I had no intentions of blogging today – like any good procrastinator, I planned to put it off until tomorrow – but last night, I watched something so compelling, so perspective-altering that I literally couldn’t wait to tell you about it:
I’ve wanted to watch it for a while, and last night, I saw that it was streaming on Netflix and figured there was no time like the present.
I know I’m probably going to take a lot of crap for what I’m about to say, but what else is new, right? So here goes:
I want a natural childbirth.
And I have since long before I got pregnant.
Given that I want to do everything else concerning this baby as naturally as possible (e.g., breastfeeding, cloth-diapering, babywearing, baby-led weaning), it only makes sense that I would want to give birth naturally too, doesn’t it? But until now, I’ve been afraid to say so. Almost every single person to whom I’ve brought up this possibility (and there haven’t been many, believe me) has made me feel like a straight-up moron for even CONSIDERING giving birth without being numb from the waist down.
Now, before I go any further, I want to make one thing absolutely clear: How, when and where to give birth are among the most personal decisions a mother will ever make. In my opinion, no method is superior. The vast majority of the time, all safe, modern birth methods end with a healthy mother and baby, and that’s by far the most important thing. What I’m saying here today is that natural childbirth is not inferior, but a lot of times, the people who choose it (especially in places like Shreveport, LA) are ridiculed and scorned as being idealistic at best and feminists who just want bragging rights at worst.
In fact, that’s exactly how The Guy felt. The Guy, who is unfailingly and wholeheartedly supportive of just about every single ill-conceived and harebrained idea that pops into my head, nevertheless thought very much like the majority of America does: In the year 2011, there is absolutely no reason to give birth without drugs except to boast about it later. Every time I brought up the subject, that’s what he would say: “Whatever, but you can’t brag about it afterwards.” No matter how many statistics or experts I quoted, I couldn’t make him understand that there are valid reasons to give birth naturally.
And I’m not going to list all them of here. The movie does a much better job than I ever could of stating them eloquently and succinctly. But here are a few points that struck me (and some I didn’t know before):
1. The U.S. has the second-highest maternal and infant mortality rate of any industrialized nation.
2. In 2005, one in four women gave birth via cesarean section (which is made by the medical establishment to sound as simple as getting a deviated septum fixed but is actually MAJOR ABDOMINAL SURGERY).
3. Pitocin-induced contractions (pitocin is the drug most commonly used to induce labor) are much longer and more intense than natural contractions. Almost no one can stand the pain of childbirth without drugs after receiving an IV drip of pitocin.
4. In Europe and Japan, most babies are delivered via midwife.
5. In New York City, the average hospital birth costs $13,000; the average midwife charges $4,000 for a home birth.
After finishing the movie, The Guy turned to me, tears in his eyes, and said, “OK, I’m sold. I got your back on this one. You can totally do this.”
What did he mean by that last part? As I explained to him about halfway through the movie, I did not (until today) know one single person in real life who has given birth naturally. Everything I know about the subject, I’ve read in books and on blogs. I didn’t have any real people (besides the doctor, of course) who could answer questions, who could give me any clue about whether or not I am actually capable of this. But after watching, I know I’m capable of it. I think any of us are.
But in this country, women are taught to fear the childbirth process. Everyone, from our mothers to our doctors, tells us that it’s nothing short of a sojourn into hell. But what they don’t say – and what many of them simply don’t know – is that there are mitigating factors in the modern childbirth industry (and make no mistake, it IS an industry) that make it a lot more unpleasant than it has to be.
For instance, did you know that the absolute worst, most inefficient way to labor is on your back with your feet in the air? It’s much more convenient for the doctor, but it’s TERRIBLE for the mother. It actually slows down labor. The best way to labor is vertically, either standing or squatting, which is, of course, impossible if you’ve had an epidural.
Again, I’m NOT preaching that natural childbirth is the way, the truth and the light. What I’m getting at here is that a lot of women – particularly the less educated – don’t know that. There’s an inherent trade-off: You can give birth naturally and your labor might progress faster, but you’re going to be in a world of pain at some points. Or you can give birth comfortably with an epidural, but your labor might go slower, and babies sometimes suffer distress during particularly long labors.
It’s really not informed consent if you’re not informed of these things!
After the movie, The Guy and I stayed up until an ungodly hour (seriously, given that we both had to work this morning, YOU DO NOT EVEN WANT TO KNOW how ridiculously late we went to bed) doing research, writing a preliminary draft of our birth plan and making a list of questions for our doctor.
Doing that, we had to face the possibility that, despite our best intentions and preparations, all may not go according to plan. We’ve both lived long enough to know that it probably won’t. Even the most hard-core midwives freely admit that c-sections are still absolutely necessary sometimes. In fact, the last woman to give birth in the movie had planned a natural home birth, but early in her labor, her midwife ended up sending her to the hospital for a c-section because the baby was breech and they couldn’t get him to turn. That could very well happen to us, too, and we’re OK with that. We agreed last night that the point is not “get a return on our $19.95 investment in a birthing ball and show everybody in L&D what smug little crunchy-granola elitists we are”; the point is “have a healthy daughter and leave the hospital satisfied that we both did everything we could to have her on our own terms, according to our principles and as naturally as possible.”
And there is very much an “us” in the process. I’ll be the one actually delivering Harper, of course, but The Guy now realizes his job will be…well, everything else. I am by no means a badass, and I certainly do not have a higher-than-normal pain tolerance; he will have to continually remind me why we’re doing this and that yes, I CAN do it. It’s likely the nurses will just want to get this show on the road and go home; he’ll have to fend off them and their pitocin. (Item number one on our birth plan? “NO PITOCIN WHATSOEVER UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES OR I WILL DONKEY-KICK SOMEONE IN THE GENITALS.”) He’ll be the one who looks like an idiot carrying a giant blue birthing ball into the hospital.
Speaking of hospitals, yes, I am definitely giving birth in one. Because of my age, I doubt anyone (doctor OR midwife) would let me have a home birth, and I don’t want one anyway. Ideally, I’d like to have Harper in a birthing center, but there isn’t one in Shreveport (the closest one we’ve found is in Marshall, TX). We are not using a midwife. We love our doctor, and she has promised to support anything we want to do as long as it’s responsible.
The movie also presented some ideas with which I definitely do NOT agree. A French obstetrician postulates that mothers who do not experience a rush of oxytocin (the hormone that, among other things, stimulates labor) during natural labor (i.e., a non-pitocin-induced childbirth) cannot bond with their babies. The Guy is adopted, and he’s about as bonded to his parents as a child can possibly be. Obviously, no surge of oxytocin in his mother facilitated that bond. As people who plan to adopt children, we are well aware that bonding has to be a much more intentional process sometimes, like when you are not the child’s biological parents or when you give birth via c-section. But to imply that bonding is all but impossible unless you give birth to your baby vaginally and naturally is not only wrong, it’s just plain stupid.
So now let’s hear from some real-life folks: If you’ve ever given birth, how did you do it? Was it the experience you wanted? Anything you’d do differently?
If you haven’t had a baby, how would you do it if you had to decide today? Why?