I read an article today that really lit a fire under my butt, made me extremely frustrated, and wanting to say a lot. The article was about how a member of the media “delivered” his baby at home, and how it was made to be so dramatic. This spurred me to think about my passion for birth, how much birth is made out to be an emergency, a medical event, or something that needs to be managed or fixed, and about how little truth women tell other women about how they gave birth. The natural birthing community is often shunned because of how people who had medicated births perceive the natural birthers’ stories as bragging. Come on, now, people! We need to hear more of the natural birthing stories, they often have so much more vivid detail than the medicated birth stories. Wonder why?! Because the women who give birth without the use of medication actually remember their births. That’s one reason, but I think that women who have given birth with the use of medication don’t necessarily want to tell the WHOLE story. I know that after I had my epidural (after not planning or foreseeing such a thing taking place in my labor), that I didn’t want to tell the details.
Now, please, don’t get me wrong, I know there is a time and a place for interventions such as medication to be used during labor. Sadly, though, these interventions have been so overused that now it’s a problem, a BIG problem. Women and babies are suffering, and some are dying, because of the overuse. Babies are being forced out of their mothers’ wombs because they are “too big”, “too late”, and for many other reasons that are not medically related, and this has affected their health, growth, and has caused some of them to die. Mothers are not being given time and patience to labor and birth, instead, they are put on hospital clocks, and often hurried along with the use of induction and augmentation drugs, which ends in cesarean sections. While cesarean sections are sometimes very much needed, they also have MAJOR risks, and repeat cesareans put women at further risks. Women are dying because of the overuse of cesarean sections. Yes, interventions are sometimes needed, I know that, but not routinely.
What we need to do, as a society, is expose women to what birth is intended to be. Make birth this glorious event, instead of an event that’s shrouded in dark mystery, with hints of disaster and doom. So here is what birth is, to me.
Like all mammals, humans are designed to give birth, and in most cases, women are able to give birth, with little or no intervention. There are many things that must happen within the body for labor to begin, one of which is that the baby must be ready. Because the woman’s body is so perfectly designed, with a flexible pelvis, that moves to accommodate her baby, birth is entirely possible. If a woman is able to let go of all fear, the muscles in her birthing body should work correctly, and a sort of birth dance happens, where muscles work together in perfect harmony, to help the baby move down, turn, maneuver to a perfect position for birth, and finally be born. The mother’s perineum, which is strong and muscular, if it has been massaged adequately in the weeks leading up to birth will stretch perfectly for the baby to make his entrance. The baby is so perfectly designed for birth, the skeletal structure is pliable, and the bone plates in the head (fontanels) are able to overlap each other to make descent into the vaginal canal, and out of the body possible. Much more happens in the body, cervical changes that include so much more than dilation and effacement, and oh how I WISH providers would teach this to their expectant couples! Hormones (specifically oxytocin, the love hormone) work in the body to drive off stress and fear, and make birthing easier, help the cervix to open, help the labor to progress, help the baby to be born, help the mother to BOND with the baby, and help the mother to feel protective toward her baby. Many other things in life produce oxytocin (love, like-minded women communing, intercourse, breastfeeding, etc). As I said before, this is the watered down version of what birth truly is, what it’s meant to be.
So let’s look at what happens when women do not go this route (for whatever reason). And let’s address that many women are told (by media, friends, culture, family, doctors, language, their own experiences, etc) that they are not capable of giving birth without the use of interventions/medications. Women who give birth with the use of interventions are mammals, still, there is no denying that, but different things happen in the body once medication and other interventions are introduced. The lovely love hormone, oxytocin, that I talked about above, when pitocin (artificial oxytocin), epidurals, and other drugs are introduced is cut off. This means that the lovey, floaty, euphoric feeling that some women feel during labor, that counteracts pain, is gone. What I didn’t say about the hormones in the body, above, is that these also help the baby, because what a mother experiences, so does the baby (if a mother is experiencing a comfortable labor, so is the baby, and conversely, is a mother is experiencing a painful pitocin driven labor, the baby no longer has a hormonal love cushion to protect him). Epidurals also cut off the oxytocin, and cause the baby to feel a much more painful labor and birth. And when mothers feel threatened in labor, their bodies stop working in perfect harmony, the cervix will not want to open (a protective instinctual mechanism to keep baby from harm), and labor stalls. The mother’s pelvis and baby’s fontanels still function, but once an epidural is introduced, babies often have to be born when their mothers are on their backs (the least conducive birthing position, because baby has to go against gravity to be born). This is the version of interventive/medicated birth that people often describe, without the “what happens in the body” mumbo jumbo. I will tell you more… Here is the part we often do not hear.
With pitocin, contractions, or surges as HypnoBirthing calls them, often feel like they never end. I’ve heard pitocin contractions described as one big one that never let the mother regain composure, catch her breath, and was extremely painful. So when we hear about inductions and augmentations, the whole truth is not being told, I fear. And with pitocin, epidurals are often right behind, because labor is so traumatic with pitocin, that it’s like cruel and unusual punishment to have pitocin WITHOUT an epidural. And with pitocin and epidural, especially combined, cesarean section rates rise.
With epidurals, tearing is a lot more prevalent, as is malposition of the baby (baby’s face not facing his mother’s back). Episiotomy (cutting of the perineal tissue) is more common as well. And here’s the kicker, because the mother is numbed, many things can be done, without her knowing anything is wrong (legs being cranked back so far that hip damage is possible, episiotomy, breaking of the bag of waters, or release of membranes as HypnoBirthing calls it, etc.)
Cesarean section is a major surgery that has a long and painful healing course. The art of VBAC (Vaginal Birth After Cesarean) is being lost among obstetricians, and so women who have primary cesareans are often put under the knife for no medical reason, other than the primary cesarean, for subsequent babies. And the hard truth about cesarean sections, though some of them are truly needed, is that some mothers die following surgery.
My own experience was not what I expected it would be, partly because of Sydney being turned “sunny side up”, with her head resting on my tailbone, which made my labor much longer than I’m sure it would have been. After 20 hours of unmedicated, unmessed with labor, I asked for an epidural, after having researched the risks and benefits. What I never anticipated was how it would affect me, how it still affects me now. Because I could not feel anything, my OB was getting my perineum ready for birth (which we had explicitly asked not be done (perineal massage) during labor, in our birth plan), and she tore me. My legs were cranked back to my ears when I was pushing, to “make more room for the baby”, and I still have hip issues today (stiffness, pain, loss of flexibility). After Sydney was born, I felt emotionally dead, all of my protective instincts I thought I would have were deadened by the narcotics present in the epidural. Bonding with Sydney was near impossible, and took at least a month, if not more. She had a poor latch to begin with, because of the drugs in her system from the epidural. Sydney cried incessantly for about the first month, and I’m convinced that she had some sort of birth trauma from not being cushioned by my cocktail of love hormones during labor and birth. I felt distant from her, and did not want to hold her, comfort her, and be with her, nor did I make an effort to learn how to. I could probably go on, but you might imagine that this tore at me as a mother, and still does. I don’t view myself as a failure at all, because at hour 20 of my labor, my body had reached a level of exhaustion it had never reached, and was ready to give up, and I was quickly heading for a cesarean. So as a mother, I look back on my experience, and want desperately to do better, do more, educate other mothers, help mothers, help babies, just speak about this.
My point in saying all of this is that birth is not supposed to be scary, dramatized, medical, or an emergency. When it is made to be these things, women lose their ability to think about what their babies might need, and instead think of simply getting through it. With interventions come risks and consequences (lower rates of bonding, harder times bonding, lowered protective instincts in mothers to protect their babies, lower breastfeeding rates, higher infant and maternal mortality rates, higher infant and maternal morbidity rates, birth defects, emotional trauma, physical trauma, and the list goes on). So here is my challenge for you. Research everything, if you’re having a baby, research everything (your provider, hospital, interventions, alternatives, birth plans, having a doula, how your partner can better support you, etc). And for those of you who have had beautiful experiences, PLEASE share your story (post it online, share it on Facebook, I’ll share it too!)!!!!
As always, thank you so much for reading this, and your input is always appreciated!