The Problem of Birth Culture

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For obvious reasons, babies and birth are often on my mind. Even if I weren’t having a baby a year, I’m surrounded by friends and family who are. Despite living in a region of the country with the highest epidural and Cesarean rate, I’m actually pretty natural-birth minded. It is my outlook that birth ought to be respected as a natural process and intervened with as little as possible.

That being said, of my four births, all have been hospital births involving pitocin and epidurals. My last three were full inductions. Feel free to laugh at the irony. I do. It is ironic that someone who says they want as little intervention as possible has ended up 4 times with every intervention in the book short of a section.

The greatest irony, however, is that of all my births it is the first and not the three inductions that has given me the most grief and emotional turmoil. Even after delivering a baby for the second time, I was still struggling with remnants of trauma from my first birth.

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The first time I went into labor, I was dead set on seeing it through with no pain medicine and no artificial augmentation. My water broke early and my doctor wanted to start pitocin right away. She “put me on a clock” to deliver by 18 hours. I fought her tooth and nail and delayed pitocin trying every natural induction method I could find in Dr. Sear’s The Birth Book. Ten hours later, after having been up for over 36 hours already, I had made no progress. I was in shock, exhausted and defeated. After ten hours, my fever spiked and in went the epidural and pitocin.

That’s it. That’s what traumatized me for years after. Not the physical shock of birth pain, not even delivering in an OR under threat of section. Nine months of pregnancy, 18 hours of labor, 2 hours of pushing, Evangeline’s first cries, none of it came to mind when I thought of that birth. I thought of failure and defeat whimpering for an epidural.

I could have been better prepared for the birth and I certainly could have had more support from the hospital facility and staff. But regardless of the physical surroundings, it was the mental circumstance that made this such a profound experience. I spent months before the birth reading up on natural labor propaganda. I was convinced that the need for medical intervention was a myth. At most it was just needed for the most extreme\emergency situations. A real woman need only trust her body, breathe in the right rhythm and her body does the rest. My prenatal education also had me convinced that any intervention would snowball into needing an emergency section. My doctor would pump up pitocin until the baby went in distress just so she could get me in and out of a section in time for her golf game. My child would languish for days under the effects of the epidural, not latch or nurse well and never go to college. My baby would suffer if I were too weak to resist interventions.

Since Evangeline’s birth, I’ve come to know more women who have been similarly traumatized by changes in their birth expectations. Why is this such a big deal? Why does intending a natural birth mean any deviation is a personal failure? Why is the natural birth culture so militant?

If a woman is going to go through labor and delivery without artificial pain medicine, she needs support. She needs complete support and focus. One lone nurse suggesting “a little something to take the edge off” and the laboring woman’s focus can be completely thrown off. To make it through delivery, a woman needs to believe she can do it; she needs to visualize herself doing it and she needs to hear everyone around her telling her she is doing it and she can keep going.

But what happens when medical intervention is needed? Everything the woman has been working for, envisioning and expecting is suddenly derailed. Most often, she feels it is her fault, her body’s fault. Something about her is broken and she failed to birth her child. This sense of failure and of brokenness can last for years and completely taint every memory associated with the birth of her child.

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It is true that to pursue a natural birth experience, it helps to push all thoughts of intervention out of your mind. But we need to stop pushing it so far that it becomes an enemy at the gate to be fought at all times. Modern medical interventions have their place in obstetrics. Not just in extreme or emergency situations. Giving an exhausted mom pain medicine or an epidural to a mom with high blood pressure, is good. Artificially rupturing membranes to kick start a stalled labor can help. And opting for a scheduled section to avoid a probable emergency situation in labor, is a good thing.

If women went into labor with a more balanced view of these practices, maybe the trauma of labor would be slightly less. Maybe more women would come through labor, not focused on what didn’t go according to plan, but all the resources that helped her bring her child into the world. There has to be a way of respecting both the natural process of birth and the benefits of medical interventions. Surely we can acknowledge the place these interventions have in the modern birthing process. Maybe by doing so, more and more women can understand the success of their labor and delivery does not hinge on a black and white birth plan.

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2 thoughts on “The Problem of Birth Culture

  1. leeanna guedry

    Love reading your blogs Kelly and i love your perspective on this. I decided for both of my daughters that i would definitely be getting an epidural (my anxiety is to bad to try it without) and when my dr. suggested Pitocin for both of my births i gladly accepted..i felt they should do whatever they needed to get my daughters here safely. I had this outlook though because i used Oschner and a Midwife..the midwives that iv seen are all about your birthing experience they look at child birth as a natural experience and try to make it as medical as you do or do not want, they even offer water births (not my cup of tea) but if that is what your into go for it. I never wanted to get to caught up in a “birthing plan” because my midwives warned me from the beginning that the baby will come when he or she is ready and the baby will come how he or she wants to and we will work with the baby’s wants and needs. LOVE midwifery and Oschner!!! Anyways just wanted to share with you that i enjoyed reading your blog and I agree with your perspective 🙂 have a great day! All your babies are precious!

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