As we begin planning for the arrival of Baby, I have been thinking a lot about my preconceptions about pregnancy, birth, and parenting and how much they have changed over the past few years. I know my views tend to fall fairly crunchy of center. Nothing in this post or any subsequent ones is meant to be judgmental in any way. If you don’t like the way we do things, that’s fine. I’m glad. Do things your way. My purpose is simply to share information and provide a perspective that you may or may not have been exposed to before because I am so SO glad that I stumbled on to these things before we started having children.
Speaking of which, a lot of people wonder how I stumbled into the whole birth-activist thing. I basically started with a few friends of mine with shared world views. However, unlike myself, they had children so they would post and discuss lots of articles and perspectives concerned with pregnancy and children that stemmed from feminist and crunchy perspectives not unlike my own. So I would read them. I like to read, and I like to learn, so if I become interested in a specific topic it can snowball quickly, especially considering my access to databases of research through the University. So I read everything I could find. I read opposing positions and found supporting sources and counter sources to everything I discovered.
Let’s start with where I started. I always had a fairly typical “American” view of pregnancy and birth. I was terrified. I always said there was no way I would have children, not because I disliked children but because the idea of childbirth scared me more than anything I could imagine. After all, it’s a medical emergency! You have to go to a hospital for goodness sakes! There are IVs and a needle in your spine (contrary to what you may think given my tattoos and piercings- I despise needles), not to mention the monitors and catheters and beeping and people frantically running around. And this wasn’t just my perceptions based on movie and television. I was present for the birth of my two youngest sisters, start to finish. These beliefs, combined with an overall lack of faith in my body in general that seems to be epidemic in this country, made me positive that birth was something hard, and excruciating, and something to be feared.
But then I started my reading. It started with my exposure to a book called “Taking Charge of Your Fertility.” Women were raving about how amazing and empowering it was to learn how to monitor your own fertility for either birth control or conception purposes. Now this resonated with me because I HATED being on birth control. I hated the way it made me feel (I started anti-depressants shortly after starting birth control and I do not think that was a coincidence). I hated the fact that I was pumping my body full of synthetic hormones, and I hated the risks I was facing (cancer, stroke, etc). And I hated a slew of other random side effects that always popped up, despite the fact that I tried several different kinds. I also wasn’t super fond of the $30-$50 I was paying out of pocket each month (it being pre-Affordable Healthcare Act). So here was this book promising free, empowering, effective birth control! I ordered it off of Amazon and read it cover to cover and I was astounded by how much in the book I didn’t know. I literally had no clue how my own body functioned.
So I kept reading. I read about normal pregnancy and childbirth. I learned about the delicate hormonal balance that occurs between the mother and baby. I read about the intricate process and how my amazing body was both capable of growing and birthing a tiny person all by itself. I learned that in over 90% of births, medical interventions are completely unnecessary and can often cause significant complications. I found out the only about 1/3 of obstetric practices in the U.S. are evidenced based. I learned that obstetrics was developed to treat high risks pregnancies which make up only about 10% of women in the U.S., and was never intended to be the basic care system for the other 90%.I realized that the medical model of care is just that- one model. And you weren’t going to get exposure or information about anything else from your doctors or nurses because that is all they know! That is how they were trained and what their textbooks said, so that is what they do. I learned that there are other models- birth centers and midwives and home birth. I found out that home birth is just as safe for the baby as hospital birth for normal pregnancies and more safe for the mother. I learned so many things, more than I have time to cover in this post.
This resonated deeply with me. I have always been a bit of a flower child. I never feel more complete or more spiritual than when I am surrounded by the earth. And this made sense! If every other being in creation can bring forth life on their own, why can’t I? What makes humans so different that they can’t perform the most basic of biological functions? Why wouldn’t I be perfectly and intricately designed, just like any thunderstorm or snow flake? No matter what your belief system-nature, God, evolution, wherever you think stuff comes from- why would it make sense that we are so poorly designed to not even be able to achieve procreation without a thousand bells and whistles that didn’t exist until a hundred years ago (which we preceded by a long, long lineage of natural woman centered child birth I might add. If anything “modern birth” is a social experiment at best)?
And as I learned, I started to feel like I had discovered some big secret. I wanted to run out into the world screaming, “Hey everyone listen! You don’t have to be afraid! You don’t have to spend all this money and time and put up with all this stress and risk! Your body is perfect and works just fine!” I wanted to tell the doctors how they didn’t need to worry about all these women and use all these interventions, that pregnancy wasn’t an emergency or an illness. I was so excited because I felt like I was now holding information that could make a difference!
But then I kept reading. And I realized it’s not a secret. This information has never been hidden or obscured. That it is well known and NORMAL in most of Europe, such as the Netherlands where 80% of births take place at home without an obstetrician. That it is well known in most traditional and indigenous societies. That is used to be known here, before the 20th century, and that the evidence supporting all of this information was still right there in the literature. And then I realized- I wasn’t uninformed. I was lied to. I was deliberately misled. By doctors, by media, by insurance companies and hospital policies, by our culture at large. I learned that the U.S. ranks 49th in the world for maternal mortality. Yet here in the U.S. we continue down this hypermedicalized path of treatment that causes more problems (and more infant and maternal deaths) than it fixes. Now don’t get me wrong, there is a time and a place for all of these things. There are plenty of emergency situations where these high-tech hospitals and doctors are totally necessary. But those instances are few and far between and yet these procedures are considered routine and doled out to every woman walking through the doors. But people don’t know that. I didn’t know that. Our culture makes every birth out to be a game of roulette. Thank God the doctor did X, Y, and Z or we would have lost the baby! (Not realizing that U, V, and W led to the situation in the first place). No one person is to blame. In part, it’s our healthcare system. Pathology makes more money than health. Our homebirth services, which include all of my prenatal care, labor and delivery, and 6 weeks of postnatal care are going to cost $3,000 total. That’s it. For everything. Normal birth just isn’t very lucrative. And normal birth takes time. Your body is not on a schedule. But hospitals and doctors and nurses are. And most of them have never seen a normal, non-medicated child birth. A lot of medical staff have never seen a woman push in any position other than on her back. And the only time they do hear about homebirths and birth centers is when someone has to transfer, which is very rarely happens, but that means they are only seeing the ‘worst case scenarios’ (note: these really aren’t even worst case scenarios, the whole point of having competent birth support at home is having someone who knows enough to know when something is outside their abilities and needs further attention. These should be seen as examples of home birth working well). The list of things that people don’t know just goes on and on and on. And then, not often thank goodness, but sometimes…you have people who do know but just don’t care. You have the doctor who wants to give you a c-section so he can be home in time for dinner. Or so she can say “I told you so” because you were being a ‘difficult’ patient.
I slowly began to learn and realize these things, and I realized there was no way I could give birth in a hospital. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that you shouldn’t give birth in a hospital or that if you do you aren’t a good parent or mother or whatever. Believe me, the way I see it, I’m taking the easy way out! You see, I don’t want to have to deal with strangers while I’m trying to give birth. I don’t want bright fluorescent lights in my face or a freezing cold room with a stupid paper gown, I don’t my movement restricted by constant monitoring and being told I can’t eat or drink. None of these common hospital practices are based in actual research and many of them directly contradict it (like constant monitoring and limiting food intake). To sum it up, I don't want to waste my precious time, energy, and concentration while I am trying to push a baby out of my vagina trying to convince the people around me to just let me push the baby out of my vagina. Let me explain what I do want.
I want to do what my body needs at any given moment. I want to go for a walk, move around, and change positions as needed. I want to be able to eat and drink whatever I want whenever I want to keep my strength up. I want to be able to get in a tub or shower. I don’t want needles in me or monitors hanging off of me. I want to birth my baby, not have it “delivered”. I want to labor for as long as it takes, not be rushed or augmented or threatened with harming my baby because I’m not meeting some made up deadline. I want it to be a quiet peaceful environment. And when my baby is born, I want him/her to be placed on me immediately. I want to start breastfeeding and not have to play defense trying to keep bottles and sugar water and pacifiers away. No tests, no procedures. Just me and this person I have been waiting 9 months to meet. And then- I want to take a shower, and go to bed in my own bed with my whole family.
Now I’m not saying this is impossible in a hospital setting, but it’s not likely and takes hard work (I told you I was taking the easy route!). Even if I found an OB who was up to date on evidence based care and agreed to support me, there is no guarantee that the hospital policy would be ok with it or that the rest of the staff would be supportive. It could easily turn into an uphill battle just to let my body do what bodies have been doing for millennia. I don’t want to deal with that. I don’t need that kind of stress. So we will be having our baby right here in our house, attended by certified midwives. I know some people would freak out if they had to birth at home. To them, that would be the most stressful situation. That is why I firmly believe in supporting all women with all of their decisions- so that they can do what is best for them. The point is-everyone should be making that choice with all the available information. Not just some warped societal views or bad medical advice. So if you want more information- go find it. Start Googling the living crap out of everything you can think of. A wonderful place to start is birthwithoutfear.blogspot.com. This website is pretty much nothing but birth stories. All kinds. Home, hospital, birth center, unassisted, vbac, cesarean, breech, you name it. Reading stories like these reveals birth for what it is- a normal, beautiful process. And you will be exposed to a lot of different types of the birth that you may not have even known existed. Watch “The Business of Being Born”, a documentary about the birth industry in the United States (this was Joey's first exposure to anything birth related, and as soon as the credits rolled, his first words were "So we are having our kids at home, right?"). Another resource I would recommend is the book “Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth” by Ina May Gaskin. It has two sections- the first is a collection of birth stories, the second is an in depth look at the process of childbirth. I suggest reading the second section first. The birth stories may be a little too far on the crunchy side for some people, and I don’t want anyone to get turned off or dismiss the book entirely. Read the second section. See what a non-medical model of childbirth looks like. Most of us are least familiar with the hospital-pitocin-epidural version. Balance out your perspective. Then, once you have read the second section, go back to the first. Realize that these stories aren’t your only option, but they are a legitimate option. You don’t have to be some crazy homeless flower child to give birth to your baby without an entire hospital backing you up. You aren’t broken. You aren’t inadequate. YOU can do this.
I thought about waiting to write this post until after the baby came. I know plenty of you are rolling your eyes because I’ve never actually given birth so what the hell do I know? I bet I’ll change my tune once those contractions start (even though if you have never had an unmedicated birth, you probably have no idea what normal contractions feel like since the pitocin you were given at the beginning of labor artificially augmented your contractions making them much more painful)! First, shame on you for being so snobby. Second, why is it so important to you how my experience turns out? If you made an informed decision about what was best for you, you shouldn’t care what anyone else does. And last, I am very aware that plans may change. That’s fine. I am open to change. Just because I have a very specific birth plan in mind does not mean I cannot recognize when something needs to be adjusted. I just refuse to go into one of the most incredible, empowering experiences of my life with an expect-the-worst mentality. Do you really think I would put myself or my baby in jeopardy? Of course not. No mother would. Each mother is just making the decision that is right for her at that point in time. This is our decision.