Sex, Explained (2020) s01e05 Episode Script

Childbirth

This is a stretch test, which engineers use to measure the strength and stretchiness of materials, like rubber.
But here, it's testing something different: tissue from a human cervix.
The cervix is the gate between a woman's uterus and her vagina.
It blocks anything, like a penis, from going any further up.
And it stops important things in the uterus, like a growing fetus, from coming down too early.
Think of the uterus like a balloon.
You blow up the balloon with air.
You have to keep the air in the uterus or the baby inside the uterus, and that cervix is the knot that keeps the uterus closed.
As an engineer, what's really struck me about the cervix is that a pregnant specimen in the lab It just keeps stretching and stretching.
It never breaks.
Over nine months of pregnancy, the cervix gets five times stretchier.
When it's soft like the skin on your lips, it opens up.
And as you may know from experience or from a common TV trope, that's usually when Mindy, your water just broke.
Ah! My water just broke.
Oh! I'm sitting here in a puddle of water.
Uh my water broke.
Oh, that's cool.
We got another one here in the fridge.
After the baby comes out, this very compliant material has to remodel and repair itself.
I don't know of any other engineering material that can soften or remodel itself that quickly.
Put simply, the cervix is an anatomical and engineering miracle.
But that doesn't make childbirth itself any less daunting.
I'm not really scared.
I'm, like Yeah, I am nervous.
I'm completely nervous, like, but it's only because this is my first kid, so I don't really know what to expect.
Around the world, 250 babies are born every minute.
In hospitals or at home with midwives, doulas, and doctors.
Some women use drugs for the pain, some have C-sections or use other medical technology.
And others don't.
Sweetheart, show me what you got.
Ready? Nice deep breath in.
Breath.
And push from your bottom.
You got this.
Two, three, four But childbirth still kills more than 800 women every day around the world.
And one global survey found that up to 30% of women rate childbirth as traumatic.
I just remember, like, closing my eyes and going inside into, like, the deepest part of myself to just be like, "I have to get through this.
" I was, like, really traumatized for a really long time.
So, what makes childbirth so hard? And what can women do to have the easiest and safest experience? You got this.
The contractions in true labor always have a definite rhythm.
You may suddenly wonder how the baby can possibly get through that small opening.
Don't worry, you'll stretch enough.
It is not only pathological knowledge which makes the great obstetrician.
It is vigilance.
One that does not let you forget you have in your hands the lives of two people.
Most large primates give birth in relatively similar fashion.
The female carries the fetus in her womb for 30 to 40 weeks, and then the baby emerges from the birth canal, usually headfirst, within hours.
But there's one key difference: humans suffer a lot more.
It's not like a baby just falls out, like some Monty Python sketch, for non-human primates.
They do struggle, and still, they have a seemingly much more easy childbirth than we have.
Humans labor around nine hours the first time they give birth and often go much longer, while most chimps labor for just two hours.
And there's one part of the struggle of childbirth that's harder to quantify the pain.
It felt like the bottom half of my body was gonna explode and erupt goo all over the four walls of the room.
Like you're in some kind of pain blender, where you're just being spun around, and you don't know what's going on.
It feels like you're being ripped in two.
Everything painted red, and there's, like, this alarm that's like It looked like I was experiencing an exorcism.
The question of why humans have painful births comes down to anatomy and evolution.
The theory goes like this: Humans, unlike other primates, evolved to walk on two legs, which meant pelvises became more complicated and narrow.
Our brains also evolved to be bigger than other primates', which means bigger newborn heads.
So chimps get to push out a small head from wide hips, while we're stuck squeezing out a big baby through a narrow space.
But why did it stop there? Why didn't we keep evolving our anatomy to make childbirth less painful? Well, why didn't we evolve away from painful bowel movements? And why didn't we evolve out of painful breakups? Natural selection doesn't care about pain, just survival.
And even though it hurts we keep making babies anyway.
What works, works.
And what's good enough is good enough.
It's a terribly tight fit.
It's a painful labor.
It's a long, protracted labor, but it works.
It's good enough.
So, to continue the survival of our species, women have always been stuck with difficult childbirths.
- Almost there.
- How much more? Not much more.
One push at a time.
The Old Testament says, "With painful labor, you will give birth to children," after Eve ate from the Tree of Knowledge.
And this scroll from 12th-century Japan shows childbirth as so deadly that it attracted evil spirits who were drawn to near-fatal events.
That's why so many cultures throughout history found ways to protect and comfort women during childbirth with rituals and the support of friends and family.
Women also tried to numb their pain with opium and hashish in the Mediterranean, or in ancient Greece, willow bark, which is chemically similar to aspirin.
And scientists invented new tools and technologies to help if the baby got stuck.
Thanks to medical progress, childbirth got less deadly over time.
And one of the biggest areas of progress was the Caesarean section.
C-sections actually originated thousands of years ago.
They're referenced in almost every ancient culture, and were performed to save the baby when the mother had little or no hope of surviving labor.
One of the first known C-sections where the woman actually survived happened in South Africa in 1826, performed by the British surgeon James Barry, who was actually born a female, Margaret Bulkley.
But that wasn't discovered till after his death.
And around the same time, a medical missionary observed Ugandan doctors performing C-sections.
He wrote about one operation where the mother and baby both survived.
There was no anesthesia, but the woman was liberally supplied with banana wine.
In the 20th century, C-sections started to consistently save women's lives.
And then, birthing technology really started to pick up.
Scientists started using pelvic X-rays to chart the average length and rate of labor.
And for women who didn't progress fast enough, they developed a new drug to artificially speed it up, called pitocin, a synthetic form of oxytocin.
It's a naturally occurring hormone, but it floods a woman's body at three events in her life: orgasm, breastfeeding, and labor.
Pitocin worked so well that doctors and women started scheduling inductions if a woman went a week over her due date, bringing some certainty to an otherwise unpredictable event.
The history of medical intervention, when it comes to childbirth, has a lot to do with the emergence of obstetrics as a medical profession.
For most of history, doctors didn't deliver babies, midwives did.
Women trained in the real world, through experience and observation.
Then in the 1700s in Europe, midwives opened up schools with more official training programs.
And as waves of European immigrants came over to America in the following century, they brought these skills with them as they settled in the northern states.
While in the American South, enslaved black women were forced to attend to the deliveries and care of white children and were torn from their own families.
And they continued working as skilled midwives long after slavery ended.
They were often referred to as "granny midwives.
" They tended to be senior, older members of their community who had themselves already given birth and were viewed with respect among their community.
But in the 1900s, doctors started to edge midwives out of the delivery room, and they made a convincing argument.
Birth might look simple.
It may have been going on for centuries.
But in fact, it was a pathological event that requires medical intervention.
Like a procedure called the episiotomy.
During birth, it's common for a woman to tear her vaginal opening.
Then in the 1920s, doctors started proactively cutting the opening instead.
I think the idea was that that would that would be easier to sew up.
And it turned out that giving people an episiotomy makes the tearing much worse.
And around that same time, Western doctors also started offering new pain drugs, like one trend that emerged out of Germany called twilight sleep.
It was a mixture of a heavy narcotics: scopolamine and morphine.
Extremely controversial 'cause it was really dangerous.
Many of the women who were behind twilight sleep were involved in the suffrage movement.
And their argument was that women should have the right to have a painless childbirth.
But the drugs didn't actually get rid of the pain, just the memory of the pain.
Women in delivery rooms thrashed violently and screamed.
They were often hooded or placed in cage-beds while they labored.
The birthing experience differed enormously based on where you lived, your class background and the color of your skin.
There is a theory that the more civilized a race or a culture is, the more difficulty the women have experiencing childbirth.
And so, anesthesia was also required to make sure they could get through the process.
Working-class women, women of color, immigrant women, no problem.
Babies could just pop out.
It was the over-civilized, upper-middle-class women that needed help.
That stereotype lives on today, and it's one reason black women in the UK are five times more likely to die in childbirth than white women.
And they're three times more likely in the US, where disparities exist even at the same income level.
Biggest issue, they're not being heard.
When women have said, "I'm in pain," the understanding or stereotype of women of color, that they're not really in pain the way they are.
So back in the 1950s, while many black women didn't get pain medication even when they needed it, white women started to speak out about being over-medicated.
In 1958, The Ladies Home Journal published an investigation, "Cruelty in Maternity Wards," "They give you drugs whether you want them or not One woman wrote in, "They give you drugs whether you want them or not, and strap you down like an animal.
" Women start reacting to what they believe to be absolutely horrific birth experiences.
They get angry and think they have missed out on what should be the most incredible moment of their lives.
And that somehow that gets completely lost in the process of medicalizing birth.
One of the most influential voices in the grassroots movement was Ina May Gaskin, a midwife-turned-activist.
In her 1975 book, Spiritual Midwifery, she said that when women are "empowered to birth without drugs or interventions," "birth is a spiritual experience that each woman deserves in a safe and comfortable setting.
" There were a lot of hippie women involved in the natural childbirth movement, but there were also middle-class suburban housewives.
There were people on all sides of the political spectrum that simply thought, "I don't need to be knocked unconscious in order to give birth.
I am capable of doing it.
" And by that time, there was a hot new drug in town: epidurals.
Scientists discovered that injecting anesthesia into a certain spot in the spine called the "epidural space" stopped pain signals traveling from the spine to the brain.
The entire lower half of a woman's body would go numb within minutes, while she remained fully alert.
It was great.
It was very nice.
No regrets on the epidural.
I couldn't feel my body from the waist down.
And I knew at that point, it was one of the best decisions I'd ever made in my life.
I I was like The World Health Organization says epidurals are perfectly safe for healthy women in labor.
But of course, half your body is numb so The pushing stage of labor tends to be a bit longer, maybe, on average, about about 20 minutes.
You have less control over your bladder, and it may be less easy to walk around afterwards.
Another medical intervention that's been surging in popularity: C-sections.
That's how one-fifth of babies around the world are now delivered, twice as many as in 2000.
In some countries, they account for more than half of all births, like Egypt, the Dominican Republic and Brazil, where the overall rate is 55%.
But in private hospitals, where doctors are being paid per service, not per hours worked, it's 83%.
One study noted, "Savings in time gained by cutting labor short may motivate obstetricians to choose a cesarean delivery.
" And while the maternal mortality rate is lower in countries that perform more C-sections, that's only true up to a C-section rate at 19%.
Above that, it doesn't make a difference, suggesting a lot of C-sections are medically unnecessary.
Women who have had a C-section on one pregnancy are at higher risk for complications in later pregnancies, including higher risks of miscarriage and even stillbirth.
Natural birth advocates say unnecessary C-sections are a result of messing with a woman's natural rhythm of labor, a concept now known as the "cascade of interventions.
" I "consented" to this emergency C-section due to, in my records, fetal distress because of the heart rate monitor.
We'll see babies have fetal heart rate changes, particularly after getting an epidural.
And epidurals tend to follow pitocin because As they started increasing my dosage, I started having really, really painful contractions.
Pitocin can help when a woman's cervix isn't opening up fast enough.
And so they upped my pitocin, which I needed because I hit my due date and I still hadn't gone into labor.
You know, the minute I had to be induced, it was up to technology.
But there's one problem with the cascade of interventions theory.
In a large, randomized trial, researchers found Women who are induced are actually not more likely to have a C-section.
We probably do induce more frequently than we need to, but there aren't any hugely obvious downsides.
But last-minute changes at the hospital can impact a woman's mental health.
One study found that women who had unplanned C-sections were more likely to experience post-traumatic distress and depression.
In her 2004 bestselling book, Ina May Gaskin wrote that more drawn-out labors could be "because of a lack of privacy or fear.
" She called it the "sphincter law," saying the cervix was like a sphincter muscle and that "sphincters do not respond well to commands.
" Let's say you're in a public bathroom, and you're trying to take a crap, and someone opens the door or a loud noise, something happens.
Your sphincter will freeze.
Think about trying to push a baby out of your vagina.
You're trying to be relaxed, breathe Fear is going to have a major impact on your ability to do so.
The idea that fear made childbirth harder was also preached by the French obstetrician Fernand Lamaze in the 1950s.
He popularized the psycho-prophylactic method, now just known as the Lamaze method, a set of techniques for a pain-free, fear-free, drug-free birth.
It involved breathing techniques, different laboring positions, and massage.
In his book, Lamaze wrote that we should not try to "cure the pain of childbirth by the use of drugs" and instead, just stop fearing the pain itself.
But women's reasons for choosing or rejecting pain relief have always been complex.
In Japan, just 6% of women get epidurals, because there's a cultural expectation that suffering is a part of childbirth.
And while more than 70% of American women choose epidurals, that means almost 30% decide to go without.
My family, when I told them that I wanted to do a natural childbirth, they were like, "You can't do it.
You won't make it.
" And I was just like, "Oh, no, now I have to do it, 'cause you can't tell me that I can't do it.
" I just had this weird fascination with what it would feel like, and I just wanted to know what it would feel like.
Now that I look back, I'm like, "Why didn't I, like, want an epidural?" I have no idea why I didn't want an epidural.
Today, some scientific research suggests that being relaxed could have real physical impacts on labor, just as natural childbirth advocates have argued for decades.
The top of the cervix actually has a lot of muscle that does contract, so that's what made us start to think, "Okay, well maybe this is a sphincter.
" And so, that actually completely changes the map that we're working with to understand what goes on in pregnancy, because in women who deliver early, that cervix starts to open prematurely, and it might actually be a sphincter that's relaxing too soon.
But why that happens in one patient over another, we don't fully understand.
Mechanics obviously play a really important role in pregnancy.
I do need an engineer to help me understand how strong is the tissue.
We can run "what if" scenarios.
So, what if the patient has a short cervix? Will her cervix open if the baby kicks or if there's a small contraction? Can that cervix mechanically withstand, you know, the loads of pregnancy? We should know those answers.
You know, we're curing cancer.
We should be able to understand pregnancy a lot better.
That's why there's still so much conflicting information out there on the best way to give birth.
And a lot of it is very insistent.
These baby boards are probably where the seed was planted for me.
Things like an epidural were cheating, and that the best way forward would actually be give birth without any medical intervention whatsoever.
I think sometimes the voices there in the movement can push themselves into a particular set of choices.
And rather than saying, "Let's empower people to make whatever choices they want," say, "Let's empower them to make these particular set of choices.
" Well, when I found out that my daughter was going to need to be delivered via C-section, I felt like a failure.
I felt like I had failed to do what I set out to do.
Natural childbirth advocates may be criticized by some for exaggerating the negative impact of medical interventions, but their advocacy has also dramatically improved the way many women give birth.
In the 1970s, episiotomy rates in the UK were over 50%, sometimes performed without the permission of the patient.
But then, there was a backlash against so-called "birth cuts.
" A survey was organized by British midwife and activist Sheila Kitzinger.
And she found episiotomies caused more lasting pain than any other procedure in childbirth and that a natural tear generally caused much less pain than a cut.
A study was launched, and three years later, it concluded that there was "no evidence to support the supposed benefits of episiotomy.
" More research confirmed these findings, and by 2012, episiotomies in the UK were down to 15%.
And the natural childbirth movement brought back one of the most ancient types of labor support having a doula present.
Doulas aren't doctors or midwives.
They're trained birth coaches, there to support the laboring woman and help make sure her wishes are being respected by the medical provider.
You're so strong.
Look at you.
A number of studies have confirmed the presence of a doula "reduces the need for interventions," finding a 51% decrease in C-sections.
I think it's partly just that it's nice to have somebody in the room to say, "Yeah, this is this is normal.
" Like, "This is okay.
" Like, "Everything is going fine.
" I think that that part of labor is quite can be quite scary.
We almost there, sweetheart.
We are almost there.
And the natural childbirth movement's underlying message continues to resonate around the world that women should make their own choices based on what's best for them.
I decided to have a natural childbirth because you go to a hospital, black women are kind of disproportionately, like, ignored, I guess, in hospitals.
The only birth I ever had witnessed before was a friend who gave birth without any medicine or interventions, but it was in a hospital, and I thought that was the best of both worlds.
My birth plan was go to the hospital, listen to everything the doctors say, and then come back with a healthy baby.
That was 100% of my plan.
There's no way yet to predict how any one birth will go or what interventions are necessary for each person because every woman is different.
And then also, like, every baby is totally different.
The baby was, um, sunny-side up, the kind of labor pain that's, like, way worse than regular labor pain.
I turned blue.
There was blood everywhere.
They ended up giving me pitocin without any epidural, and then I had an episiotomy, and all of it was like a total shock.
I had no idea that any of this would be so hard.
I was really nervous.
I know how much the tissue stretches, but I trusted my physicians, and I was in good care.
With my first kid, the experience was more overwhelming.
The birth experience with my second kid was, like, sort of a very idyllic experience.
I mean, also, with a lot of blood.
I'm not gonna lie.
I am angry and resentful, and I have a lot to process, five years later.
And yet, at the same time, it was amazing and wonderful.
I still consider my C-section to be natural childbirth.
I don't consider anything humans do to be unnatural or supernatural.
And so natural is the only other option.
I was afraid of pain, and I had a full epidural.
I thought, "This is so silly.
I'm missing out on something.
I could have done this.
" I was angry at myself and kind of ashamed that I just caved.
They have nothing to be ashamed of because they're still doing a big work, - which is bringing life into the world.
- two, three Growing a human and bringing that human into the world regardless of the route of delivery Nine and ten.
Beautiful.
Deep breath, deep breath! is still a big feat.
Right back at it.
Ready? And push on your bottom! Come on, baby, you got it.
That's it.
You got it.
- Come on, give me another one.
- Ready? This is it.
Here we go.
That's it.
- Let's go.
- Ready? Most important push of your life.
Ready? One, two, three.
Right back at it! You got it.
Yes, Daysha.
Hold her down.
Open your eyes! Open your eyes! Open your eyes! - Look at your baby.
- Open your eyes.
Oh, my God! - Oh, my God! - Okay.
- Oh, my God! - Congratulations, Mommy! You never worked on anything so hard in your life.
- I know he's worth it, right? - My grandbaby.
- My grandson.
- Mm-hmm.
Oh, look at him! He's so little! All right.
Come on, bud.
There you go.
There you go.
There you go.
Welcome to the world, sweetie! Daysha, Daysha, you did it!