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Marsden Wagner's "Fish Can't See Water"

When I attended midwifery school in 2017, I remember this being one of the first really juicy papers related to birth that we were assigned to read. The majority of us in the class were mamas, and many had births with some sort of intervention that we each regretted. There was anger and sadness as we realized the stats and information were out there, but never communicated to us when we were birthing our babies.


I had a particularly hard time with the section on epidurals. I've mostly had natural births (if I could do them again, I'd do the differently still, but that's besides the point). With my last baby, a breech twin, I submitted to being induced (she would not come out 😅). Contractions from induction were a whole different kind of pain than any of my natural births and soon I was begging for an epidural.


I think my bub and I came out of that experience alright in the end and I am ready to let go of my heavy emotions around it, but read on if you care about birth and haven't before read this lengthy, but really meaty paper by Dr. Marsden Wagner, who was a perinatologist and perinatal epidemiologist who served as a Director of Maternal and Child Health for the California State Health Department, Director of the University of Copenhagen-UCLA Health Research Center, Director of Women's and Children's Health for the World Health Organization, while simultaneously being an outspoken supporter of midwifery. (Please note, this paper references tables that are not included here.)


And don't forget, this paper was written in the year 2000; just think of all the women going into hospitals now and the new interventions due to the virus and hospital policy around it that these women may be subject to such as not having a support person, having to birth with a mask on, having to have a mandatory c-section in order to protect their care provider or even have to be separated from their baby if they test positive for the virus. Just to be clear, some of these protocols listed above are rare and uncommon, but I have seen them sprouting up here and there and for the mom left to navigate these waters, it doesn't really matter how rare and uncommon it is because it's her reality and her trauma to carry forward.


Fish Can't See Water


The need to humanize birth in Australia


This paper was presented at the Homebirth Australia Conference, Noosa, Australia, November 2000

Humanizing birth means understanding that the woman giving birth is a human being, not a machine and not just a container for making babies. Showing women – half of all people – that they are inferior and inadequate by taking away their power to give birth is a tragedy for all society. On the other hand, respecting the woman as an important and valuable human being and making certain that the woman’s experience while giving birth is fulfilling and empowering is not just a nice extra, it is absolutely essential as it makes the woman strong and therefore makes society strong.