Bella Swan’s birth story

The birth in Twilight: Breaking Dawn Part I was not as scary as I thought it would be. (If you don't want to read about the film's ending, stop reading here.) Breaking Dawn is a preteen fantasy through and through, so the birth of Bella's half-human, half-vampire baby winds up looking fairly tidy and vaguely menstrual, even if it does involve blades and teeth. (No trial of labor for Bella.)

Bella Swan

Kristen Stewart as Bella Swan

Will Breaking Dawn leave a generation of young girls with tocophobia — fear of childbirth? My guess is that it will not. The birth happens fast, for one thing, and it's all pretty implausible. The baby appears to be a normal baby, though about six months old, and functions for the rest of the movie in a doll-like capacity.

But Bella Swan — the teenager who falls in love with the vampire Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson) and marries him in this, the first half of the screen adaptation of the fourth and final book in Stephenie Meyers' Twilight saga — does die in childbirth in the film. Her death has been prophesied, so it isn't unexpected, but the sight of her still, gray form on the table where her baby was born is upsetting.

However, the second half of Breaking Dawn is scheduled for release one year from now, so let's just say that birth transforms Bella. We haven't seen the last of her.

Breaking Dawn is rated PG-13.

A fish / birth story

It is officially the silly season, the last days of summer, when news traditionally slows down to a trickle and publications fill their pages with stories so fluffy they practically float.

Koi

Koi

My candidate for this year's silly-season birth story is "Koi-Assisted Birth," a winsome website about a couple, "Jane" and "Shane," who are planning a water birth in the fall. The two have decided to enlist their 15 koi to help them and their midwife usher their new baby into the world.

The website has generated some controversy. My guess is that Jane is pulling our leg.

She says that "koi are excellent birthing partners," their skills honed by giving birth to thousands, or even tens of thousands, of baby fish, with help from koi dads.

"That's exactly the kind of birthing energy I want!" Jane writes.

But Shane will have a net at the ready to catch the baby, just in case.

Image courtesty of Wikimedia Commons

“Carmaggedon” birth story?

My daughter Nora lives in Los Angeles, Cal., so I am aware that Angelenos are so dreading the shutdown of 10 miles of the I-405 expressway there for road work this weekend they have dubbed the event "Carmageddon."

Nora is going to walk or take buses as much as she can this weekend, and being from Chicago, she is comfortable with those activities. But many Angelenos are famously more car-bound than she is.

Carmageddon

Los Angeles commuter traffic

Crosstown airline flights between the suburbs of Long Beach and Burbank are sold out this weekend and the police department is asking celebrities to urge their Twitter followers to avoid the expressway and, indeed, to drive in the city as little as possible.

But Jenny Benjamin, writing in The Stir today, brings up an interesting and, to her and other expectant moms, urgent point: What happens if your baby decides to be born in L.A. this weekend?

Pregnant with twins, less than two weeks shy of her due date, a 30-minute drive away ("without traffic") from the hospital she carefully chose for its neonatal intensive care unit, Benjamin considers the possibility of an early labor and aks, "For the love of all things good and holy, what am I going to do?!?!"

Will her husband wind up delivering the twins (one of whom is in a transverse position) on the side of the road? Should she call an ambulance? "Ambulances aren't hovercrafts -- they're going to get stuck in the same traffic!" Benjamin notes.

Her doctor lives close to the hospital. "Good to know at least one of us will be able to get there," she writes.

"Aargh, it's times like this that I really wish that Segways had caught on!" Benjamin frets.

The best solution, she notes, is not to have the babies this weekend. "I have about as much control over that as I do the traffic," Benjamin writes. "Maybe I should see how much my husband knows about home birthing."

A closer look at birth malpractice cases

Everybody knows that obstetricians are one of the most-sued medical specialties, but nailing down the details on that truism can be difficult.

CRICO Strategies, an international firm that provides risk-management software to hospitals and insurances companies, last month released a "benchmarking report" on malpractice risks in obstetrics that helps fill out that sketchy picture.

The report looked at 800 obstetrics-related medical-liability suits filed between 2005 and 2009.

Families dealing with the death of a mother or child, a severely damaged infant, or some other effect of a childbirth gone awry most commonly charged "communication failures, judgment lapses, and faulty technique as the reasons behind their injuries and their malpractice cases," the report states.

Sixty-five percent of cases involved "high-severity injuries."

Across the board, about one in 1,000 births involves a "preventable adverse outcome," the report noted.

While those can occur throughout pregnancy and birth, most suits in the study concerned allegations that birth assistants had mismanaged labor and delivery, particularly the second stage of labor — the actual birth.

"Substandard clinical judgment" was the top complaint in the suits, accounting for 77 percent of claims. Most of the suits named an attending physician.

The most common reason for suing was "birth asphyxia," a potentially injurious lack of oxygen, which accounted for 27 percent of the suits, and the most common allegation was that of a "delay in treatment of fetal distress" (25 percent of claims involving small hospitals, 19 percent involving large ones).

Fathers changed birth story — and parenting

Fathers who pushed to be included in their children's births beginning in the 1950s have brought real change to the modern birth, according to historian Judith Walzer Leavitt's 2009 book Make Room for Daddy.

Buoyed by changing perceptions of how men should function in society, fathers have created "unprecedented new roles for themselves in a traditionally women's event"  and have "helped to make hospitals more flexible in how they handled birth," Leavitt writes.

Dads' participation in birth has helped to break down the "mystique of modern medicine and further opened the world of obstetrics to lay participation and interpretation," she writes.

Fathers often report that witnessing a child's birth is one of the best experiences of their lives.

"It was better than any game I've played or any big hit I've had," said Ian Desmond, the Washington Nationals' shortstop who recently took advantage of Major League Baseball's new paternity leave to attend the birth of his son, Grayson.

However, the journey has not always been easy for men, who in their public lives often are far more in control than they feel attending the birth of one of their own children.

Leavitt quotes the writer Stephen Harrigan, who wrote in Reader's Digest in March, 1979, about attending the birth of his son. Before the birth, Harrigan worried that he would be no more than a spectator metaphorically holding out Gatorade to his wife, the "athlete who would finish the race."

Harrigan found the experience to be more profound and involving than he expected, but some other fathers feel "at sea, abandoned and out-of-control" at birth, Leavitt writes.

Some fathers cringe at the idea of watching their wives in pain or perhaps fear the experience will damage the desire they feel for their wives. Fathers attending birth are now so ubiquitous that a reluctant dad may well feel pressured to go.

Nevertheless, men's foray into the birth process, which may begin with their attending prenatal classes, has led to their increased participation in their families' lives and experiences, compared with those 1950s dads who began the process, Leavitt writes.

Dads who don't attend their children's birth lose a crucial opportunity, according to researcher Jessica Weiss, who goes so far as to say they risk having "missed the boat of shared parenting."