Forward by Christiane Northrup, MD OB, Author of Women's Bodies, Women's Wisdom
Suzanne Arms was sneaking into labor and delivery wards across the United States at the same time I was being educated— and indoctrinated—in them. The first Immaculate Deception had just come out when I was finishing medical school. That was 1975. Of course I heard about this book. Then, when I was in my obstetric residency, I cared for a few patients who talked about it and, as a result of reading it, had brought a Birth Plan with them to the hospital.
I went through medical school at Dartmouth, and many of our obstetric patients were well-educated women who gave birth as naturally as was possible at the time, which I later discovered wasn’t natural at all. We had thought then that because we didn’t give women enemas or pubic shaves we thought we were progressive. And, for the times, we were.
During my ob/gyn residency in Boston, at one of the venerable old hospitals, I was introduced to twilight sleep for maternity patients. This involved the injection of Seconal and Scopalamine into the laboring woman so she wouldn’t feel or remember her labor. Ironically, it was when they began to use electronic fetal monitors that these same obstetricians saw the effects of twilight sleep on the baby and finally stopped the practice, replacing it with drugs such as Demerol for labor and spinal anesthesia for delivery.
When the occasional woman came into the hospital in labor carrying her birth plan, I listened and made every effort to help them achieve their desires within the medical system. This wasn’t always easy. Even we doctors who were progressive, and who thought, as I did, that much of what we were being taught was incomplete, still believed that Suzanne Arms had overstated the case. But none of us saw the full extent of the problem. It was much later, after I had been out of obstetrics for several years, that I finally understood how it acts like a dysfunctional family in the way it keeps its members in line. It was also then that I recognized how women’s need for their obstetrician’s approval has only been an extension of their dependence upon, and need for approval from, their husbands.
Our system for birth flows seamlessly out of the values of a technologically-driven, materialistic society that is too often cut off from nature’s wisdom. I’ve often said that I would go back into obstetrics if and when the whole system changes, but this will only happen when a critical mass of people begin to question their fears and need for control. Then the insights gained must, of course, be applied to their daily lives.
Most of us, men and women alike, are trained with a don’t just stand there—do something! mentality, and this mind-set favors the view that birth is a crisis requiring intervention. Yet, when a woman is centered in her own power while giving birth, the men around her are awed and (most of them) will naturally support her. It’s only when we doubt ourselves and our ability to birth and care for our babies that we unwittingly set ourselves up for intervention and complications.
When a woman is centered in her own power when giving birth, the men around her are awed and (most of them) will naturally support her. But if we doubt ourselves, and doubt our ability to birth and care for our babies, we unwittingly set ourselves up for intervention and complications. This is because men and women alike are trained into don’t just stand there—do something mentality. And this mindset, and the training that goes along with it, favor the view that birth is a crises requiring intervention.
I’ve learned that women and men who have a great deal of self-confidence and self-trust can go into most situations and get their needs met. One of the key ways a woman can develop a sense of trust in her own power is through birth, but most women today lack confidence in their bodies and the processes of their bodies. Given the history of women and their health care in Western cultures, this is understandable. Consequently, even those who have read books such as Immaculate Deception are apt to lose their sense of self in the hospital OB ward, perhaps more than in any other setting. Fear is so contagious, and that particular fear is fueled, in part, by the unresolved birth trauma of everyone present at a birth. To whom do we turn for guidance?
Immaculate Deception II is a treasure! Suzanne Arms tells the truth, and she does it with great clarity and compassion. Her photographs are compelling and heart-centered. And show the healing of birth and the nurturing qualities of both men and women. I also love the quotes from female physicians whose experiences, like mine, have led them to question the system that trained them. These awakened women healers are pioneers—they understand and support women’s power in birth and what it means to trust nature, a view not all women physicians share.
The health care system as we have known it is in chaos, including maternity care. The system and the mindset that created it, are going through a painful and dysfunctional labor—struggling to stay in control. Suzanne Arms’ vision, put forth so compellingly in this book, can help midwife this system right now. Like all good birth attendants, Suzanne understands the nature and power of support, understanding and compassion. Those qualities help a woman, and even a health care system, to let go and allow the new creation to emerge.
Forward by Bethany M. Hays, MD OB FACOG
This is an extraordinary book. For many, like myself, it will be a hard book to read. For physicians it will be hard to read about our shortcomings, our inability to deliver the illusion of perfection we purport tooffer, and our failure to provide safe, gentle passage to each new life placed in our hands. For women who gave birth, it will be hard to see the ways in which we failed ourselves and our babies by not asking for more—more information, more autonomy, more care from our families, our caregivers and our culture. But we should read it anyway. Because it also offers illumination, and the possibility of a different way to bring new souls into the world. Until we can see a different possibility, we will never change.
But for physicians who have seen the problems with our high technology obstetrics and feel trapped by the malpractice attorney, the third part prayer and the patient who wants the best medical science has to offer and means the most intervention possible (all of whom are pointing to our individual and collective refusal to take responsibility for ourselves), this book will be a friend.
For women who are willing to take their fate into their own hands, to make hard decisions, and to take responsibility for them in order to create a better birth and a better world, this book offers encouragement and well researched information.
Anyone involved in the sacred task of bringing new life into the world would do well to read this book.
Suzanne Arms on the American way of birth: from Immaculate Deception II: Myth, Magic & Birth
There have been many positive changes in American culture since Immaculate Deception first appeared in 1975. A childbirth movement has come into existence. There are now more than one hundred birth centers across the United States. Women midwives are once again handing down wisdom to the younger generation, sharing the knowledge of how to give birth normally. Some fine films and videos have been made of home births as well as hospital and birth in birthing centers, so that parents and others can see what they are like and make more informed decisions.
Yet despite all this, despite all the childbirth books that have been written, despite all the birth conferences that have been held, it is surprising how little has really changed. In fact, women in the United States are more afraid of birth than ever before—and with good cause: there are higher rates of cesareans, premature births, low birth weight babies, and infant mortality in the than in any other industrialized nation, and complications surrounding birth have risen steadily in the last few decades. In my experience witnessing births and interviewing mothers in North America, only about 10 percent of women today have what I consider a straightforward, normal childbirth.
The information about birth that was lacking in the mid-seventies is now readily available, yet information alone does not create positive change or transform people’s way of thinking. Without an appreciation for the natural process, many women are demanding to be anesthetized for labor; parents watch, without protesting, as their babies are taken to intensive care nurseries for observation. Families leave the hospital just hours after birth, when mothers should be resting, and women receive no postpartum care when they return home. Fewer women are breastfeeding, and more are having problems when they do. Many mothers go back to work within weeks of giving birth—by choice as well as from need—and their infants have no choice but to accept this separation.
Unfortunately for mothers and newborns, family and cultural ties today are stretched thin, often to the breaking point. Little in our modern machine- and money-driven culture supports the developing bonds of love and the healthy interdependence so necessary during and after a birth. And, although more men are doing their part to help their partners and babies, many of them are unsupported in the vital role of fathering.
This book is my best effort at making sense of the complexity of childbirth today: the issues, the history, the problems, and the possibilities. The subject still fires me with passion—though I hope it is now tempered with greater compassion and understanding. For twenty years, I’ve been able to witness and participate in births. I’ve always brought my camera and a pad and pen or tape recorder, and in places as diverse in their routine practices as a huge public hospital in New York City, a tiny private hospital in rural Kentucky, a respected teaching hospital in Los Angeles, as well as people’s homes and local birth centers, I have photographed and I have listened.
I have interviewed countless nurses and many, especially those who have been midwives in other countries, tell me how they hate what they have to do to women and babies. As one nurse put it: So often I feel like an accomplice to a crime, not a healer. Most nurses and doctors I have talked to, however, feel good about what they do and some are candid in saying that women in labor can’t be trusted to make good decisions, and that couples who choose home birth are child abusers who care only about their own feelings, not their child’s welfare. I think the majority of doctors and nurses really believes that artificially stimulated labor is not different from natural labor, that medical intervention in childbirth is necessary, and that babies can’t feel pain in birth and certainly don’t remember it.
I continue to be appalled by many of the routine practices I see, in even the best hospitals. I’ve never fully understood the numbness with which most people—even mothers themselves—accept whatever is done to laboring women and babies as good medical care. I have watched helplessly as a nurse took a rough sterile scrub brush, held a brand-new baby under a tap, and vigorously scrubbed its delicate head, then wrapped the whole baby in sterile paper. I have seen nurses run for the doctor to perform an episiotomy, when the woman in labor was doing fine pushing the baby out and in no danger of tearing. I was once shoved up against a wall for saying to a resident cutting into a newborn’s vein, You need to ask the father’s permission before doing that. He’s right here. So many time’s I’ve felt like grabbing a laboring woman or a baby in the nursery and fleeing with them—but I’m usually the only person besides the parents who thinks something is wrong. It’s crazy-making.
I am happy to report that not all is bad, I have witnessed many wonderful birth experiences, mostly—but not all—in homes and birth centers. I meet caring people in every setting, without whom I could not continue my work. They have given me a vision of what birth can be like: health workers laboring to keep birth natural and uncomplicated; parents refusing to have their babies taken from their arms and insisting on holding them during procedures; families creating a cocoon of privacy at home for the first days and weeks, drinking in the sweetness and love that a newborn brings to the world; fathers and mothers changing their priorities and schedules to be with their babies in the first year of life.
Birth affects each of us, strongly. We come to it—as mothers, as fathers, as helpers—in various states of consciousness, with different capacities, holding different versions of what we seek. I am convinced that the circumstances of a person’s life in the womb, birth, and first hours—through the first eighteen months—have a tremendous impact, for good or for ill Beginnings matter profoundly.
In this book, I have attempted to go underneath the fear and denial surrounding modern birth to find what has caused it to be such an unnatural and problematic experience for so many mothers and babies. Certainly one can make a case that it is simply power politics (or economics, or an arrogant patriarchal system) that controls birth and alters what is essentially a normal, healthy process. But to me the trouble is far more complex: it is all of these factors and many others as well. There is no clear target for blame and no easy way to change things. I have tried to provide a look at the whole picture: the history of birth in the Western world, particularly the United States; cultural traditions in other countries that Americans can learn from; personal accounts from mothers, fathers, midwives, doctors, and nurses. I also include many photographs of natural births that I hope will dispel fear and challenge prevailing notions of what birth should be like.
I offer this book in the spirit of hope, with the belief that if we can relearn to trust our instincts, we will have a much better chance of creating an optimal birth for our babies and ourselves. I do not claim to be impartial on this subject, and any book written with passion should be read cautiously. No matter what your personal conclusions, however, I want you to leave this book with your eyes and hearts opened. Choose to see what’s going on. Let yourself feel the full implications of birth. Take responsibility for the birth of your children.
What Others Have Said About Immaculate Deception II: Myth, Magic & Birth
This book is a treasure! Suzanne Arms tells the truth about modern childbirth and mother-baby care—and she does it with great clarity and compassion.
—Christiane Northrup MD Obstetrician
We have made of birth a disease state. We must restore its natural beauty and wholeness and be in awe of the process. Suzanne Arms has written a marvelous resource for all parents and health professionals. As a visual person and artist, I especially love the photographs—they are worth a million words.
—Bernie Siegel, MD, author of Love, Medicine & Miracles
This book changed the way I look at birth and what I, a health professional, have considered sacred. Suzanne Arms has touched my soul.
—Eileen Owen-Williams, RN, FNP, CNM midwife
Immaculate Deception I spurred a revolution in the 1970s. Here is a powerful new vision for this millennium.
—Elizabeth Davis, Midwife/Educator and author
The ideas in this book are essential for the healing of the world, enabling humans to sense, think, feel and act as interdependent and interconnected with each other and the whole community of life on this planet.
—Sara A. Conn, PhD, The Center for Psychology and Social Change at Harvard
People often say, What got you into midwifery?’ My nephew was born by cesarean—and I knew it was an unnecessary cesarean because I was just starting work as a labor and delivery nurse at that hospital. I remember complaining to one of the nurses who was training me about that birth and she handed me a book called Immaculate Deception’. That was 1987. Reading that book started it all.
—Karen Maschue, LPN 17 year hospital obstetric and newborn nurse
My sociology students—beginning and advanced level—give great praise for how this book opens their eyes to problems and possibilities in birth they never knew existed.
—Robbie Pfeufer Kahn, PdD, sociology professor, University of Vermont
Many years ago, when I was a teenager, my older sister gave me a copy of Immaculate Deception. I was only 14 and had never given childbirth a thought and didn’t even fantasize about having children. But that book made an impression on me. I knew from then on that when I did become pregnant I would have a homebirth and a midwife. From my first home birth I began a slow movement into midwifery.
People often ask me What made you want to be a midwife?’ The spark that I trace my work back to was my sister’s insisting that I read Immaculate Deception when I was just 14 years old
—Alison Parra, midwife, Mexico
I started college at 15 and I went into premed, thinking I wanted to be a neurosurgeon. A male friend of mine gave me a copy of Spiritual Midwifery. Then I ran across a copy of Immaculate Deception in a bookstore. Not long after my boyfriend gave me a copy of a paper called the Perinatal Roots of War by Stan Grof. As a result of these readings I left college at 16 to become a midwife.
—Aviva Jill Romm, CPM Midwife
What Immaculate Deception did for me was to crack my world open. Pregnant with my first baby, I needed it.
—Nikki Lee RN, MSN, IBCLC, CIMI Mother of 2, craniosacral therapy practitioner
I was a childbirth instructor years ago and my daughter grew up hearing about childbirth, but always saying, "That's your thing, Mom, not mine." Now she is 28, happily married and expecting her first child. Of course, I wanted to share all my knowledge with her without overwhelming her, wanting her to experience a wonderful birth, yet at the same time not wanting to overstep my boundaries. So I mentioned a birth center in her area, and she said, "Mom, that might be what you would do, but not me." So I let it go and simply said, "Honey, will you at least read this book?" and gave her Immaculate Deception II.
To make a long story short, she has done a complete turn around, switched doctors three times, and now has a midwife and a doula and is having the baby at her local birth center. She said, out of all the books she read, Immaculate Deception II helped her the most. Thank you, Suzanne, not just for my generation—which was educated through your knowledge—but now seeing first hand the next generation benefiting it.
—From a new grandmother-to-be
Immaculate Deception II is the best book I've ever read. Ever. I am going to recommend it to every single one of my friends, whether they plan to have a baby or not. Suzanne Arms really did a wonderful job explaining everything. I think I am going to start reading it again, even though I just finished it. Thank you, Suzanne, you have changed the world for the better, and you must be proud.
—Gayla, a first time mom-to-be