I have not always had a fascination with all things birth and baby. There would have been a time, I'm certain, that if someone had mentioned the idea of a drug-free birth I would have scoffed a little bit at the ridiculousness of the idea. Me? The pain of childbirth? Watermelon- out of that? Not a chance. In addition to my cynicism I can add that there was a definite lack of confidence in my body and mind in the months that led up to my first born's hospital birth. Even with the birth classes I took with my doula, I could rarely picture things going 'as planned' or even my hands knowing the way to nurture him once he came earth side. Everything motherhood seemed like something of a distant galaxy.
I'm not sure I can pin point the many reasons why I, and (I think it's safe to say) many other women, in America would feel a little disillusioned by birth. Could it be our news media, which makes money by soliciting fear? Or perhaps the blame should fall on the medical system which has a very pretty penny to collect if women need their drugs and c-sections. For me I think it was both of those things. But in addition, I had to deal with the interpreted trauma of watching friend after friend have emergency deliveries. If they needed c-sections why am I going to be any different? Then of course, there was my OB, a woman who herself was pregnant when I was, who very much loved her c-sections and drugs and baby swaddled neatly in the hospital nursery. Her idea of a birth plan and mine were, well, opposite. Polar opposite.
I can still see myself being driven to the hospital for the Saturday morning induction (at the request of that cut-happy doctor, who insisted that 41 weeks was long enough for anyone to have to "put up" with pregnancy). From the moment I walked through the L&D's heavy doors, I felt like battle had begun. It was me... against every one...against myself. At 41 weeks and only 1 cm dilated, the pitocin shot through my veins, a shock to the system, and tied to that hard bed, the pressure and pain was felt as deep as my bones. I gritted my teeth and stuck with my desire for an epidural-free delivery. But, I knew the seriousness of the synthetic contractions I was feeling- so intense and relentless, and a challenge for my uterus and my child feeling the brunt of it. I did manage that birth with out the epidural, barely...but I managed it, and a small tear (perhaps the result of some unnatural pushing) was the only birth wound I wore.
Maybe it was the hormones (my own coupled with injected ones) but the birth left me with more confidence than anything I'd ever had before. I had never felt more proud of myself or held my head higher. For months, the "birth high" held fast and the certainty of my own strength and will gave way to a spirit inside of me that knew, just knew, that I was fully equipped for motherhood. My ability to birth my son was just the beginning of a new, positive relationship between myself and my body. I was made for this. This child is in good hands.
A year and half later I was pregnant again. In a mechanical fashion I was back in the cold office of the same OB that I'd fought tooth and nail with to have my son my way. Of course, it was then, in hindsight, that I realized that the birth I'd been so proud of had not entirely gone my way. I had allowed my doctor to frighten me in to an unnecessary induction. I had agreed to inject myself with pitocin which in a normal pregnancy, like my own, would be considered a "more risk than benefits" kind of thing. Before long, my passion for reading and learning about healthy and safe, out of hospital births was lit up and I was saying so long to a surgeon, a woman's doctornot for women. And, if my confidence was flying at half staff after the birth of my first, and under the care of traditional medicine, it was soring sky high when I walked in to the birthing center. Here, my body was a capable, powerful, nurturing machine and births were intimate, respected and most importantly, normal.
When labor started on it's own at 41 weeks by my guess date, I was ready for it. I was informed. I was rested. I was nourished. I was not fearful. AND, I was 6 cm dilated! Not a bad start for active labor~ over half the work had been done by my awesome, powerful body, unknown to me, for the most part, in the days leading up to the birth. I had never felt more confident, ever.
The birth was fast and the pain was not pain. It was manageable discomfort. My midwives, which I dubbed, my 'dream-team' attended with watchful eyes but a hands-off approach. That 'hospital disconnect' I freshly recalled was replaced by a roomful of believers, and the closeness of my my husband. My own hands checked for the baby's descent. My own decisions were made~ for food, drink, position, location. I owned this thing. This birth was mine.
photograph by jen wildley
I labored and birthed freely in water for only a few hours before Heidi was born in to the hands of my husband. I love the role of a man catching his child. It truly signifies something whole and complete- from the defining moment that a baby is conceived to the moment it is born. Our daughter was in our arms first. I held her, fearlessly. It was the answer to my informed birth that I was most proud of- that she and I could begin our first hours together, uninterrupted. The spirit I had for motherhood was never a doubt again.
I never looked back at either of my births to ask "what if?". Even with the fight for control I put up to have my son, me in-tact, with out the pain numbing, I've come to see his birth as part of a learning curve. I didn't let history repeat itself but rather I took what confidence I did wrangle in from that first experience to have the most empowering and informed birth possible with my second. That empowerment is the reason that my birth journey has so greatly affected the person, mother and woman I am today.
So, what if your birth journey was not free of medication? What if it ended in c-sections? None of that makes or breaks your passion and place in your mothering role. Motherhood comes in all colors, shapes and sizes. Birth comes with just as much variety. My experience created such an influx of pride and confidence mainly because it was informed (less emphasis on the actual outcome). I think that our culture bleeds over our vigorous research when it comes to "which camera do I buy? " "Mac or PC?" "Honda or Jeep?" "Organic or local?" Just watch a bride to be with her registry scan gun at Dillard's. Our pursuit for perfection is to the point of obsession. So, we can almost always say with out fail that even if our purchase (be it a car or a television) turns out to be a total bust, we've done the best we could do...all our research was conducted...i's were dotted and t's were crossed. Informed consumerism is confident consumerism, right? Well, birth is not much different. Even a birth that included a needle to the spine can be informed. A birth where the mother knows her rights and her body's ability and strength...a birth where the mother is fully prepared to live with the consequences of her own decisions is informed. I know women in America are going in to labor every day uniformed. It occurs to me, when I look at cesarean statistics (32% in the U.S.) and our place on the worldwide rankings for maternal death rates (#41 in the world) that American women are not being served well by our system.
I wonder if every American woman reached her labor with knowledge at her fingertips, prepared and informed, if we would be a nation where women embraced, with out any doubts or regrets, our initial roles as mothers (as birth givers). Our confidence would sore sky high. Our choices, or lack thereof, would not define us because we would define our choices.