Now that I am several years past giving birth, I have really mixed feelings about my birth experiences. I always said that a good breastfeeding relationship was far more important to me that the circumstances of my births. It’s still true. But.
I did my best to have non-interventionist births…to a point.
The first time around, I did not want pain medication. I had a doula–a professional, but she happened to have known me for a long time. My OB was on board with the doula and my plans. (They actually were in cahoots and agreed to speed up my first labor–which felt like the world’s longest–with an entire bottle of castor oil. No, I did not have a choice. Yes, I got to choose what to mix it in. Cream soda, if I recall correctly.)
I actually wrote a birth plan, with what I thought I wanted. The problem was, I had never done this before. It’s like asking people what they want in a car before they know how to drive or before they have spent time behind the wheel. They will answer based on size, color, cupholders, sound system, safety features. They won’t ask about a blind spot, a turning radius, or how the brakes feel when you step on them. Because they don’t know.
So I wrote in my birth plan about dim lighting and not wearing a hospital gown and not being strapped to my bed so I could labor upright. I was half right. These things helped me. To a point.
What I did not do was consider giving birth at home. I had a lot of trust in the American medical establishment. I trusted my obstetrician; he reminded me of my dad (minus 15 years), who is also a physician. I am also a pessimist and would have been running nightmare scenarios in my head. My faith in my own body was not at a high point either; 30 months to conceive (including three failed medicated IUIs) will mess you up like that.
My labors were both very long. I “induced” myself by going to for the world’s best prenatal massage, then spent time at home, walking the streets, climbing the apartment building stairs.
I think what did me in, psychologically, was my inability to sleep while I am in labor, even if the contractions are 15-20 minutes apart. So after 2-3 days of that I was a complete disaster. I sat on my birth ball and watched ESPN all night. (I am not even kidding. Always give birth during baseball season.) But I got to eat and drink and shower like a mentsch.
Of course, I got to the hospital and everything was clinical. The lighting, the clocks, the IVs. Not helpful. Not helpful, either, to be checked and told how far you are NOT in the labor process. Hello, mental setback!
Ultimately, I was allowed to labor on my timetable. I gave it my best effort, and when I was told that it wasn’t working, I got to pull the plug, as it were, on the idea of a vaginal birth. Twice. I think that my C-sections were necessary. I don’t like to contemplate what would have happened had I been giving birth in 1804 instead of 2004. (Although I probably would not have been sucking down 80g of protein a day, so potentially baby with a very large head would have deigned to get into my damn pelvis.)
But now the hospital where I delivered does not allow for VBACs. At all. The C-section rate there and everywhere else in America is frighteningly high. Pregnant women spend a lot of their time living in fear: fear of miscarriage (1st trimester) is followed by fear of a problem with the baby (up until level II ultrasound/amnio/whatever), followed up by fear of pain, fear of surgery, fear of disaster.
This is not good. This is not a safe space to birth in!
This whole rumination was prompted by the movie Orgasmic Birth. (Really good documentary channel on cable here.) Many of the couples in that movie gave birth at home, although one or two were in the hospital. The words that kept coming up from the medical professionals (midwives, OBs, others) and the couples were “security, privacy, intimacy.” Can you imagine a space less secure, less private, and less intimate than an average hospital room?
What really struck me, however, was how every single woman who gave birth at home assumed basically the same position in order to labor at the end and push–half squatting, half standing, leaning forward. In a tub, in a shower, on the floor.
This is not encouraged for someone in a raised hospital bed. Obviously.
But at the same time, women’s instincts are THERE, I think, to let the hormones take over and drive the labor. When I was 70 hours into my second labor, strapped to a bed and deadened with an epidural (pitocin augmentation–at my behest), I DESPERATELY wanted to stand up. I could not feel my legs but every part of my brain, which was incapable of forming a complete sentence, was screaming at me to BE VERTICAL.
It was then, I realized years later, that I wished I could start over, from the beginning, and conceive and gestate and labor from a place that wasn’t fearful, but faithful. That the daisy-chain of women who know how to help women give birth–now equipped with portable oxygen tanks and hemorrhage kits and plans for hospital transfer–would have helped me overcome my misgivings. My doula tried; she had far more faith in me than I had in myself.
I am not sure that my stories would have been any different, in the end. But I am just frustrated that I figured out it so late.
It’s all there, I just didn’t put the puzzle together in time.