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Cassidy Chronicles Birth Experience

Journalist Tina Cassidy was inspired to write about cultural birth practices after hearing many accounts of birth experiences. Cassidy is a former reporter for the Boston Globe and writes for other publications including The New York Times Magazine.

21:00

Other segments from the episode on October 24, 2006

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, October 24, 2006: Interview with Lou Dubose; Interview with Tina Cassidy; Review of the film "Infamous."

Transcript

DATE October 24, 2006 ACCOUNT NUMBER N/A
TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM AUDIENCE N/A
NETWORK NPR
PROGRAM Fresh Air

Interview: Author Lou Dubose discusses his new book, a critical
biography of Vice President Dick Cheney
TERRY GROSS, host:

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

After writing books about Karl Rove, Tom DeLay and George W. Bush, my guest
Lou Dubose has co-authored a new critical biography of Dick Cheney. The book,
"Vice," describes Cheney as the most powerful vice president ever to occupy
the office. Before becoming vice president, Cheney served in the Nixon
administration, was President Ford's chief of staff, spent 10 years in
Congress, was President George H.W. Bush's secretary of defense and the CEO
of Halliburton. The new book ends with 25 questions for the vice president.

Lou Dubose, welcome to FRESH AIR. Why do you end the book with 25 questions
that you'd like to ask the vice president?

Mr. LOU DUBOSE: In part, because he would answer no questions to us, but
that's not uncommon. He rarely responds to the media. The other is because I
think there's some questions that are of compelling interest to the public
that the vice president and his office have steadfastly refused to respond to.

GROSS: Well, let me read one of the questions you ask and this has to do with
the vice president's energy task force which he established soon after taking
office of the vice president, and the question is: Why was your energy task
force reviewing maps of the Iraqi oil field in 2001, two years prior to the
Iraq war while Iraq oil was embargoed?

How do you know that the energy task force was actually reviewing the Iraqi
oil fields?

Mr. DUBOSE: We would never know were it not for a lawsuit filed by a
conservative watchdog group, Judicial Watch, who actually got copies of the
maps of the oil fields, and besides the maps of the oil fields were lists of
suitors, corporate suitors who would be carving up the oil fields in Iraq. A
the time, Iraq--the country was under embargo, a limited amount of oil was
allowed to be sold in the oil-for-food program, yet here was the vice
president and a group of oil men secretly meeting, because the public was not
allowed access to the meeting nor to know the names of the lobbyists and
poring over the maps of the Iraq oil fields. We thought it was a question
that should be answered. It never has.

GROSS: Do you know if there were maps of other oil fields in other countries?
Perhaps it wasn't unusual that there was an Iraq oil field map. Maybe there
were maps of, you know, Iran and Saudi Arabia and South American countries
with oil.

Mr. DUBOSE: Mostly Middle Eastern. There were other maps, and there were
continuous meetings with the energy task force with Middle Eastern oil
ministers, but the idea that the oil fields of Iraq were being divided up
among corporate suitors in the office--by the office of the vice presidency
suggests that there were obviously either short-term or long-term plans for
regime change that would allow access to those oil fields, and we know now
that the plan was short-term.

GROSS: Now another question that you ask has to do with the possibility of
negotiations with Iran back in 2003. The question is: After the initial
military success in Afghanistan and Iraq in 2003, the Iranian government
offered to negotiate with the US regarding al-Qaeda, relationships with Israel
and the Iranian nuclear energy and weapons program. Why did you kill the
negotiations before they began? This is a question you would like to ask the
vice president. What are these negotiations you're referring to?

Mr. DUBOSE: Well, this was an extraordinary moment, Terry. Following the
stunning success--this was in Afghanistan. And then the success in marching
through--into Baghdad, the American army, the Iranians were terrified. They
felt that they were next in the gun sights. This was before the Iraq war had
collapsed into a failure of a protracted occupation and now a civil war. The
Iranians were terrified, and they felt like their only option was to offer to
negotiate with the US, through the Swiss Embassy, because we have no direct
diplomatic relationships with the Iranians. They offered pretty much
everything on the table. If you think about what's going on now, what's gone
on recently, this included support for Hezbollah, this included their nuclear
program, this was before President Ahmadinejad was elected and there were
moderates in Tehran, yet after all this successivist coercive diplomacy, which
is what the neocons believe in, they surrendered essentially or at least they
gave themselves over to negotiation, and Dick Cheney killed that negotiation.
I think it's a valid question, and I would like to know why.

GROSS: How do you know that this offer was made by the Iranian government
through the Swiss and how do you know that Vice President Cheney killed the
offer?

Mr. DUBOSE: The documents have been obtained from the Swiss. It has been
made public. And Colonel Larry Wilkerson who was Colin Powell's longtime aide
both at the Defense Department and at the State Department revealed that Dick
Cheney made the decision to kill these negotiations because--you know, when
you go back, there was an odd moment in the early history of Dick Cheney, when
he was a member of Congress and he was in Moscow as the ranking member--this
was in the early '80s--as a ranking member of a delegation to Moscow, he was
invited in to speak to Soviet Marshal Akhromeev, who was the number three man
in the Soviet Union, who offered to reopen negotiations on US-Soviet arms
development and deployment. He was in there with Congressmen Tom Downey of
New York. They came out and Downey announced it, and Cheney said that it
never happened although there was a State Department witness to the offer.
Dick Cheney doesn't believe in negotiating with your enemies, was what Downey
said at the time and said again recently in an interview. He thinks that
negotiation from a position of power means you impose your will on them. He
didn't negotiate with the Iranians. Consequently, we know have--you know,
Iran, starting up their enrichment program of uranium, and it's something that
could have been dealt with through negotiations three years ago.

GROSS: Perhaps those negotiations would have been successful, perhaps they
wouldn't. We don't know. I guess we'll never know.

Mr. DUBOSE: Right.

GROSS: Now you say that the US wrote a letter of protest to the Swiss for
interfering in our foreign policy after they forwarded to us this request from
the Iranians to negotiate in 2003. Have you seen this actual document to the
Swiss from the US?

Mr. DUBOSE: No, I haven't, but I have it from two sources, and Colin Powell
will not respond to it. I think it's particularly embarrassing for him, but I
have it from two sources inside the State Department that the Swiss were
reprimanded for that act, and that actually has been published at one time
before.

GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is Lou Dubose, and he's the
co-author of a new book called "Vice," which is about Vice President Dick
Cheney, and the book ends with a list of 25 questions that the authors would
like to ask the vice president.

Let me read another one of those questions, and this has to do with the agenda
for negotiations with North Korea in 2004, and the question is: Considering
the North Korean missile test in June 2006 and North Korea's development of
nuclear weapons, how do you justify the constraints you personally imposed on
a negotiation agenda that had been drafted and approved by the president and
secretary of state in 2004? What is this negotiation agenda and what were the
constraints that you said the vice president put on the agenda?

Mr. DUBOSE: At the time it was believed it was in our national interest to
negotiate with the North Koreans to try to keep that nuclear genie in a
bottle. There is a process by which a negotiating agenda for a State
Department diplomat is put together. That process involves consensus of a
group of people that involve the president, the vice president, the secretary
of state, the secretary of defense, the chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and
the chair of the National Security Council. They would sit and draft an
agenda, and it would be approved through this statutory process. On at least
two occasions that we know of, the vice president--after that draft was
prepared and signed, the vice president rewrote the talking points for the US
negotiator traveling to North Korea or to China. What Cheney did was he
ensured that the negotiator had nothing in his pocket, that there was nothing
that could be said regarding any sort of compromise that US would make, in
essence, killing the negotiation. Colonel Larry Wilkerson who served with
Colin Powell at the State Department insists that these guys are incapable of
diplomacy, and they're incapable because Bush and Cheney, Cheney in
particular, won't let it happen.

GROSS: So do you think that this decision to limit what could be discussed in
talks with North Korea in 2004 has affected where we are now with North Korea?

Mr. DUBOSE: Well, it's hard to prove one way or another. However, what we
do know is that North Korea has now detonated an atomic weapon. Up that
point, they hadn't, and you know, the back and forth between whether the
former Clinton administration and the Bush administration as to who's
responsible is mute on that point because there were no nuclear weapons
detonated until just recently.

GROSS: I'm going to read another question from the list of 25 questions that
you'd like to ask Vice President Cheney, and this question has to do with his
position during the Gulf War on Iraq and his position in 2003 when we invaded
Iraq. My question is how do you explain the complete reversal of your
position on invading and occupying Iraq, a course of action you unequivocally
opposed as George H.W. Bush's secretary of defense? What exactly was Dick
Cheney's position when he was secretary of defense under the first President
Bush.

Mr. DUBOSE: Well, I must observe that if you go to the Pentagon and talk to
those generals who are willing to talk, Dick Cheney is universally admired as
being one of the finest, if not the finest, modern secretaries of defense. He
served the American military well as the Pentagon brass season. After the
first Gulf War he made a compelling argument immediately after the first Gulf
War as to why the US didn't go on into Baghdad and destroy Saddam Hussein's
regime. It had to do with the fact that there would be a protracted
occupation, the cost of the occupation would be high in American lives. It
would overextend the military. All the arguments that we now see being played
out were arguments that Dick Cheney then made. It was beyond our mandate.
You know, he felt like at the time, that the US policy to stop short of
overthrowing Hussein was a wise policy...(unintelligible)...at that time.

GROSS: And have you been able to talk to anybody who has explained to you the
reasons for his change of mind about what our course of action in Iraq should
be?

Mr. DUBOSE: Yeah. You know, it's hard to get inside, of course, anyone's
head, inside the vice president's head, and we don't certainly have any access
to meetings in the office of the vice presidency. You know, there are two
arguments. One was made by a defense analyst who worked for former--Georgia's
Senator Sam Nunn who was the chair of the Senate Armed Forces Services
Committee. He believes that--he makes the argument that on 9/11, Dick Cheney
had what he described as an intellectual stroke. He became a policy hysteric
and over-reacted, and over-reacts to every possible threat the US faces.

I think the more logical explanation is that Dick Cheney saw this moment after
9/11 as the time when he could consolidate all of the powers of the presidency
that he saw lost when he was serving in the Richard Nixon administration as a
very young man and then in the Ford administration. He could put the powers
of the executive back together, recreate the imperial presidency and thus
defend the United States. He's also a true believer. I think that the vice
president genuinely believes that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass
destruction.

GROSS: My guest is Lou Dubose, co-author of the new book about Dick Cheney
called "Vice." We'll talk more after a break. This is FRESH AIR.

(Announcements)

GROSS: My guest is Lou Dubose. He's written books about Tom DeLay, Karl Rove
and George W. Bush. His new book, "Vice," is about Vice President Dick
Cheney. It ends with 25 questions for the vice president.

In your book about Vice President Cheney, you describe the vice president as
very secretive, and that's a criticism that many of his critics have made of
him. One of the questions you'd like to ask him pertains to that, and the
question is: Why doesn't the public have a right to know who serves on the
vice president's staff and the size and details of the staff budget office and
how many document it has classified? What is secretive about his staff?

Mr. DUBOSE: That's quite remarkable. Almost everything. I mean, we know
from press reports who's on the staff, but we don't know who's on the staff in
terms of who else is on the staff. You know, reporters will call the OVP, the
Office of the Vice President, and they will ask if a certain person is a
vice-presidential staffer, and they will be told that information is not
available to the public. This is the largest vice-presidential staff in the
history of the modern presidency, therefore, the history of the presidency, of
course. It is the most closed and most secretive--this is the only
vice-presidential staff that is set up as a shadow National Security Council
staff that monitors all the e-mail traffic with the president's national
security staff while the president staffers don't get to look back into the
e-mail of Vice President Cheney's staff. It's quite remarkable, the closed
nature of this vice presidency.

GROSS: You would also like to ask the vice president why he doesn't release
his complete medical history and the list of medications that he's taking.
What is there you need to know that you don't already know? I mean, we know
something about his heart condition and didn't he have like a pacemaker
installed since he became vice president?

Mr. DUBOSE: Yeah, Vice President Cheney had his first heart attack when he
was running for Congress in 1978. You know, I think that if one were applying
to be CEO of a company, the board of directors and the shareholders would have
a right to know sort of the state of that applicant's health. Dick Cheney has
had four to five major coronary events in his life, and I think the question
bears on whether he's fit to hold the office or fit to succeed President Bush
in the event of the president's death or incapacity. There are other
questions. I mean, you have to ask what sort of blood thinners he's taking.
Most people in his condition would take Coumadin. Here you had a man taking a
blood thinner that potentially uses alcohol at a time he admitted he had a
beer on the bird hunt shortly before he shot someone--shot his friend in the
face. I mean, I think there are a lot of implications, and it just seems
reasonable that the vice president would level with the American people about
the state of his health.

GROSS: If his doctors felt that he was unfit, wouldn't they say something?

Mr. DUBOSE: Perhaps. You know, but there's a doctor-patient relationship
with a client just as there's a legal privilege with a lawyer. And I think it
would be incumbent upon the patient to release that information or to release
his doctor or to provide his doctor a release to provide the information.

GROSS: You wanted to interview the vice president for your book about him.
He did not grant you an interview. What were some of the difficulties you had
in researching Vice President Dick Cheney when he wouldn't grant you an
interview?

Mr. DUBOSE: It's always preferable for a writer to interview the subject of
a book. Not always necessary, though, obviously and certainly not with
politicians, who often are so very guarded that you get nothing from then.
The difficulty was, in this case, it was in a sense, like writing a book about
a Mafia don, and I don't say that as an insult to the vice president but that
many people in Washington fear him. There are members of Congress who would
meet with us and talk with us only off the record, in part because they feared
that if they got crossways with the vice president, they would get crossways
with the Republican Party and lose potential lobbying prospects in the future
when they leave Congress. Military officers would meet with us mostly off the
record because they also feared retribution from the vice president or the
secretary of defense, or because they feared that by association with a book
critical of the vice president, their careers would be impaired. You know,
it's a challenge, but it's not insurmountable.

GROSS: You have a previous book you co-wrote about Tom DeLay. Now that Tom
DeLay has resigned and, you know, as a result of the indictment against him on
charges of campaign finance violations, and now that, you know, he remains on
the ballot in Texas, so there'll be a write-in candidate, the party legally
wasn't allowed to take Tom DeLay's off the ballot, how do you think Congress
has changed without him?

Mr. DUBOSE: I think that the Congress has changed substantially without him.
You know, Tom DeLay, he was a majority leader unlike any who had come before
him, and it was he who was able to keep the Republican majority in line and
working on behalf of the vice president and the president. I think the recent
Mark Foley scandal would have been much better handled if Tom DeLay were in
power. I think that the fragmentation of the leadership that you now see with
Speaker Denny Hastert fighting with Majority Leader John Boehner would not
have happened if Tom DeLay were in power. His absence has left the Congress,
I think, badly impaired. It has imperiled the Bush-Cheney agenda, and I think
that that's part of the reason that they're fighting so very hard and Cheney
is fighting--raising so much money in order to preserve a Republican majority
because Denny Hastert now becomes essential to them, and Bush is very
obviously dedicated to keeping Hastert in office.

GROSS: Well, Lou Dubose, thank you very much for talking with us.

Mr. DUBOSE: Thank you, Terry.

GROSS: Lou Dubose is the co-author of the new book "Vice," about Dick Cheney.
His new book about Tom DeLay is called "The Hammer Comes Down."

I'm Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

(Announcements)

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Interview: Journalist Tina Cassidy talks about her new book,
"Birth: The Surprising History of How We Are Born," chronicling
birth practices throughout time and across cultures
TERRY GROSS, host:

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

After Tina Cassidy had a baby in 2004, she says the women of her family gave
her three things: newborn outfits, advice and accounts of their own birth
experiences. Those accounts inspired her to write a book about the medical
and cultural practices surrounding childbirth. Her book is called "Birth:
The Surprising History of How We Are Born." Before she became a mother,
Cassidy was a reporter and an editor at the Boston Globe. By the way,
parents, there are parts of this interview you will probably not find
appropriate for young children. We're going to be talking about childbirth
and some of the things that can go wrong.

When Tina Cassidy was pregnant, she drew up a birth plan that included getting
an epidural for the pain only if absolutely necessary, but reality didn't
conform to the plan. Things were going fine until she got to the hospital.

Ms. TINA CASSIDY: When I got there, they said, `OK. It's time to get hooked
up to your IV now so that you'll be ready for your epidural.' And that's sort
of when a lot of the tension started. I said, `No, I don't think I want an
epidural and I definitely don't need an IV. I'm not dehydrated, and I'm sure
I can have a sip of water as things progress if I get really thirsty. But is
this really necessary?' And you know, so they kept sort of pushing this
system, and as I was probably moving close to transition, which was, you know
the most intensive part of active labor, I was in excruciating back labor, and
I think it's because my baby was posterior, he was facing sunny-side up, if
you will, and the normal position for a baby to come out is facing down. So
the back of his head was pressing on my spine. And you know, there are lots
of things that can be done to alleviate that sort of back pain but it was one
of the busiest nights on the labor floor that they had had in quite some time
so they just kept coming in and saying, `Are you ready for your epidural now?
Are you ready? Are you ready?' And I kept saying, `No, no, no,' and I tried
all these other things, and my husband, I could see, was starting to come
apart, and, finally, I consented to it, and the epidural certainly worked in
terms of pain relief but, of course, it confined me to my hospital bed because
I was numb from the waist down, and I think that that sort of set in stone the
way my labor was going to be. As I continued to dilate and the baby tried to
move down, he sort of got stuck in that position and was not able to fully
rotate...

GROSS: And then you ended up having a C-section.

Ms. CASSIDY: I ended up having a C-section, yes, after four hours of
pushing. You know, I don't think any amount of pushing was going to get him
down. He was stuck in this wrong position, it was like fitting a square peg
through a round hole, and it just wasn't happening. So I asked them to shut
the epidural off so I could try to get up and walk around, and maybe that
would move the baby around and help him to descend but it didn't, and the pain
intensity of going from no pain with the epidural to 100 times the pain that I
thought I could ever endure as a woman, you know. So at that point when they
said, `You need a C-section,' I said, `Fine. Just hurry up and get it over
with.' It was really bad. Now the baby, of course, was fine through all of
this. If anything, you know, there was any indication at all that my son was
at risk, I would have consented much sooner but everything was fine with him.
It was me having the trouble.

GROSS: Tina, why did you want to examine the history of childbirth after you
gave birth yourself?

Ms. CASSIDY: Well, the day after I had my son, I was still groggy and in
bed, and my obstetrician came in to check on me, and my husband was sitting
there and he was still sort of distraught and trying to make sense of what had
happened the night before, and--he's a journalist as well, so he started
firing off questions at her, and he said one of the questions was, `What would
have happened 500 years ago if you couldn't have just wheeled her down the
hall so easily for this C-section?' And her answer was really what brought me
down this road of wanting to look at what women did do 500 years ago and what
did they do a thousand years ago and why is it right after having babies for
so long, we still haven't figured out the best way to do it? And why is it
that every generation has its own way of giving birth? It seems like such a
natural, physiological process, and yet it's different from mother to daughter
and so on, and I just really needed to make sense of that. And once I started
doing research, I realized how little I knew. After all the reading I had
done for my own pregnancy and birth, I felt like I had no context for how we
got to where we are today.

GROSS: So when your husband said what would have happened 500 years ago and
you couldn't have a Caesarean section...

Ms. CASSIDY: Mm-hmm.

GROSS: ...what did the nurse say?

Ms. CASSIDY: Well, it's a pretty awful procedure if you want me to go into
the details here, I will, but I'll just give you a little forewarning that
it's pretty gruesome. The procedure that she talked about was called a
craniotomy, and this was almost always done when a baby was already dead
because the labor had stopped because the baby was stopped and couldn't come
out, and that would have involved collapsing the fetal skull and then pulling
the baby out bit by bit. So this was done in an effort to save the life of
the mother because if the baby had been left inside, you know, the body would
have begun to disintegrate and poison the mother, and then she would die, too.

Now the truth is that craniotomy didn't save many women as you might think for
a couple of reason, and one was this happened quite often before there were
antiseptic techniques and long before antibiotics were available. So many
women died of infection from use of dirty tools or dirty hands, and sometimes
her birth canal would get punctured by this horrific tool, so she could bleed
to death or infection could be introduced that way as well. So, it was such a
horrible image when she said this, I sort of didn't want to believe that it
was true, and that was really what launched me on this journey to see if it
was true.

GROSS: Now you were born in 1969 and when your mother gave birth to your
brother in 1976, she took Lamaze childbirth classes with your father
attending. What are some of the ways that natural childbirth has changed
since your brother was born?

Ms. CASSIDY: Well, my brother was born by Caesarean section even though she
took those Lamaze classes, so I just wanted to add that note. But natural
birth has really come full circle. It grew out of this movement to
anesthetize women while they were in labor. If you asked your grandmother,
you know, what her births were like, more than likely she will not remember.
She would have been knocked out, and so the next generation, this was the
generation of my mother, you know, they wanted to be part of their birth
experiences, they wanted to remember what that was like, and I think that
birth is always a reflection of the culture in which it happened, and if you
think about the culture of these generations, my grandmother's generation--she
had babies in the '40s for the most part--these were women who didn't have
very many options, and childbirth was just something that they, for the most
part, succumbed to. And then when my mother's generation came around, it was
all about liberation and being in control and being strong women, and so I
think that's why being part of birth became so important to them. And I think
today women are struggling to find balance in their lives, and that's why we
want to be part of birth, so we don't want to be completely anesthetized, but
we also don't want to feel the pain, which is why I think epidurals are so
popular.

And so natural birth was a very important part of a cultural movement in the
'60s and '70s, and there are still some women today who I think feel very
strongly about natural birth, but culturally it's not where the majority of
women in this country are at, and I think that's why you don't hear so many
people talk about their natural birth experiences. It's all about the
epidural or getting a Caesarean section or just going to the hospital when
labor starts as opposed to giving birth at home, which was something that was
much more common just 20 years ago.

GROSS: My guest is Tina Cassidy. Her new book is called "Birth: The
Surprising History of How We Are Born."

We'll talk more after a break. This is FRESH AIR.

(Announcements)

GROSS: My guest is journalist and mother Tina Cassidy. After having her
baby, she decided to write a book about the history of medical procedures and
cultural practices surrounding childbirth. It's called "Birth."

Why is childbirth so much more difficult for human beings than for other
animals?

Ms. CASSIDY: Well, humans are the only mammal species that need help to give
birth, and the reason for that is become we walk upright and our bipedal
structure means that we have more narrow pelvis to support the weight of our
bodies, and we're reasonably intelligent, so our babies tend to be born with
larger crania. And so to fit that crania through the pelvis, the baby
actually starts out descending head down, in a normal scenario, ear to ear,
lined up with the widest part of the pelvis, which is hip to hip, but the
widest outlet of the pelvis is front to back, so the baby actually has to
rotate as it descends in order to fit through this newly structured pelvis, if
you will, to support us upright. And that makes birth very complicated for
humans, which is not to say that it's not easy for some women and it's not to
say that, you know, by and large babies fit through just fine, but that's why
it is more complicated.

Monkeys, for example, can give birth in a couple of minutes, and the baby just
shoots straight down the birth canal. It doesn't have to rotate, so you can
see why we would need help to help facilitate--either the baby turning or to
provide support for the mother over a day or more of labor. And a lot of
people think that midwives were sort of an evolutionary adaptation to help the
mother. There have been some studies that have shown that if the mother
labors totally alone or if she's fearful, that the labor stalls or drags out
and she's actually at greater risk. And so, if you think about the midwife as
an adaptation to this problem, you know, you think, OK, you've got sort of the
perfect solution.

GROSS: You know, in talking about the difficulty that human women have giving
birth, it's fascinating to see some of the different positions for childbirth
that have been recommended over the years. Do you want to just run through
some of those for us? I mean, obviously in a lot of the 20th century, a lot
of women were on their backs, their legs in stirrups, kind of like for a
gynecological exam.

Ms. CASSIDY: Right. And we know now...

GROSS: Is that considered a bad position now?

Ms. CASSIDY: That is considered the worst possible position because it puts
the pelvis in a position where the baby almost has to fight gravity to get up
out of the birth canal. The best position, and cultures around the world have
always squatted, and so we know that, you know, this is a very comfortable
position for labor, and it's actually a position that helps aid labor, and
you're working with gravity to help get the baby out. There were other
positions too that were sort of interesting. When doctors first took over
from midwives, there was a lot of shyness on the mothers' part because they
still felt very immodest about having a man look at them. And by the same
token, these male physicians didn't want to be looking at the woman either, so
a lot of this was done blind. The mother would be told to be on her side and
she would be covered with sheets, and then this would allow the physician to
help get the baby out, but this was done for the doctor's convenience, not
necessarily for the mother's. And then today, of course, we're mostly on our
backs in the hospital because we're hooked up to epidurals.

GROSS: But if that's a bad position, why are we doing it that way?

Ms. CASSIDY: Because we don't want to feel the pain. If you have an
epidural, you can't stand up for the most part...

GROSS: Right.

Ms. CASSIDY: ...and there are some walking epidurals...

GROSS: Yeah.

Ms. CASSIDY: ...and it's very difficult to squat. You can't support
yourself on numbed legs. It's, you know, if you think about how difficult it
is to talk after having your jaw numbed during a dental exam, think about what
it's like to have the whole weight of your body, plus the baby, pushing down
on your numbed legs.

GROSS: You know, one of the questions you ask in your book is when did men
get admitted to the delivery room and who's behind that decision.

Ms. CASSIDY: Mm-hmm.

GROSS: So, what's the answer to the question?

Ms. CASSIDY: Well, there are a couple of factors that happened, and they all
built on each other. One famous obstetrician who is believed to be the father
of natural childbirth, Grantly Dick-Reed, he was an Englishman, he thought
that it was OK for fathers to be there for the birth as long as they didn't
get overexcited. Then came Ferdinand Lamaze, the French obstetrician whom we
all know, and he also said it was OK for fathers to be there. His method
didn't really take off in the US until the '60s and for the most part in the
'70s. But then along came another American doctor called Dr. Bradley, and he
believed that the man was actually the best labor and birth coach, so he was
the first one to be far more pro-active and made the man part of the whole
program. So the father would be the one at the end of the bed coaching,
saying, `Come on, you can push,' and then sometimes he even caught the baby
and cut the umbilical cord.

GROSS: Let me ask you about, like, a current trend in childbirth...

Ms. CASSIDY: Mm-hmm.

GROSS: ...and that is that about 50 percent of labors in America now are
induced. You wrote an article for The New York Times Magazine not long ago
about induced labors, and as you wrote, a lot of women are inducing labor for
scheduling reasons...

Ms. CASSIDY: That's right.

GROSS: ...either they're, you know, afraid their doctor's going to be gone or
their husband will be away...

Ms. CASSIDY: Right.

GROSS: ...or they have something they have to take care of.

Ms. CASSIDY: Exactly.

GROSS: Is that considered controversial?

Ms. CASSIDY: I think obstetricians are somewhat immune to this idea by now
because it's been going on for a while, but I think to ask to be induced
because you want to watch the Super Bowl is outrageous. I mean, interfering
with your labor and birth to that degree for no medical indication can have
serious outcomes for mother and baby, and I think we need to be a little bit
more careful and more respectful of the natural process than we have been.

GROSS: Let's talk about painkillers a little bit. Would you say that the
women you know of your age want to avoid painkillers if possible during
delivery and want to just kind of like, you know, go it alone without that?

Ms. CASSIDY: I would say probably half of the women I know want to avoid an
epidural--this is what they say before they've gone into labor anyway--but
then when they get into labor and they feel the pain, they either say, `Get me
an epidural now,' or they try to hold off and they have a situation like I did
where the hospital staff says, `Do you want your epidural now? Do you want
your epidural now?' So they feel pressured to have it. And I'm not saying
that women don't deserve the responsibility for accepting that epidural, but,
you know, the hospital system is definitely set up so that women get it.

GROSS: Have epidurals been improved over the decades?

Ms. CASSIDY: Oh, absolutely. They used to be quite bad. Even 30 years ago,
you know, women would be numbed up to their necks and it would cause cardiac
problems and, you know, they would have serious headaches because the needles
were a little bit too big. It would cause some dura to seep from the spinal
column and then that would make the brain actually sag so it would pull on
connective tissue, but since then, epidurals have improved quite a bit--which
is not to say that there aren't drawbacks to using the epidurals today. It
makes pushing much more difficult and the pushing phase is often extended for
women who have epidurals, and it can--most likely causes fevers in mothers and
babies. There's a big study being done on that right now, but I think most
people would agree that the epidurals are probably the culprits for fevers.

GROSS: You mentioned that earlier in the history of painkillers in childbirth
that there were religious and moral debates about whether women should be
taking painkillers. What were those debates like?

Ms. CASSIDY: Well, they were quite passionate and fiery debates. In the
Bible it says, `In sorrow thou shalt bring forth children,' and that's in
Genesis, and it was because of that biblical passage that the church, for a
long time, tried to say that it was a sin to attempt to alleviate pain during
childbirth, that this was Eve's curse, this was a woman's station in life, she
had to bear it. And so when people came along and said we have ways of
eliminating pain, they were ridiculed and the church came out and attacked
them, and it just so happens that the father of surgical anesthesia, James
Young Simpson, was a Scotsman, and he was very good about finding his own
biblical passages to fight back with, and he said, you know, it also says in
the Bible, that when God took the rib from Adam to give to Eve, that Adam fell
into a deep sleep, so he said, `Isn't that the same thing as anesthesia? And
what's good for Adam, shouldn't that be as good for Eve?' So that was the
argument that went around and around.

GROSS: If you were pregnant again, what would you do to prepare and what do
you think you would insist on?

Ms. CASSIDY: Well, because I've had one C-section already, I am
automatically labeled high-risk, so my actions are limited. I would not be
allowed to go to a birth center. There are a lot of people who would not help
me to labor at home, and so by going to the hospital, I think I would be in a
lot of the same situations as before. I would definitely have a midwife this
time, and I would be much firmer in my request to not have as much
intervention as I had the last time.

GROSS: Why would you want to use a midwife this time around, considering how
difficult your first labor was?

Ms. CASSIDY: Right. Well, I think a midwife tends to err on the side of
patience and watching and waiting and also coming up with more positive ways
to try to get labor and birth going, where a doctor might say, `Well, you've
been pushing for three hours. It's about the length of time that we're
comfortable with. Maybe it's time to have a C-section.' A midwife would
probably say, `You need to get up and walk around. You need to bounce on a
ball. You need to, you know, really focus on your pushing a little bit more
so that'--it's really just a completely different approach to guiding a woman
through labor.

GROSS: Well, Tina Cassidy, thank you very much for talking with us.

Ms. CASSIDY: Thank you so much, Terry. It's my pleasure.

GROSS: Tina Cassidy is the author of the new book, "Birth: A History of How
We Are Born."

Coming up, another movie about Truman Capote and the writing of "In Cold
Blood" has just been released. David Edelstein has a review.

This is FRESH AIR.

(Announcements)

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Review: Film critic David Edelstein reviews "Infamous," the new
movie about Truman Capote
TERRY GROSS, host:

Truman Capote's "In Cold Blood" focuses on the slaying of the Clutter family
in Holcomb, Kansas. Published in 1965, the book became a sensation for its
evocative depiction of place and character, and it's recently become a
sensation again as the subject of two different movies. The new film,
"Infamous," is written and directed by Douglas McGrath, a one-time Woody Allen
collaborator, best known for his film of Jane Austen's "Emma." David Edelstein
has a review.

Mr. DAVID EDELSTEIN: So here's my fantasy of the writer and director Doug
McGrath at a cocktail party last Christmas, around the time that Philip
Seymour Hoffman was racking up awards and nominations for the movie, "Capote."

`Hey, Doug, how's it going? Working on anything?'

`Yeah, I got this movie about Truman Capote and the writing of "In Cold
Blood."

`Ha, good one. Seriously, what are you working on?'

`No, really, it's been in the works for years.'

`Wow! Dude, what a bummer! Hard act to follow.'

Yeah, it must have been rough for McGrath. On the other hand, some of us
found "Capote," in spite of Hoffman's stupendous performance, on the dreary
side. The screenwriter, Dan Futterman, took his cues from Janet Malcolm's
book, "The Journalist and the Murderer," which opened with the madly
overheated assertion that, quote, "Every journalist who is not too stupid or
too full of himself to notice what is going on knows what he does is morally
indefensible." This notion of the journalist's inevitable betrayal of his or
her subject is at the heart of the film "Capote," which became the story of a
devious little jerk who sells his soul for a book. It was Truman's blood that
ran cold.

Well, any movie about Truman Capote with almost no sense of humor has taken a
wrong turn somewhere, and the good news is that "Infamous" mostly gets the
balance right. As Capote, the English actor Toby Jones is just dandy. He's
cunning, yet playful, and he's surrounded by the most delicious actors:
Sigourney Weaver as Babe Paley; Hope Davis as Slim Keith; and the divine
Juliette Stevenson as Diana Vreeland. She delivers an ode to eccentricity
that frames Capote generously. We marvel at the man's incorrigibility and his
sardonic wit, and we're allowed to discover for ourselves that he's a devious
little jerk. No, not precisely a jerk, an actor, in a world of actors. When
Capote heads off to report on the inexplicable slaughter of an entire family,
the Clutters, in a Kansas farmhouse, he isn't prepared for the murderer Perry
Smith, played by Daniel Craig. Smith calls Capote on his artifice and forces
him into the real, unstylized world. Back in New York high society, he can
hardly find the words to express what he has seen.

(Soundbite from "Infamous")

(Soundbite of music)

Unidentified Actress: What about Terry?

Mr. TOBY JONES: (As Truman Capote) No, it's Perry, as in Antoinette. He's
an enigma. You know, before he killed the Clutter boy, he put a pillow under
his head, and he wouldn't let Dick rape the girl.

Unidentified Actor: He's not all kindness.

Mr. JONES: (As Truman Capote) That's right. After these demonstrations of
gentility, he did shoot them dead.

Actor: And cut the old man's throat.

Mr. JONES: (As Truman Capote) There's something--I can't quite put my finger
on it--it seems insane to say that he's tender but he does have the tender and
the terrible side by side inside him. He's very...

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. JONES: (As Truman Capote) ...he's very...

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. JONES: (As Truman Capote) Never mind that. Let's go round the table and
you can all tell me whom you're having affairs with.

(Soundbite of laughter)

(End of soundbite)

Mr. EDELSTEIN: I admit that a few weeks after seeing "Infamous," that film
and "Capote" have gotten jumbled in my head. Catherine Keener in "Capote" is
a hugely likable mixture of modesty and tartness as close friend Harper Lee.
But so is Sandra Bullock here. She's a little broader, in keeping with the
spirit of the enterprise, but so smart and fun. Jeff Daniels is broad, too,
as the Kansas Bureau of Investigation agent Alvin Dewey, but his exasperation
with Capote's effete entitlement is a howl.

The problem with McGrath's writing is that there's no subtext. People blurt
things out as fast as the words pop into their heads. Great for cocktail
party repartee, not so good for feeling out mass murderers on Kansas' death
row. Daniel Craig brings a restless energy to Perry Smith that's scary and
convincing, but I kept wanting to insert longer pauses between his and
Capote's lines, maybe to bring the picture halfway back to the dread, the
sense of groping for the unknowable in that other movie. If someone could
edit the two together, a bit from one, a bit from the other--call it "The
Infamous Capote"--we'd have the definitive story of the writing of "In Cold
Blood." In the meantime, you could do worse than watch both films and do a
kind of mixed tape in your head. It's an important enough story in the annals
of American journalism, and Doug McGrath should feel vindicated. "Infamous"
wins the contest with "Capote" on points.

GROSS: David Edelstein is film critic for New York magazine.

(Soundbite of music)

(Credits)
Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.

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