Helping other mothers birth (with lots of CAPS and lots of emotion)

Birthing.  Among mothers (and mothers-to-be), how one births can be such a touchy subject, with strident feelings on both sides of the fence — from natural childbirth to highly medicalized.

Normally, in my real life, I keep my own views tightly under wraps.  If someone asks me, or if the subject comes up in normal conversation, I might share that I have had five children with no meds, or, if I’ve heard through the grapevine that so-and-so expectant mother is going to try to birth naturally, I might chime in with my $0.02.  But probably most of the people who know me don’t have any idea about my views on birthing, unless they read my blog. 😉

That’s because, up until very recently, I have thought that — seeing that having a natural childbirth stance immediately puts many women on the defensive — I’d rather maintain a good relationship with a friend (or acquaintance) than make her feel like I think less of her since she didn’t (or doesn’t plan on) birthing naturally.

I’ve only been at the labor of two friends.  One — a long time ago — was my dear childhood friend, who labored for 30 hours, and ultimately ended up with a c-section.  The other was a friend who, though previously having a home birth, did end up with an epidural but birthed v@ginally.  With both of those, I don’t think I was of much help;  I was more of an observer and mostly-silent support.

Soon, I’ll be attending the birth of my good friend Erin’s baby as an actual coach.  I’m very much looking forward to that.  But, how did I get from “mostly-silent support” to “I WANT TO HELP YOU!!!”??

Starting after Fiala was born in October… well, I don’t know what it was, exactly, but knowing that it was likely that she was my last child, I started really reflecting on birth, and… I just didn’t want to let go of the experience of birthing her.  It was so lovely, and as my bloggy friend Laura recently said, in such a lovely way:

I am so attached to our unassisted birth that every day that goes by makes me a little sad in a bittersweet kinda way. I’m having to let it go as a present experience and let it melt into a beautiful memory. but memories or good. and once i get over ths hump where I try to hold on to it for dear life, I will be able to relish the memory. [who knew you could have depression over a GOOD birth experience! ha]

Not that I gave birth unassisted… but when I read her words, I thought, “EXACTLY!!  That was TOTALLY what I was going through after Fi was born.”  Exactly.

So, in the wake of that, to keep the memory and experience present, I started watching shows like A Baby Story, Birth Day, and Deliver Me, shows that I had NEVER watched, previously.  And, while they held my interest intensely, more often than not, I found myself apalled at what doctors — and even hospital-based midwives — routinely suggested, and what women just said, “OK” to — interventions that I could tell were not necessary, or just the fact that, other than the very rare birthing-center birth or home birth, pretty much all the shows just had the women laying in bed, being pumped full of pitocin, which led to an epidural, which — a great percentage of the time — led to a c-section.  According to my experience, it all just didn’t seem real.

But was that real?  Is that real?

I mean, I became better and better educated with each birth, but I never considered myself an expert on natural birth… However, a vast majority of the women profiled on each of those shows demonstrated a complete ignorance of what, to me, seemed like very basic knowledge.  Like, a woman would be interviewed, and would say, very early in labor, “I want to birth naturally.”  But, then, she’d lay in bed, and then the doctor would come in and say, “Well, you haven’t progressed in three hours;  we’re going to jumpstart you and hook you up to pitocin,” and I would internally scream, “NO!  Get out of bed!  Go take a walk!  Do something!!!!”  But, she’d just say, “OK,” and then after being hooked up to pitocin, discover that it made contractions hurt WORSE — “discover” because NOBODY TOLD HER what pitocin would do.  Then, unable to handle the abnormally strong contractions from pitocin, she’d then get an epidural… and — wham! — the natural childbirth just walked out, slamming the door.  And, yes, the mother would end up with a baby in her arms at the end of the show (unless the show ended with the baby in the NICU), and yes, she’d be content about having that wee one.  But, I definitely have seen women in tears that their birth didn’t end up being what they wanted it to be, or if not in tears, with disappointment around their eyes, but saying things like, “Well, it was necessary.  At least we have the baby!”

That made me sad.

And mad.

And… frustrated, or something.  Like, “How could she not know _____?  Why isn’t anyone telling her?”

And then I realized how much the merciful graciousness of God had been over each of my children’s births, and that, due to circumstances that were very little to my own credit, I was still able to birth 100% naturally, in a hospital setting.

Looking into it a bit further (mostly via reading natural childbirth advocate kind of blogs), I began to realize that I was the anomaly, and that all those shows, unfortunately, ARE real — are real life.  Most women experience THAT.

AND, it began to dawn on me that a great percentage of women WANT a natural birth experience, but haven’t received any guidance about what road she needed to travel down to avoid the “cascade of interventions” that led to the highly-medicalized birth — v@ginally but with epidural, or ending in a c-section.  I had previously assumed that MOST women who got an epidural wanted one before they even got to the hospital!  And, yes, there are definitely some women who go that route… but many don’t want it, but still end up with it, because no one is advocating for them.

And, it began to hit me that I needed to change my outlook on the whole thing of birthing, and educating women.  It began to dawn on me that I was able to DO what many women WANT to do, and that maybe I could help them attain their hope of delivering naturally — which truly is better for Mom and better for baby.

I still don’t know exactly where I’m going with this — I’d like to study to be a doula.  Training is only 2-3 days, and $300-400.  I need to save my money!!  😀

I have a friend…  I like her a lot, but I can’t say that we’re super-close.  When she and her husband moved here to the Valley a few years ago, she was newly pregnant, just a few months behind me, when I was pregnant with Audrey.  I knew that the birth of that baby ended up being VERY difficult for her, and it led to her opting for a cesarean with the birth of her second child.  Recently, though, she shared more details with me…  and at the end, I was very nearly in tears, and afterwards, I COULD NOT GET IT OUT of my mind…  I thought, I prayed.  I sent her an e-mail.  We talked more.  The short version is that she went into the hospital very early in labor — with only her husband;  she didn’t know anybody well enough in town to feel comfortable asking anyone — and since she was “progressing slowly” the OB broke her water.  Well, what no one knew at the time was that her baby was OP (with the back of the head against the spine, instead of the front of the head — in other words, upside down).  So, breaking the water cemented that baby in position… no one suggested her laboring on hands and knees…  She ended up having an instrument delivery and a 4th degree laceration, from which she is suffering, still, more than three years later.  As she told me her story, I asked her if she had tried one thing or another, or if the doctor had suggested this or that, and she said, “No… I just didn’t know!  I didn’t know!”  No one gave her any options than lay there and say yes to the doctor.

I felt guilty.  I felt like I had totally let her down.  Back then, I knew she was new in town, but I didn’t even think of offering to accompany her in her birth.  I didn’t think she’d want me.  But, I knew at least a little bit that could have helped her.  Even though my knowledge about birth is tiny compared to many, I could have helped… I could at least have helped her not panic.  She said that she and her husband felt very alone and scared and confused…  I could have helped.

Maybe I will become certified as a doula.  I’d like to.  Maybe I could even supplement our family’s income as a doula!  I didn’t know until very recently that they typically make $300-500 or so for each birth.  That would be awesome.  However, my main motivation now is just to be of HELP.  Even before I get certified, I am definitely going to OFFER to accompany friends — even if they’re not close friends — as they give birth.  Previously, I was afraid of offending them, afraid they’d say, “No,” and I’d feel pushy or stupid.  BUT, I’m over that.  I will definitely be tender and careful in what I say, and how I say it.  But, with my friend’s story in mind, I am no longer going to think, “Oh, there’s NO WAY she’d want me there while she births…”  I’ll just get over my insecurities, and at least offer.  And if she says no, and it’s awkward, well, I’ll just deal.

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About Karen Joy

I'm a partially-homeschooling mother of six -- 3 boys ages 19, 17 and 15 years old, and three girls: 10, 8, and 3. I like birding, reading, writing, organic gardening, singing, playing guitar, hiking, the outdoors, and books. I am a natural childbirth advocate and an erstwhile birthing class instructor. I have a dear hubby who designs homes for a local home builder and who is the worship pastor of our church. I live in the desert, which I used to hate, but now appreciate.

Posted on August 1, 2009, in Babies, Birth, Friendships, Medical Stuff. Bookmark the permalink. 14 Comments.

  1. It’s always a challenge to find the line of sharing your willingness to help and information and even convictions while allowing other people to make their own choices.

    I have a friend who just delivered her first baby. I offered to be in the room with her too. She felt her hubby was enough. She is going for a natural birth. I forwarded the link you posted before about epidural studies. I felt I HAD TO SHARE THAT. ( I would have felt guilty of holding out on that info. ) She and hubby are both MDs.

    When I spoke with her after the babe was born. She said she had been at work all day in labor and didn’t know it! She got to the hospital as was at 6cm.! Way to go! I’m thinking….she did it!

    Nope! Hubby (a doc) flubbered and was overwhelmed by her pain. She went for the epidural …not really sure why. (and only had less than 2 hours to go! ) I felt so sad for her! I don’t know that she wishes it was different. But I am sad nonetheless.

    I guess it’s the lead a horse to water but you can’t make them drink kind of thing. Even if the water is clean and pure and thirst quenching and…

    We do what we can and then let go! Or try to anyway!

    • You’re right, Tina. I have been convicted about choosing not to “lead a horse to water” because I’ve been afraid that they don’t want to drink. Well, maybe that’s true sometimes. Maybe they don’t. But… maybe they do! And, I’m missing out on sharing with the people who really WANT what I might have to share, by “erring on the side of caution.” But, now, I will never forget the sadness, the burden, of thinking, “If only I had offered…” with my friend who ended up with a 4th degree tear. (And, I’m not saying that simply my presence would have allayed ALL possibility of her having such extreme trauma. But… maybe it would have. I never gave her a chance to find out. And, even if I had offered, those 3+ years ago, she still may have declined. But, at least I would have offered.)

      My change in perspective is also altering my desire to tell people about Christ. Up until now, with rare exception, I’ve thought, “Well, if someone is drawn to Christ because of my life, that’s fabulous. But, I won’t ‘pressure’ them.” Now, I’m thinking that maybe I’ve been deceived into believing that people don’t WANT to drink of the water Jesus offers… Perhaps, similar to my mindset about birthing, people DO actually want to drink, but no one’s offered them water. (Baby steps — I recently wrote an e-mail to someone who I know is not a Christian… basically with an offer of Christ. He said no, very kindly. And, part of me still questions the wisdom of e-mail proselytization. But, at least I’m TRYING, and my heart is truly towards him and others who are lost… I want them to have the water.)

  2. We talked the other day about “pit to distress”. I told you that the practice isn’t new. I worked yesterday and it happened again. Woman 40 weeks pregnant with her first baby. Induction. Artificial rupture of membranes. Baby OT (head sideways). Slow progress. Baby’s monitor strip was not great but not horrible. (side note: the mom hadn’t eaten or drank in 2 days so a less than wonderful strip was inevitable.) All night long the labor nurse was trying to speed things up with pitocin as per doctors order with little progress because baby wouldn’t tolerate any additional stress. Mom got “stuck” at 7cm. The dr and day l&d RN decided to make it or break it. They cranked the pit and caused more stress than baby could deal with so they sectioned her for fetal distress. Yup, you guessed it. Mom had wanted a natural birth. It is just heart breaking. I just don’t think i could go back to l&d again.

  3. Funny how similar the topics are, We’re always growing right?!

    I had a conviction a few years ago to invite my neighbors to church. I knew God was asking me to do it. I didn’t when the opportunity arose…so then I had to make an awkward invitation. My hesitation…they are “living an alternative lifestyle”. God said…let me worry about that. Well, I invited. They respectfully declined and I’ve always wondered what that whole thing was about. Not sure…but I know I did as I was asked.

  4. newbeginnings09

    Karen,
    I think you’d make a great doula! I wish I had had you around for the birth of ANY of my children, all of whom turned out to be csections for various stupid reasons. I did know, I just couldn’t get anyone to LISTEN to me. I wish I had found a doula who truly wanted to HELP and could have gotten me through my labor and chartered the territory of doctors and hospital *rules*.
    I can’t wait to hear about your friend’s birth. I’m sure it will be an enthralling and powerful read, written from your perspective.

    • BUMMER about your births, Adrienne!! I do wish I could have been there for you!

      About my friend’s birth, I will certainly write it up, then clear it with her for me to post on my blog. These days, I’m much more careful about what I write about other people…

  5. ok just got our internet hooked back up. lots to say! but it will have ot wait until I get a free moment 🙂

    yeah doulas! 😉

  6. I read your blog sometimes as someone who tries to be gluten free. I think would struggle to keep quiet about the natural childbirth thing. In my country you would be completely normal, in fact most deliveries are done by midwives. I find it so strange when I hear American women talk about medicalised births the way they do. I haven’t given birth myself, but all of my friends I think without fail have had a midwife. Several have needed c-sections, and the midwife gets them the doctor intervention they need pretty quick. Some give birth in hospitals with midwives, some at home some in birthing centres that are like hotels and close to the hospital if needed to rush there.

    My friend pushed out a 12 pounder at home and will state emphatically that her two home births were much better than the hospital ones.

    I don’t know, I just think that someone is making a lot of money out of the birthing industry in the States.

    • Yes, you’re right about the whole money thing. I am SO SO SO not cynical by nature, but about birth in America?? And the state of healthcare in general??? Ugh. I read this, quoted on the blog of a nurse who is in favor of natural birthing: “Within the maternity system, there’s a distinct drive toward convenience: predictable process of labor and birth, maximized reimbursement, and limited liability. All of these factors can lead any care provider to make decisions that aren’t necessarily based on the mother’s and baby’s needs. Women’s decisions are affected as well, because without maximum reimbursement, they can’t select a place of birth that they can’t afford. I think it’s critical for every birthing woman to recognize the realities of the environment and be prepared to advocate for herself, taking a more active role in her birth.” (originally posted here. It’s a quote from Pamela Spry, president of Lamaze International.) IOW, convenience, limiting liability, and receiving maximum $$ are the main thing that motivate OBs in the U.S., not the mother’s nor baby’s needs.

  7. Oh definitely, I think that is so true. You should look into the NZ birthing system and see how different it is. I think our Cesaerean rate is down around 23% which is probably about right I’d say. It’s actually really difficult to find a doctor to deliver a baby here, mostly it’s done by midwives but there is funding for a doctor if you choose it. Birthing plans are a big part of things and home births are considered pretty normal. A midwife only gets paid the full amount if she’s on hand to deliver the baby so they have to plan their lives around their clients due dates. But most of my friends treat them like one of the family and love them as they’re available for all the silly questions first time parents have and come and visit in the days they are first home from hospital. One friend didn’t stay in after giving birth and came straight home 2 hours later, so the midwife was there the next day to help out and daily after for a while. All fully funded by the Ministry of Health of course! 🙂

    A friend who recently gave birth the fourth time said she was in tears in the ambulance from the small maternity hospital to get the c-section. She said it was horrible compared to her 3 natural births and she can not figure out why anyone would choose to have one. The recovery time alone and pain… not worth it.

    It makes me angry that they convince women in the States that they are not able to do what their bodies are intended to do for the sake of convenience. When I was thinking about moving out (long story) a friend who is a trainee midwife told me about that Rikki Lake film and I got really, really scared! 🙂

    Along those lines also is the observation I’ve made that I’ve never heard a NZ woman talk about the choice to breastfeed or not. I think actually if you chose not to you would get a lot of tut-tutting from people. I can’t think of anyone who hasn’t breastfed for at least a few months.

    I think the timing could be right for you to train as a midwife (or doula… though I’m not really sure what they do as we dont’ have them here) as hopefully there’ll be some changes ahead in your health system.

    • Well… add those to the reasons that I think it would be lovely to live in NZ. 🙂

      Yes, it’s frightening how greatly so many day-to-day decisions in the U.S. are controlled (or at least inordinately influenced) by things like insurance companies, drug companies, lobbyists… Ugh. More and more, instead of this feeling like a free country, it feels like 95% are controlled by the priorities of 5%, and I’m not in that five percent!! But, neither do I take to well to being controlled… 😀

      BTW, 23% is still too high for CS rate. The WHO says, I think, 15% should be tops (not that I’m a big fan of the WHO, but I think 15% is a good goal). I was reading about a birthing center in El Paso that has a 1% CS rate… Gotta Google that…

  8. The article I got that stat from was concerned that the rate is getting too high. At least with a public health system there is often a push to lower the numbers, in the UK this happened as they were getting over 40% for a while there.

    Yeah, I think the freedom in the States is a pretty interesting concept at times. I hope that some really positive changes come out of this push towards public health care, it worries me to see so much scare mongering about it, but I guess a lot of people are making a lot of money right now.

    I’ve lived in NZ, Australia and UK and it’s not that bad really… much more scary to be broke and not be able to afford adequate care.

  9. I love this post! You described the way I feel exactly. I especially liked the part about mourning the end of a good birth experience. Amazing how something so difficult and miserable like labor can also be so beautiful and sweet.

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