prefer home if I could do things the usual way at the hospital? My research led me to a counter-intuitive conclusion.
Ob-Gyn’s are doctors. In fact, they’re surgeons. Like all doctors ought to be, they’re oriented toward something going wrong so that they can fix it. This all makes perfect sense. But pregnancy and birth, in and of themselves, constitute neither a disease nor a medical emergency. They’re perfectly natural processes in which the body functions just as it should. It’s true that things can go wrong, and every mom ought to be prepared for this possibility. One of the first things my midwife told me is that we might end up at the hospital! But something happens when we partner perfectly healthy laboring moms with worried surgeons. A laboring mom is strong but vulnerable. This is a deeply personal and intimate moment in her life. The medical approach to birth puts mom under bright lights, attaches her to several machines, denies her food, and limits her movement. If things don’t go fast enough, the doctor intervenes with Pitocin or manual breaking of the amniotic sac to induce labor, both of which can bring on contractions hard and fast. Then mom - in sudden pain - cries out for some relief, but the painkilling drugs she takes can slow down labor again, sometimes leading to c-section. Meanwhile, every indicator is tracked to avoid any bad outcomes. Nurses stare at the screens to which mom is attached.
Compared to European countries where midwives are the norm, American women have much higher rates of maternal and infant mortality. That’s a complicated fact and I’m not going to oversimplify it. But the guru of homebirth, Ina May Gaskin, argues that the medical approach to birth actually causes more medical problems by constantly interfering in a natural process. In contrast, a midwife surrounds mom with dim light and warm water, gives her yogurt and peanut butter for strength, and lets her try different positions. She walks her through the process of labor and birth with at-home pre- and post-natal care, calming reminders to stay relaxed through contractions, massage, and helpful suggestions on things to try to speed up labor or find a comfortable position to birth in. See the difference?
So what does all this have to do with police?
The truly terribly named movement, Defund the Police, has a few perfectly reasonable ideas about getting police out of situations that aren’t appropriate to their skill set. Police are armed detectives. But they end up doing marriage counseling, mental health work, and elementary school security. That’s a crazy range of things to ask police to do, and there’s no way they can be good at them all, particularly given their worst-case-scenario training. Like Ob-Gyn’s, we’re so happy they’re there when something goes terribly wrong, but we don’t actually need them around until that becomes the case. Imagine being a mentally ill person whose family is worried about your depression, and then the police show up. Imagine being an autistic person whose aide is walking you home after you wandered from the group, and then the police show up. Imagine being a 6 or 7-year-old kid who throws a temper tantrum in school, and then the police show up. These individuals are vulnerable already, perhaps dealing with a lot of fear and anxiety. The presence of police can panic them all by itself, even if the police do not behave in an aggressive way. Now add to that the possibility that police, themselves untrained to deal with such individuals, yell out aggressive or confusing commands. This is a recipe for disaster. It's unfair to police and to citizens.
In recent years, the American conversation around birth has evolved, so that midwives, doulas, and birthing centers have become far more common. I hope this is the beginning of a similar shift in thinking about all kinds of situations in which vulnerable citizens need help of some kind, but not the kind they’re getting now. This isn’t about being against the police any more than it is about being against Ob-Gyn’s. It’s about being for the proper response to the situation at hand and protecting our most vulnerable citizens in a thoughtful and loving way.