Tuesday, May 12, 2009

The Birth Beat

Hilarious, as well as a painful reality.

I've been meaning for some time to blog about this, but I didn't want to do it until I had enough time to really say what I want to, which, you know, never really happens, so I'm just going to take a stab at it. P.S. This IS the longest post I've ever written, so don't bother reading it if you have absolutely no interest in childbirth. Or do. But don't feel obligated, because I won't ask you about it next time I see you. You're safe.

Josie's labor was a jumble of both good and bad. For months and months I would play out in my mind the whole experience, just trying to process it. There were a few complications during labor that made it stressful and difficult for me (the precautions limited my options and freedom significantly i.e. continuous internal fetal monitoring that restricted me to the bed), and so in that sense I disappointed. I had a fairly negative experience with my healthcare providers; it felt like it was Me vs. Them, and that my desires to birth naturally were met with a whole lot of reluctance, pessimism, and at times, straight-up doubt that I had the ability to do it. And after it was all over, I honestly couldn't believe I'd gone through that much pain. The whole experience was completely surreal. So, all those things sound bad. True. The good part, no, the amazing part, which I also went over and over in my mind, completely in awe of the experience--was when I pushed her out, and she was resting on my chest. It was unbelievable. I had worked so hard for her, and there she was. Real. Really in my arms. It was like a climax of utterly intense emotions--love, pride, relief, strength, empowerment, exhaustion.....gratitude. I wouldn't trade that experience for the world. But backing up a little bit, during transition (for all you who don't know yet, that's the period of time when you go from dialating to ready-to-push), I had that classic moment of self-doubt. It's very typical for women to doubt their ability to really do it during transition, and I definitely did. Suddenly the physiological experience becomes so intense that you wonder how much longer you can keep it up. The good thing about transition however, is that it means you're almost done; ironically, that feeling comes when you're so near the end. Anyway, I was expressing these feelings of doubt to Allan, and my midwife Mindy sat down and said "honey, you are no less of a woman if you need medication now. Don't feel guilty if that's what you want." I was frustrated by this comment, but I didn't have the energy or frame-of-mind to articulate that I wasn't birthing unmedicated because I wanted to be "a woman." I wasn't looking to feed my ego with toughness or bravery; I wasn't out to prove anything--in fact, I'm positive that if that were my motivation, I wouldn't have been able to actually do it! I was laboring unmedicated because I believed it was better for me and my baby. So here's the point of this anecdote. In the months following her birth, I thought a lot about that moment, and knew that if I were ever going to labor unmedicated again, I needed to KNOW exactly why I felt that natural was better for me and my baby. I wanted to understand perfectly all the pros and cons of both medicated and unmedicated labor. IF I ever were to labor naturally again, I had to, or else I knew that I couldn't do it.

So, that experience is what initiated my obsession with childbirth. For months I've poured over books on birthing--books advocating both natural and medicated labors. I went to the library, searched "childbirth," and basically checked out everything that came up. I wasn't really interested in labor methods as I was about learning the risks and benefits and even simply the physiological process of childbirth. As I learned, two things began to happen. First of all, I began to think that most of my disappointment and frustration with how Josie's birth played out stemmed from the attitudes of my careproviders, as well as (what I believed to be) unnecessary interventions, which were all largely a result of my own ignorance. Secondly, the debate in my mind became less about natural vs. medicated, and more about being informed enough to make good decisions, and then actually having the freedom to make them. I felt like I had very little choice during Josie's labor because the complications were blown out of proportion, and I felt I had little or no say in the decision-making process. I was mad about that, and the more I studied the more I believed that the lack of knowledge on my part had made me unconfident and unqualified to voice my objection to what was going on, because I didn't really know whether or not their attitudes and the precautions taken were necessary or not, and so I couldn't voice my gut feeling that everything was fine. Limited knowledge meant limited power.

As I gained knowledge through study, I felt I gained power too. I discovered that so much of my anxiety to deliver again was related to my ignorance in the why/what concerning both the physiological process of childbirth, as well as the safety interventions into that process. I came away with a reverence for our women-bodies, and complete confidence in my body's ability to labor just fine without anyone or thing interfering. I know that may sound presumptuous, but I believe that. I recognize that there are times when intervention is necessary and miraculous, and for that I'm grateful. But I also believe that MOST of the time our bodies know exactly when and what to do, and that often modern medicine can screw up that process.

I realize this is a sensitive topic for some, and so I wholeheartedly hope this doesn't come off offensive to anyone. Believe that I don't mean it to be! These are my experiences and feelings, and my journey to them was so personal that I wouldn't dream of ever telling anyone that laboring naturally is right for them--I would sooner tell them how many kids to have. What I do want to say, and what I've come to feel passionately about, is EDUCATE yourself! No matter what your ideal childbirth is, or how the heck you feel about medication during labor, knowing what's happening, why they're happening, and when intervention is needed, can only give you more confidence, peace, and ability to make healthy and informed choices during your own labor. If some type of intervention (i.e. induction, epidural, forceps, vacuum, episiotomy ETC) is needed or desired unexpectedly, knowing what's up will give you the power to choose rather than letting decisions be made for you, or in my case, allowing myself to be manipulated into certain decisions because of the fear factor (they said things like "you want a healthy baby, right?" Of COURSE I did! Every mother does! But not knowing anything makes THEM the authority on what's best). Plus, it will give you more choices. I promise. Example: Say you're a week overdue, and your providers want to induce you. Do YOU know the risks involved with an overdue baby? Do you know the risks of induction? Do you know the risks and benefits of allowing labor to begin on its own? Ok, so say you think induction is necessary--do you know the many different ways to induce and the risks/benefits involved with each? It is likely that your careproviders will give you one option, when in reality, there are many, and some are much less invasive than others. This is the case with medication, monitoring, pushing, positions, delivery, post-partum care, the list goes on and on. The more you know, the more choices you have.

And what's more, I feel like my confidence in being able to make good decisions, and my body's ability to its thang thang made everything go smoother during my labor. Merritt's labor was so calm and relaxed. It was such a positive experience ultimately, and I'm positive that my preparation made the difference. I think that at the end of the day, preparation and control have a lot more to do with satisfaction of experience than the presence or absence of pain. Reading up will only help you--regardless of how you choose to labor. Have I made my case??

I'm taking the liberty of listing here some of my favorites reads here.

Pushed: the painful truth about childbirth and modern maternity care by Jennifer Block. This is soooooo interesting. So fascinating. Read it. It's packed with studies and statistics and interviews and stories and it's really really good.

Easy Labor: every woman's guide to choosing less pain and more joy during childbirth by William Camann. This was my favorite book written from the pro-medicated side of the fence, and it provides a pretty good (although biased) overview of what you should know. I recommend this to the woman who wants her epidural yesterday. I also strongly recommend reading this ALONG with:

Easing Labor Pain: the complete guide to a more comfortable and rewarding birth. by Adrienne Lieberman. And this was my favorite book written from the pro-natural side of the fence. It also provides a pretty good (although biased) overview of what you should know. Again, I strongly recommend reading this along with Easy Labor. PS in this same category I also really enjoyed Labor Pain: a natural approach to easing delivery by Nicky Wesson.

Birthing From Within: an extra-ordinary guide to childbirth preparation by Pam England. I want to own this book. I love it. As far as labor methods go, this is it for me. It's all about trusting the natural physiological process, and just getting in touch with your inner birthing self. It also deals a lot with the psychology of birth, and working through you own issues (i.e. fear, anger, regret, disappointment, etc). And it has "birth art." Hello....What's weirder and cooler than birth art?!

The Business of Being Born (a documentary) produced by Ricki Lake. Yeah, so you should probably watch this now. Like, today. It's basically a very poignant, condensed documentary version of Pushed, and very worthwhile. Disclaimer: this has a lot of naked women giving birth, as well as naked women cursing while giving birth. PS. this streams from NetFlicks, and we watched it by signing up for the trial version.

So that's it. I'm genuinely sorry it's so long. If you want to know more about any of this, or want to read my birth story (Merritt's), just let me know. Another disclaimer though, my birth story is not for the weak of heart, and probably not for men. You know, just FYI.

Love you. Hug, hug, kiss, Big hug, leetle kiss.


Super B said...

I love you. seriously. You could not have said it any better. You articulated your experience so well and also said exactly what I feel about being informed and educated. I believe that too many women let the healthcare providers "man the bus" that is labor and delivery. You just made so much sense and really hit the nail on the head.

The Brandleys said...

Dang girl you really did your research... Maybe I'll try that with number 3... Or not... Anyway I totally want to hear your birth story, I am fascinated by them. Especially those natural birthstories. BTW We need to see more picture of this cute little man of yours!

Rob and Marseille said...

I want to hear your birth story!

J.lee Hansen said...

Often times we live life without making the connection of everyday things to the gospel. you have illustrated great points that link the dots,,even if we are only mentioning the principle of educating. It takes years for people to understand the principle of inspiration and gut feelings. "Information Leads to Inspiration" How empowering is that. I commend you for the bravery of decision. True character is said to be found as we make decision after the emotion of making that decision has passed. Well done. We know from Apostles and Prophets and other LDS scholars that childbirth, is symbolically and physically, one of the closet ways, women experience the principles of sacrifice and sometimes agony.
I had an ACL repaired that has left my left knee partially numb. I often reflect (especially when I run into tables and chairs and I don't hurt, because I am numb, although I should be saying ouch!) that when we are TOO reliant to take away pain,, we are desensitized to the reality that there is beauty in pain. As odd as it sounds, I want to feel the pain when i do run into chairs, but that is not an option. An even odder idea is what is the Savior, as he suffered the Atonement had options to medicate just to get him through it. I know those are blessings to be able to endure with and without help. But I truly believe my own personal progression has made lengths and stride through the opposition of pleasure and pain. Infact, as you have mentioned it has increased my ability to love and become more empathic.

I appreciate your words and your ability to express things so personal. it is always a treat to read. Thanks

M-Ware said...

Dude. I have been LOOKING for a book that is totally from the pro-medicated side. I will definitely check that one out. Also, Ricki Lake and Abby Epstein just launched their book "Your Best Birth" that I've heard is a great overview of ALL options - medicated and not. Of course, they are of the "natural" camp, although Abby ended up having a c-section. But it still sounds like a good one to try.

The mantra from Birthing From Within "Labor is hard. It hurts. And you can do it." is something that became my mantra. I hated all those books that called contractions "sensations" instead of calling them what they really are: pain. I needed to know that I just needed to accept that, yes, it would be painful, and yes, I could still do it.

GREAT post! There is SOOOOOOOOOOOOO friggin' much to know about childbirth it makes my head swim and not one woman on the planet should be left in the dark on this subject. We live in a great time with so many options, which means we need to be that much more vigilant in educating ourselves.

Ann said...

I swear I love Nacho Libre more every time I watch it. Oh, Mim. It is so funny how different we are. I'm afraid I have no desire to do any research (but fully recognize that at some point this may come back to bite me in the butt)--maybe partly because I have absolutely loved the whole process of going to the hospital, labor, and delivery, etc. and with all three kids, I have been induced and have been medicated. So funny. Anyway, I DO think, though, that being comfortable with your doctor/caregivers is essential to having a good experience. AND it IS so good that we all have options to do whatever makes us most comfortable.
Anyway, congratulations on such a good experience. I can't wait to see you guys in July!

M-Ware said...

beautiful pictures of your kids, btw. josie is a true vintage gal.

Emily said...


I am so amazed at the research you've done and the passion you've developed. You are an empowered woman through your own self education. I want to keep learning from you!