Submitted by Guest Writer: Denny Hartung, MD
Unless you have a philosophy background, degree or interest, or are a fan of Plato, you may not have heard of the concept of “The Noble Lie”. I first heard about it in Washington, DC, at The International Breech Conference in November, 2012. A wonderful midwife from Canada named Betty-Anne Daviss shared it while waxing philosophical at one of the lectures, and I share the concept humbly with you. I believe it has merit as we think about the childbirth experience over the spectrum of care today.
Betty-Anne told us The Noble Lie comes from Plato’s Republic. It is a myth or “untruth”, if you will, told by an elite, to maintain or advance an agenda. I did a little more digging after the conference and found out, in the “Republic”, the myth went something like this: Into whatever societal class you were born, there you will always remain and exist. Slaves and serfs are always in the lowest class, landowners will always lord it over the serfs, and the politic or ruling class will always have most of the wealth and always rule. If the ruling elite got the masses to believe that, then they maintained control and there was less chance that the masses would revolt and disrupt the status quo. We know this idea today to be antithetical to the general good of society. All have opportunity to improve their status in life, contribute to society to the fullest, and can grow, given the right circumstances.
The “Noble Lie” of childbirth, as Betty-Anne tells it, is this, “Women in childbirth need to be saved most of the time.” Her idea is that “the elite” are telling women they cannot give birth on their own. “You need that epidural. Your baby needs continuous monitoring. You need an IV. You need pitocin to help you deliver your placenta. You need that cesarean to save your baby from the difficulties of natural childbirth. You cannot deliver a breech baby vaginally.” I could go on and on. One wonders if the childbirth industry is telling us that to maintain control too. Something to think about…
Birth is a sentinel event in the human experience. The world is never the same after each and every birth. A new life is here to change everything. Maybe another Mozart or Gandhi or Goethe has come. Even more amazingly, a woman has been transformed into a mother. The process and outcome should be given the respect it deserves.
I believe that women need “saving” from childbirth only rarely. Cesarean birth can be good – sometimes. Epidurals can be helpful – sometimes, as can pitocin, etc. But, I believe we trivialize the experience of childbirth for each woman, her partner, her growing family, society and the global community when we disempower her from the most powerful and difficult thing she will ever do. Too much unnecessary intervention not only affects her, it affects our community adversely. Once a woman has given birth, she knows what she is made of. Let’s not let the “Lie” lead us away from the real truth of childbirth. Most of time she CAN DO IT. As a mother, she can then help others through it. She can lead our community and her family better. She can withstand practically anything. She is empowered. She can change the world.
Denny Hartung, MD learned that art of gentle birthing while he served as an Army OB/GYN with military Nurse-Midwives for 11 years in Alaska. Since his Army retirement in 2005, he has practiced community Obstetrics and Gynecology in Hudson, WI, and in the eastern suburbs of the Twin Cities area of Minnesota. He has an interest in VBAC/TOLAC and vaginal breech birth and promoting the midwifery model of care in obstetrics.