Excerpted from Birth as an American Rite of Passage
Prophylactic Eye Treatment
Description and Official Rationale
Silver nitrate or an antibiotic substitute is placed in the eyes of almost every hospital-born baby in this country to prevent the development of blindness in case the mother should have gonorrhea, as required under state law in most states, on the theory that it is impossible to know which babies really need it and which ones do not.
Silver nitrate binds with the membranes of the baby's eyes, causing redness, irritation, swelling, and blurred vision in the first few days of her life, thus interfering with her visual learning and adjustment to her new environment. Antibiotic ointments do not seem to have these irritating effects and are increasingly utilized in place of silver nitrate. The authors of Williams state that at Parkland Memorial, penicillin is routinely injected into newborns "soon after delivery" instead of the ointment, which does not have a 100% success rate at preventing blindness (1985:384). These physicians do not question the wisdom of injecting antibiotics into minutes-old babies, as do many in the holistic health movement who object to the routine administration of antibiotics even to adults (e.g., Odent 1986:71, Weil 1988).
All my baby's eyes poofed out....it was almost like they were having a reaction--they were red and yucky, and I feel like as far as the bonding is concerned, that just wiped it out for the first two or three days. Paul has never had relations except for with me, and I have never had relations except for with Paul. We know we don't have VD, so why punish us?
I demanded as soon as she was born that they not put any silver nitrate in her eyes. I got a lot of static about that. You know, the traditional, "Oh, honey, you don't really mean that. You don't know what you are talking about." I was really thankful that Dr. Dorson walked in right at the height of that discussion with the nurses there....He stepped in and [defended our right to refuse the procedure, as he had promised us that he would]. .
Prophylactic eye treatment of the newborn once again tells the mother that she--and the father--are impure in society's eyes and that they have potentially polluted society's product, which science and technology must now restore to purity--a purity that only society can bestow. The force of this message is increased by the fact that no individual distinctions are made in this universal process of ritual purification.
© Robbie Davis-Floyd PhD, Used with Permission
What would you like next?
Read some Sample Birth Plans and get information to help put your birth plan together.
Find out about ways to reduce unnecessary pain in labor.
Learn ways to handle Childbirth Challenges.
Find out what normal labor is like.
Review the birth plan options that may be available to you.