Monday, January 14, 2008

Orangutan Cesarean

I recently read a news article about Como Park Zoo and Conservatory where on Dec. 13 an orangutan had a cesarean section to deliver her baby.

The article goes on to share the following:

"When orangutan Markisa's labor began it became apparent that something was not right and that keepers and vets had to intervene. Fortunately, a birth management plan was prepared in advance which outlined steps to take for such a crisis. Markisa was transferred to the Veterinary Medical Center at the University of Minnesota where a cesarean section was performed on the orangutan by vets and medical staff from both the Veterinary Medical Center
and University of Minnesota Children's Hospital, Fairview."

Of course, this not only makes me reflect on the experiences of human mothers and babies every day, but also on the impact of human interference with the birth process regardless of the species involved. What impact did it have on this orangutan mother to have keepers and vets watching her labor with their "birth management plan...outlining crisis steps" in hand? It is well documented that animals do not labor well when they are watched. Primates, and human mothers too, need to labor in an environment where they feel safe and secure--usually one with lots of privacy. I wonder how the expectation and plan for crisis impacted the outcome of this orangutan mother's labor. As Michel Odent, MD, notes: "Our understanding of birth physiology is based on the simple fact that adrenaline (the emergency hormone mammals release when they are scared, when they are cold or when they feel observed [emphasis mine] and oxytocin are antagonistic. In other words, when human beings release adrenaline, they cannot release oxytocin."

Oxytocin is the hormone that facilitates labor. A synthetic form of oxytocin, know as Pitocin, is frequently given to mothers giving birth in hospitals.

And tellingly the news article concludes by noting...."The male baby orangutan was in critical condition the first few hours after delivery and the mother was transferred back to Como Zoo to recuperate." I suspect the critical condition of this baby resulted because all mammal babies are meant to immediately be placed on the "maternal nest"--i.e. their mother's chest with immediate access to the breast.

How many mothers labor each day in conditions similar to this primate mother? Under the watchful eyes of many people holding emergency management plans and expecting a crisis right around the corner....

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