Today my baby boy turns 1. Of course, as his mama, I cannot believe he’s a year old. I still remember the gallons of Ben & Jerry’s that Daddy and I went through, the sciatica, the feet poking from the side of my belly, the worries of his pregnancy.
I’ve heard before that those who give birth naturally are just trying to make women feel more pain, when in reality we can all have painless births with the help of medicine. We don’t “have” to suffer. Really, the people who spout this nonsense are about as logical as Limbaugh.
I’ve had two quick natural labors with healthy little guys. The two pregnancies were so vastly different, however, that I’m lucky to have squeaked out Baby E without medical “help”.
Here is my birth story. Happy Birthday to Us.
Initially, when we found out we were pregnant, I intended to have a home birth. My midwife for my older son, Little L, was no longer practicing with a doc and instead had paired up with another midwife to do home births.
I have a great love for home birthing. I was a home birth in a time when doctors told women they didn’t need to breastfeed, much less feel anything during labor. My mom had my two older sisters at the hospital. For the second, she had to cry and plead her way from being tethered to the bed for this beautiful occasion. When she got pregnant with me, home birth was the obvious choice.
People would ask her, ‘Aren’t you scared to give birth at home?’
‘No!’ she’d exclaim. ‘I’m afraid not to!’
I grew up knowing my whole big birth story, including my sisters’ memories. Birth, my mom taught us, is natural. Our bodies are made to do this. We know what to do; we simply have to trust ourselves.
Of course I know that this cannot be the case in every situation. But I also know that there is a multitude of young, healthy women who buy into the medicalization of birth.
For a few generations now, we have been frightened of labor. Psycho women on television cursing out their husbands. Stirups. Clamps. C-sections. Drugs. It’s all become so distanced from what we’re supposed to do, what our bodies want us to do: push.
During my pregnancy with Baby E, I chose to get an ultrasound. My midwives didn’t recommend it. I was a healthy 30-year-old with a previously quick labor (5 ½ hours). But we chose to, and that’s where the trouble began.
Really well-meaning doctors are there to (guess what) find a problem. Our doctor, a good man who Daddy has known for years, found some “abnormalities” with Baby E’s brain. There were cysts, which could be indicative of a genetic disorder. Or, as he described it,
Looks like someone took a hole punch right there.
He scheduled a follow-up ultrasound, where that problem had cleared up. But they found something else: he had a mega cisterna magna. It’s basically liquid at the back of the brain. The worry was that if it were enlarged, either there was something in his brain that was smaller than normal (thereby giving the cisterna magna room to grow), or that there were more cysts that we couldn’t see (thereby pushing the cisterna magna to look big in ultrasounds). Also, the disorder is associated with a serious chromosomal defect called Trisomy 18. Luckily, they didn’t mention that, and urged me not to Google the implications of a mega cisterna magna until we knew more.
So it was a few more weeks of worrying and a scheduled prenatal MRI in D.C., where they hoped to get a better look. Oh, yeah, and his kidneys looked blocked.
All this time, we were still referring to Baby E as a “baby” without gender. Totally not planning on finding that out. Not planning on much of this, truth be told!
Up in D.C. we spent the morning meeting with different doctors and specialists. Ultrasound, MRI, gentic counseling.
Yes, we live in Virginia. No, we’re not related.
Turns out…he’s fine. The tests all went well and they just suggested a follow-up after he was born.
The birth? That’s another story. I made the biggest mistake of either pregnancy when I chose to leave the homebirth practice and join up with a local OB/Gyn office.
The thought was: this brain stuff has entirely stressed us. We’re not sure how much, if at all, of the home birth will be covered by insurance, and we don’t need financial stress on top of all this emotional taxation we’ve gone through.
We joined a practice that had a team of doctors and a midwife. Quickly, from 32 weeks on, we went through their Rolodex of docs. Because it was really a lottery on which doc would be at the hospital for your birth. Monday, you’ve got nice woman doc who seems to “get it”. Wednesday, you have the pompous, arrogant doc, and you don’t really feel comfortable with him looking at your hooha.
I handed over our birth plan right away and made perfectly clear my thoughts on the upcoming labor: I trust in my body. I trust in Mark. Together, we’re going to get this baby out. If you think you want to be a part of that, great, but above all, I trust in us and our ability to have a peaceful labor.
They handed my care over to their midwife on staff, but we’d still have to have a doctor present at the birth. Soon, I learned something important to natural birth: just because she’s called a midwife doesn’t mean she won’t “medicalize” your pregnancy.
The doctors were worried because Baby E was measuring “small”. In retrospect, I believe that they were more cautious due to the earlier brain issues, though there was no correlation between those issues and birth weight. I also believe that they didn’t think that proportionally, a 6′ tall woman could have “small” babies. Never mind that my older son was the very average size of 7lbs, 2 ounces at birth. They were worried and ordered weekly Non-Stress Tests (NSTs) and ultrasounds. “Non-Stress” Test; there’s an oxymoron if I’ve ever heard one!
I tried to fight the doctors on our supposed “need” for these tests, but came up against everyone they had in the practice. In the end, I didn’t want to be “difficult”, and I honestly worried that they’d drop me from their practice if I refused. Plus, Mark and I reasoned, if the midwife is going along with it, it must be needed. (Though I also remembered Ina May Gaskin’s words of wisdom on this. Just because there’s a CPM or a CNM after her name doesn’t make her natural. She’s likely been trained by to go medicine first, natural only in rare cases.)
Then we began going past my due date. This made everyone nervous as the date approached, and they started discussing induction, albeit “natural” ways first. Meanwhile, I was writing blogs on natural labor and Daddy and I were doing our part to get that baby out the same way he got in: through love.
But once that date came and went, most everyone I encountered, from the doctor’s office to the grocery store, had a comment on my “overdue” boy. My thought was this: “If he’s so ‘small’, let’s just leave him in there to ‘cook’ a little longer.”
It seemed strange. On one hand, they’re giving me these tests each week because he’s not “big enough” (though the placenta was fine), but on the other hand, they’re itching to get him out and pushing me to pick an induction date.
I relented and agreed to pick one for 41 ½ weeks along: March 12. Up until that day, I began to hear warnings about Cytotec, which was often used to induce labor, but wasn’t yet approved as such.
The night before Induction Day, I e-mailed my midwife to ask what she’d be using to get lil guy out and was worried to hear: Cytotec. I argued that decision; wasn’t there anything else, perhaps approved for use on pregnant women, that we could use? Not that we’re assured will work. But if my body has done this labor thing before (and as easily as I could hope for), wouldn’t something less strong have a good chance of succeeding for us?
I decided I’d go to the hospital for my set appointment time and argue it there. But I was not having any of this freaky medicine.
Lucky for us, Baby E is as stubborn and as willful as his mama. (wait…lucky?!) At about 5:30 a.m., I went into labor. We were at the hospital for a total of 20 minutes before Baby E was born, so the medical staff didn’t have much time to intervene, though they tried.
In the 10 minutes between the midwife and attending nurse were in the room, they tried to get Baby E’s heart rate. There I was, on all fours, my body screaming to me to push, and they’re trying to get me to sit up so they can find his heartbeat.
I’m thinking, ‘If you hold on a second, you can get it from the real live baby!’
Mark and I were obviously much more aware of where in labor I was. Transition now, pushing now. Them: wait, wait, wait. We have to get the room “ready”.
In the end, my very quick labor had everything to do with the 3 of us and very little to do with anyone else. I know we could have stayed home and had a better experience, even unassisted.
And that’s what I’ve had to reconcile. Though here we are, a year later, and you can see that I’m still angry.
Why? you might ask. You got the prize in the end, without any major interventions.
Here’s the thing. If you met me, you’d likely see that I’m an educated, natural, stubborn, outspoken woman. I’m intelligent and not easily swayed. But I was, and if it could happen to me, it could happen to anyone.
It is really important, then, that you choose a care provider who shares your values. If a midwife makes comments about her own labor like, “I just wanted the drugs!” and that’s not kosher for your own labor, rethink it. Some midwives follow the medicalization of childbirth, no problem. And some doctors are likely to sit by until you need interventions, trusting in your ability to push a baby out.
I know what natural labor is like. I actually had two of them. But they were so vastly different.
Natural labor empowers you. Those days I gave birth to my sons, I felt as though I could run a marathon. Or in the very least, don gold wristbands and fight evil. I was definitely ready to breastfeed and bond.
But by the time I gave birth to Baby E, I was ready to “hide out in a closet and give birth like a cat”. The medical interventions leading up to his birth had so turned me off that I felt powerless to fight against them. That made me even question the power of my body: Could we do it naturally again?
I shouldn’t have had to feel that way.
Baby E was born at 7:43 a.m. on March 12, 2008. He was 7 lbs. And yes, it was a Wednesday, so the ego doc did indeed see the hooha.
Am I blessed to have this baby boy? Of course! And looking back, I am most blessed in the strength the three of us shared that day. I am blessed by our own will to do it quickly and peacefully.
We made our natural labor experience beautiful.
First Image: Jessica N. Diamond on Flickr under a Creative Commons License.