Sunday 18 September 2011

The Fear Monger

A few days ago, I received an invitation for a seminar entitled “Joys of Motherhood”.  I went online to register looking forward to topics on breastfeeding or perhaps on ways to bond with the baby, only to find out in dismay that the series of talks has nothing to do with the joys of being a mom.  In fact, it is entirely the opposite. 

1st Talk: Emergencies in Pregnancy: Symptoms, Signs and Treatment
2nd Talk: Pain Relief in Labor: Myths and Misconceptions of Epidural
3rd Talk: Bringing up a Super-kid: Fact or Fiction?
4th Talk: The Importance of Saving your Baby’s Cord Blood
5th Talk: Protection Needs: Early Stage Critical Illnesses

What do they all have in common?  They elicit unnecessary worry for the mom-to-be.  They are under the assumption that pregnancy is NOT WITHOUT complications and moms should be wary of symptoms and its corollary treatment.  Not that these things are unimportant to know, I’m sure they are lifesaving for both the mom and her baby.  However, I feel that the emphasis should be on proper nutrition and exercise, on how to stay healthy mentally and physically during pregnancy, THEN maybe some very important emergencies to look out for.  I am bothered with how the medical industry has created this halo of fear when really 90% fall in into the category of normal or low-risk pregnancy.

What about the myths and misconceptions of epidural?  Again it instills in the minds of moms that labor is painful and scary, enough to warrant an epidural.  Yes, the talk is about pain relief in labor but why single out epidural?  Even if epidural has been improved over the years to debunk some fallacies surrounding it, the cons still outweigh the pros and the risks are very much real.  And whatever happened to breathing and visualization techniques anyway?  Lamaze and Hypno-birthing methods offer effective pain relief with far more benefits than the use of epidural.  In fact, the World Health Organization does not consider an epidural to be essential for care in normal birth.  

Clearly, this seminar is another venue for marketing.  As the talk culminates with the importance of saving cord blood and touches on the early stage critical illnesses and is hosted by none other than Cordlife itself, one can’t help but be skeptic of these seminars.   Are they truly meant to empower women to make informed and unbiased choices?  Are there any real seminars that do not come with the hidden agenda of product promotion?

This greatly reminds me of Dr. Grantly Dick-Read’s book “Childbirth Without Fear”, when he made this proposition:

“Superstition, civilization and culture have brought influences to bear upon the minds of women which have introduced justifiable fears and anxieties concerning labor.  The more cultured that races of the earth have become, so much the more positive they have been in pronouncing childbirth to be a painful and dangerous ordeal.”

“…This is not the purposeful design of creation.  Somewhere, for some reason, an interloper has crept in, and must be eradicated, through blindness and ignorance in the development of our civilization, has been allowed to grow and impede the natural course of events.”

The interloper, in my opinion, is the ‘medicalization’ of childbirth.  Somewhere along the way, we have somehow lost our bearing in the fast pursuit of modernity.  Yet, we need not go far for answers.  Since the time of antiquity, Aristotle already believed of the mind-body connection and emphasized the importance of deep relaxation during childbirth.  Hippocrates was the forerunner in giving out formal instruction of midwifery.  Soranus, who compiled writings of Hippocrates and Aristotle, stressed that needs and feelings of women should be properly addressed and advocated using the powers of the mind to achieve relaxation to bring about easy birthing.

Dr. Grantly Dick-Read went on to assert that, “Childbirth is not a physical function.  The drama of the physical manifestations has blinded observers to the truth – the birth of a child is the ultimate phenomenon of a series of spiritual experiences, from fantasy to fact and from fact to fruition… supreme human function must not be neglected or belittled by the subjective materialism of modern science.”

The good news is, over the last few decades, just as western medicine recognizes the limitations of treating the physical alone – they start to realize that the body-mind (and even spirit) connection has far more healing powers than previously given due credit (e.g. meditation, bio-feedback).  Women too are starting to reclaim ownership of her body.  Women are realizing that her body is perfectly designed and more than capable enough to give birth without fear – without anesthesia and medical intervention.

Thursday 8 September 2011

Attack of the Malls

Busy tapping the keyboards away one day, my hubby peeked over my shoulder and asked, “Is that for your blog? You might want to take a break from writing about natural birth once in awhile.  You know… from a reader’s point of view, it makes your blog more interesting”.

Hmmm… maybe he has a point.  I decided to indulge my number one fan.  After all, I do have “thoughts on natural birth AND BEYOND” as my title, don’t I?  The next question is - what should I write about?  As I am writing this now on a Sunday, the weekend is coming to an end and we are still deliberating where to bring Ava.  Going to the mall is always the least of our options and living in Singapore, which a local cab driver once described to me as “one big mall”, could be a challenge indeed.  You ask, why not go to the mall?  This is what my next article is all about. 

As an urban designer, the city is a dichotomy of the tangibles (built environment) and the intangibles (how people live).  One influences and impacts the other and vice versa.  In Davao City for example, the recent proliferation of national malls (a change in the physical environment) meant that people are patronizing the malls and is slowly adapting to a more metropolitan lifestyle.   

Sharing with Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte the importance of public spaces

Opting to stroll around in the mall compared to the city center or park is quite understandable.  The atmosphere is always maintained at comfortable level, it is sheltered from the heat and rain, and the presence of security guards and surveillance systems provides a safer environment.  In "Shop 'Til you Drop" by Evans, K.I. & Fraser, P., the mega shopping mall is seen as almost a city in itself.  Aside from the commercial facilities of retail, food and specialty shops, it also accommodates offices, clinics, cinemas and other entertainment amenities, making it a convenient one-stop destination.  Moreover, the opening hours are longer than most shops in the city center and it provides sufficient parking space.

The implication of such development however, is that the symbolic center of urban activity of the city, the public plaza, is slowly moving towards the shopping malls and its surrounding commercial districts. During such progression, the huge atrium of shopping malls is starting to gain popularity as a so-called “public” space.  Some of the civic events like inter-school choir singing or dance contest previously held at the plaza mayor are now being hosted in the atrium.  Gone were the days when people used to stroll or linger at the city parks for recreation.  In the book, “The Culture of Cities”, Sharon Zukin testifies that, “the culture of public space has become inextricably linked with commercial culture”.

This is where the conflict begins. Commercial culture gives off false impression that the goal in life is to make money and buy products. With parents tagging their children most of the time in the malls, kids are unintentionally and subconsciously pre-programmed to be consumers. Indeed, we are living in a high-consumption society.  Wall Street Journal noted that “Miss [Nancy] Drew wasn’t obsessed with her wardrobe, but today the mystery in teen fiction for girls is what outfit the heroine will wear next.”

Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE malls and I LOVE shopping too.  But times have changed, so much different from our simpler time. Kids nowadays are exposed to too much ads. Even if TV time is limited, the malls with its plethora of products provide an easy alternative. Furthermore, the tendency to indulge them with the latest character craze or too many toys gives importance to materialistic joys versus the good old feeling of, say, creating something.

Anyway, without getting too wired on this, I think that there should be a conscious effort to filter the kind of exposure they get and to provide as varied activities as possible. For us, it comes as a challenge since Ava’s Kindermusik and Little Gym classes are located inside the malls and we too, more often, fall prey to shopping needlessly.  

According to child psychologists, outdoor fun play still remains the best option for growing bodies.  Aside from the exercise they get, it develops large and fine motor skills as well as hand-eye coordination. That is why our weekends are always pre-planned.  From going to the beach or zoos, flying kite and playing ball at the park, watching orchestra, and so on, we hope that Ava appreciates the great outdoors and that this forms part of her many treasured childhood memories.
A visit to the zoo is our favorite!
Beach therapy from city living.
I just love the outdoors!

Ava and Daddy appreciating horticulture

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