My next series of articles will take a look at the “Big Three” midwives, how they think, what they stand for, and my take on it all. [And now that I’m thinking about it, may turn into “four”.]
As I continue along my journey in the birth field, I have evolved time and again. New information is found, new opinions formed, new facets of spirituality discovered. I’ve noticed a shift in my “birth consciousness” that was once all for an off-the-wall seemingly radical idea such as that spouted from the mouths of natural birth advocates, such as “Avoid doctors and Cesareans at all cost!”, “You have to have a midwife at a homebirth”, “Trust Birth”, “Birth is Safer than Not”, or Unassisted Birthers and their stand (I had even considered a UC). Now, I have again shifted my personal paradigm on birth to something seemingly even more radical.
I have read articles about UC women losing babies, of people who once advocated UC turning against it, fearing it. I have read over and over again the claims that birth is “inherently safe” and we’ve been doing it “by ourselves” forever. I have compared the “babies lost to UC” to “babies lost under midwifery supervision” to those lost under “OBGYN supervision”. There are varying numbers, but in all cases there are deaths. And in a recent essay I wrote, I talked on the connection between birth and death, and especially that of the role death plays in midwifery.
Before I continue, let me make it clear that I am not bashing, advocating, or any of the like any one “side” of the fence (because in my mind, there is no fence, it’s more like the lunch tables in the school cafeteria that are designated to each ‘clique’. Some people are at the hospitals and doctors are the only way table, some are at the pro-midwifery licensure table, some are at the anti-midwifery licensure table, some are at the “trust birth”, pro-UC table). I’ve found that I am at none of those tables, and seek to get people thinking. Let me explain.
I feel like saying slogans such as the aforementioned give women a false sense of security that sets them up for failure, or disappointment. But at the same time, I believe that it is possible, and biologically normal, for a woman to give birth on her own. However, I have a growing uneasiness in my gut about how this topic is being handled and gone about. The common scenario that I’ve come across is as follows: a woman is pregnant and decides that she wants to have a “natural” birth. She reviews her options. Attempting as “natural” a birth as possible in a hospital or birth center setting, having a midwife attended homebirth, or an “unassisted birth”. She is more inclined to a homebirth, and considers the options regarding that route. Midwife, or no midwife. Perhaps she can’t afford the midwife, lives in a state/area where there are no midwives/homebirth midwifery is illegal, etc. So she begins to look more at the UC route. Another scenario is that she, from the gate, heads straight for the UC route. Either way, she begins looking into it, trying to find out what she “needs to know”, and essentially begins to self-train herself as a midwife. And of course, there are those out there who do not believe in doing this, after all they “trust birth” as a “biological function” (which it is, I’m not arguing that point) and so they believe that they do not need to be educated in the ways of a midwife and that their bodies will handle everything accordingly. In the first instance, there is the woman who studies and crams as much knowledge as she can, hoping she hasn’t overlooked any vital piece or will forget something in the moment. This, to me, seems counterproductive to the seemingly common thought behind “natural” births as being able to let mom be free of worries and responsibilities and allowing her to be in her own headspace (and in my personal belief, her own spiritual place) while someone else is the one with the knowledge to utilize in the case of a possible emergency. And yes, a birth that is not intervened with, a mother who is allowed to move about as she pleases, eat and drink as she pleases, etc. is the best scenario for the best outcome—that of a smooth, complication-free birth. But it seems to me that a mother who plans a UC, and tries to become “knowledgeable enough” to undergo one, is in a sense a hypocrisy against the theory of “our bodies are capable on their own” and, also, takes the mother out of that worry-free, personal head/spiritual place in my personal opinion. And, it sets her up for potential trauma, disappointment, and failure if she were to happen to have a complication and she does not know how to respond, forgets how to respond, is incapable/incapacitated from being able to respond appropriately and her partner is not “trained” to handle the situation, and the result is a hospital transfer or even death of herself and/or the child. I have read story after story of UC-ers ending up with a hospital transfer, either due to just a “gut feeling” that something was wrong, or there was an actual complication during labor or delivery they couldn’t handle or weren’t prepared for, or even if they were, couldn’t make a difference. Then there are the deaths. And like I said earlier, death is inevitable, in any birthing situation, with any attendant (or none).
I think that instead of spouting slogans or teaching women that birth is safe and our bodies are capable at all times of giving birth without the need of assistance from an outside person (which not only gives women the assumption that they shouldn’t have a midwife, but also that they shouldn’t even have a doula, or in some circles even their partner, present at the birth)— that we should be talking about death. We should be teaching midwives and mothers about the death aspects of birth, the potential for death in birth, how to cope with and accept death, the rituals, chants, etc. (the spiritual side) around both birth and death. Not hiding from it, not trying to avoid it at all costs, even at the cost of quality of life, not setting up women for possible trauma, because that’s what’s being done.
Here is something to ponder on. I became pregnant with my first child at the age of 16, and subsequently went into preterm labor and delivered a 29 week baby. He was whisked away, unseen, not held to my chest, for almost three days. He was kept in a great NICU facility in a town an hour and a half away, had his ups and downs, and on one of his downs was transferred even farther away to a supposedly “better” hospital, which in my eyes seemed no better than a local hospital, and was a downgrade from the first. Throughout his three weeks of life, he was given intervention after intervention, was denied my breast, was denied my holding of him time and again. I held him, and not even how he should have been held (for hours, skin to skin) maybe a hand full of times in those three short weeks. And regardless of their technology and their efforts, he died. Actually, partially due to their technology, he died. And thinking back on it, with where I’m at right now in my beliefs, I would have done it differently. I would have asked to hold him immediately after birth. I would have made them let me keep him, would have held him naked to my bare chest and stuck my nipple in his mouth, whether he would be able to eat or not. I would have held him for every waking
moment, and probably the sleeping ones as well. And maybe he would have died anyway, maybe he would have lived. Maybe he would have thrived. (Kangaroo Care saves as much if not more infants, with a better quality of life, than our “technology” which studies have shown over and over). But regardless of the outcome, I would have at least have had those moments, I would have been with him for every second. He wouldn’t have died alone, three hours away from his parents. He may have died, but not alone. And I think that maybe I would have been able to cope with that trauma and be able to better overcome it in that alternative scenario. Maybe not, but I like to think that it would be better. And so many women don’t think about that, or maybe they do but they lock those thoughts and gut-feelings down inside because the “doctors know best”, and I think that needs to change.
I also believe wholeheartedly that we should stop shunning c-section mothers, stop snubbing them—those who chose a Cesarean and those who received emergency surgeries. We should instead be meeting women where they are, accepting them, being present for them, helping them to heal from that trauma (if healing is needed/it was traumatic, because it is possible it was not), and helping to guide them out of that place of ostracized outcast that they most often find themselves in the natural birth community. Help with trauma mending, help with information sharing on VBACs and even being present for them for a repeat c-section and helping them to be able to come to terms with it and make it a more “interactive” experience instead of one where they have no say from start to finish. This is something that I see quite frequently and that the attitude and treatment of needs severe 180 degree turn around on.
We should be teaching midwives to be able to be as hands-off as mothers want them to be, but to be able to step in in the case of a complication with quiet gentle guidance and quick skill. I wonder how many hospital transports for unassisted births (which include not just the transport and possible fetal/maternal hospitalization, but maternal/fetal separation, delayed nursing, etc.—all of the things that were set out to be avoided in the first place) could have been dealt with at home with someone who has the training, who could have been the quiet presence in the corner, allowing the mother to have her space and her freedom from the weight-bearing of “Will I remember what I learned?” and the like. They could have been dealt with, at home, and there would have been little to no negative side effects such as the aforementioned (of course, unless a dire emergency was indicated and transfer was needed). This is just one of my many personal and evolving views.
And, again personally, I believe we did not give birth “alone” in the past. Maybe, when we were Homo erectus in the plains of Africa, we did what mammals do—found a quiet, secluded place safe from predators and were left to our own devices to either come back with a baby, or not. But, looking historically, at least since recorded history, there are records across cultures of women being attended by women. And this was not necessarily just “medical” supervision, but just women-to-women, mother to daughter, grandmother to granddaughter, aunts and cousins and other female tribe members supporting, and being present, for the birthing mother. They were her chair, they were her arms, they were her spiritual support also, and probably most importantly. There may, or may not have been a midwife, but there were women who had birthed before there who knew some ways of birth, and if there wasn’t, or something was wrong, the midwife was called. But regardless, the mother was allowed to “be”, and whatever the outcome was, it was also allowed to “be”. This is my evidence for my argument against UC-ers who preach “birthing alone”, etc. in order to be a “true” UC-er. Yes, women are mammals and the actions behind mammalian birth is the same (quiet, safe, dark places, etc.) but this can be accomplished with a woman still being supported, cared for, adored and pampered, and spiritually supported.
We should also be looking more at the biology around labor, on a cultural level as well as a personal, woman by woman basis. If you want to claim birth is “biological” then act like it matters. Look at how we have changed biologically, physiologically, over the last few hundred years. How does that affect how we birth? Yes, women have “known” how to give birth since we evolved. But, how have we changed, physically (and mentally) that could hinder this natural, biological process? A major one: pelvic shapes. The major contributor? Diet. Diet has been probably the most drastic change humans have undergone in the shortest time, and even though birth is natural and we were capable of birthing, supposedly without midwives or other more-knowledgeable attendees, we are different now than when we were then. Even just compared to a few hundred years ago, or even less than a century ago. We should be looking at, and again training midwives and teaching mothers, and potential mothers, about how things in our lives could affect our capacity to birth, naturally. Diet I, and many others, believe is the main contributor, but also environmental factors such as chemical exposure, mental health, past traumas (whether birth related or not), etc. We should be trying to change these kinds of things, to help bring women back to the way it was before, when we could “birth naturally” instead of just saying “Oh, you can do it by yourself, no problem!” not even considering that even if that mother did everything “right” and still had a complication or her baby still died, no one thought to help her with a past trauma that re-surfaced during birth, or to talk to her about nutrition, before pregnancy or during. (Of course, even in antiquity, before the drastic lifestyle and diet changes of the mostly-Western world and those places that they have influenced, babies and mothers died. It was a part of life. And even if we can get back to a similar way of life or way of eating, death is inevitable at any time, for anyone, and takes me back to what I said earlier about the other key point that we are missing in regards to birth—death.)
And again, yes I believe that birth is a natural, biological function. I’ve even seen it mentioned a few times that if it didn’t “work” there wouldn’t be so many people. My radical thought on that? Doctors and technology is the reason for the outrageously high human population of this earth. Yes, birth “works” and more babies survive birth than they die during it, but with the increase in “life-saving” and “life-extending” technology, which is the field of doctors, more and more live (regardless of their potential quality of life). It has always been that babies die. Mothers die. And though populations steadily increased over time regardless, it was nothing compared to the last few hundred years with the advent of such “advanced” technology. And now, we have the ever-present looming fact, the elephant in the corner that everyone seems oblivious to, that our ecosystem (the Earth) has long-since reached its peak in population sustaining capabilities. In simple terms, the Earth cannot sustain us anymore at our current nor projected population growth rate.
And I understand, and am prepared for, how the aforementioned comments, personal beliefs, and theories will cause people to react. But, like those before me who went out on a limb and became “radicals” in their thinking, and their doing, so shall I take my turn, and perhaps, someone will read this and be able to think for themselves and possibly they will take their turn, and on it will go.
[And again, please take heed that I am NOT bashing or belittling anyone’s personal beliefs, or any one particular institute or organization’s beliefs or teachings. I am only stating my personal take, and hoping to get people thinking in a new light.]
Reincarnation and the Otherworld (either many other realms besides our own, or some kind of afterlife, or a combination thereof) is not a new concept. The younger concept seems to be that of not reincarnating. Reincarnation is the belief that the soul returns over and over again to this world, being born and dying repeatedly for eons. Some believe that this is continued until the soul or spirit achieves some sort of divine revelations, obtains purity, has learned all it has to learn, has received all the lessons it was meant to receive, etc. and then joins the Divine and is no longer reincarnated. Many believe that a person’s soul is only ever reborn as a human, others believe in metempsychosis, when the same soul could reincarnate as human, animal, or even as a plant or stone. Philostratus of Tyana in the Second Century reported that the Celts of Europe believed that in order to be born into this world, we must die in the Otherworld, and vice versa. So when we celebrate a birth, that soul just underwent a death in order to be born, and when we are mourning a death, that soul is being born. This belief, not to mention death in general, seems critical in the role of Midwife. Also, looking at different cultures and world religions past and present, most if not all “midwife” related goddesses, were also associated with death, and death and rebirth are intrinsically tied across belief systems.
The predominant emotions and responses surrounding the vastly separate and yet not all that different acts of being born and dying are rather strict, especially in Western culture. We rejoice our newborns and mourn our dead. Our midwives often help bring our children into the world and we focus on the “birth” aspect of that soul’s reincarnation, but think not once on the “death” of that same soul. Should midwives not be, as gatekeepers in their own right, knowledgeable of this phenomena and of what is at work? Should they not realize that not only are they attendants to help keep Death at bay, that the newborn is assured a safe entrance into our world, but they should be acknowledging and mourning the death of that same soul just as she rejoices in its birth? And, should she know the ways of Death, the words and prayers, the proper etiquette, should it come regardless of her efforts in the birthroom? And she should teach families of these ways, and help them to understand their workings.
In our Western society we hold, as a culture, a taboo around death that many other cultures do not. We emphasize so much on Birth, and not enough on Death. And the correlation between the two is almost unheard of. There is not just the death and rebirth of the soul being recognized at the time of birth. There is also death of a phase of the maternal-fetal relationship, the death of the placenta—that life-sustaining maternal-fetal organ, the separation of the umbilical cord and the death of it. There is so much death involved in birth and yet no one sees it. No one acknowledges it. And this seems wrong.
In our highly advanced, technology-filled Western world, doctors and midwives no longer know Death’s face. But perhaps a few have seen Death shrouded in the corner of the birthroom, waiting eagerly, and yet patiently. But, instead of nodding in recognition and allowing to come what may, they go into a mad scramble for something, some sort of technology to reverse what is inevitable, to prolong what is coming regardless, because we have forgotten as a culture to respect, honor, and expect Death, even in Birth. We have forgotten what to do when it comes. We fear it, we fear what comes after it, we fear the ache of loss. It is not wrong, but it isn’t right either. If our birth attendants were knowledgeable in the rituals, the prayers and chants, the soothing words to comfort a grieving family; if they were aware of the correlation between birth and death; if they were honoring, and helping families to honor, both the death and the birth surrounding a soul entering this world, perhaps things would be different. Loss would be easier to cope with, death wouldn’t be feared, birth would be honored, life would be valued, and death would be celebrated. For when a soul dies in this world, they are reborn in the Otherworld.
I have traveled far and seen much since I’ve begun this journey into natural childbirth and midwifery. I have begun to see the differing paths, and mindsets and thoughts pulling away from the main branches trying to break free like leaves falling in autumn. I set my feet on this path which began for me as a one-way street, but I soon began to pass by other avenues. I trekked down a few, here and there, but then turned and left them when I saw what was really there at the end of the dark alley. What is advertised in bright, flashing lights to draw the attention of novice and truth-seeker is not what is really shown behind the curtains. Such is the truth in the natural living and birth communities. I’ve seen the ones who only praise Medicine. I’ve seen the ones who praise only Natural. I’ve seen those who shun others for their birth experiences, when they have no right to. I’ve met those who were the Shunned. I had thought that I was on the right path, until i came across new information or a stranger who suggested something different, something better perhaps and went to see what wares they sold and stories they told. It has shaped me, as a student midwife and aspiring birth priestess. It has directed me mundanely and magically down this path. I have finally discovered a new path. One that sings deep in the depths of my soul. But it is the path less trod, hidden below the fallen, decaying autumn leaves. One must follow the Whisps into the darkness in order to find the light. I willingly allow the darting spirits to lure me deeper into the swamp-land, trusting, knowing. They have brought me before the Grandmother, the Knower of the Ways, the Speaker of Truths, the Blind One Who Sees All. She knows the herbs, the spells, the rites. And she will share them if you are willing and of able body and mind, but information worth knowing does not come without its price. What will you give?
I have found the Path of the traditional midwife, the Shamaness, the village Wise One. To know the skills required to aid when needed, for Death can come in the throws of labor, but if you know the ways He may be appeased without leaving a birth with the soul of mother or babe… Or, to know when Death comes and nothing you can do will stop him, you know the ways of dealing with death, of honoring it as you do birth. To know the rites, the spells and charms, for they were once lost and must be returned… To be able to stand with open arms of acceptance to offer healing and wisdom for all who seek it, for none should be turned away or cast aside… To cross the veil to retrieve that which was lost, and help return a mother to her Self and to help her realize her ownership of her own experience no matter if she gave birth freely in a nature setting or was put under the knife… Those are the roles, the skills, of the traditional midwife- shaman, witch, healer, herbalist, friend, counselor and so much more. That is what I wish to be, the path I know to follow.
I keep hearing stories about “birth rape” and “birth trauma”, and I believe that this is very real and very common and something that seriously needs to be addressed. But I think that many people are either ignoring or are not recognizing something similar that is going on- abortion trauma. From what I’ve been reading most “birth rape” instances occur when a mother says “No!” to a procedure and a doctor proceeds anyway. It is a violation of their person and their rights. But what about those women who elect for an abortion, they have consented to the procedure, and yet they come out of it feeling violated, disrespected, thrown away? It was not the fact that they had the procedure performed, that they “killed and unborn child”, it was HOW the procedure was performed, the energy of the physician and their assistants/those in the room, and how they were cared for (or NOT cared for) afterwards. It is the feeling of alone-ness that one feels post-abortion during recovery because there is not adequate support systems in place or information/counseling available. That is abortion trauma, if nothing else. And it is being ignored. I understand that abortion is a very tricky subject, a touchy one, that many don’t want to talk about. But it is a fact of life, and those who go through it need and deserve support just like those who undergo birth trauma need and deserve support.
Just before my 18th birthday I found out I was pregnant. Me and the father were not dating at the time and we decided to go through with a surgical abortion. Prior to going, I sat and went inside myself, I did visualizations. I talked to the baby and told it that this wasn’t a good time, we wouldn’t be able to give it everything it deserved, and to go to a family that could and that desperately wanted a child, or to come back later when it would be better for everyone involved. Afterwards, I felt empty. I didn’t “feel pregnant” anymore. I felt I could go through with it at this point. What I wasn’t expecting was how I would feel physically. We went just after my 18th birthday so that my parents wouldn’t have to take me. I was 8 weeks almost to the day. The waiting room was full of couples, women by themselves, and a couple women there with female friends for support. I talked with a woman next to me and we were there for each other in a way. The nurses seemed nice enough, but it was when I went in for the actual surgical procedure that my trauma began. They give you a medicine to put inside vaginally to help soften your cervix to make it easier to dilate. After about 45 minutes of waiting, they call you back. You are instructed to get undressed and put on a hospital gown. You are laid down on a bed, your feet suspended and your legs spread. There was a male doctor doing the procedure, an old man. I can already tell I do not like him. There is an older female nurse there who holds my hand. I think he tried making a bit of small talk with me at first, then as he begins he talks to the nurse, something about golf I believe. I am crying, it hurts. He numbs my cervix, that’s what I was afraid of hurting. I didn’t realize it would be the dilation that would hurt, that would be so traumatizing. The shot was a pinch, then my mouth feels funny. He begins inserting the rods to dilate me. It hurts so bad, I feel like I’m being torn open, I don’t want this. This pain. I don’t want this man between my legs who sees me as just another knocked up teenager coming across his table to get rid of an inconvenience. The nurse, I know she means well, but I can feel her anxiety as I’m crying into her hand and she continues talking to the doctor over the noise of the suction machine. That part of the procedure is painless and takes just a few seconds. He removes his tools and removes himself. The nurse helps me sit up, I’m shaking and crying. I feel broken. Violated. I get dressed and she takes me to the recovery room where other women who had gone before me are sitting with sunken, painful expressions on their faces. They don’t speak to one another like they had in the waiting room. We are isolated in a room full of broken women. We bleed together and mourn together, but we are alone. We are given heating pads for our abdomens, the cramps are painful. We are brought soda instead of water to help our blood sugar. We stay there for 30-45 minutes. If someone came with us for support, they are not allowed with us to comfort us. The nurse comes and checks our blood pressure. We are given a bag of drugs- painkillers and antibiotics with directions. We are dismissed. I wobble into the waiting room clutching my stomach. Tears are dried on my cheeks. I am broken inside, my womb has been forced open and emptied by a man who didn’t care. I was surrounded by women who feel how I do, and yet we knew not to comfort each other and are not comforted by anyone else. I am driven home and taken care of for a night and day before having to return to my parent’s house.
This is the first time admitting to myself how it made me feel, how I feel that I was raped, in a way. Raped in the sense of being opened by and being in the presence of someone that I felt did not care. I consented, but I was opened by someone who had no respect for my body, for my soul, for anything but getting his pay. At least, that was the energy that I picked up on. I was emptied by someone who can never know the pain, the loss. I feel very strongly that this is something that needs to be addressed. I believe that the way abortions are done and how women are “supported” pre-, during, and post- abortion needs to change and become more women-centered. Women should be encouraged to tell their stories just like those who have experienced birth trauma and rape are encouraged to, and something should be done. I know that it is not the same as “birth rape”, but it is similar and I do think that it is something that should be addressed. It is something that a woman may choose to go through, but it should be a woman-based procedure, it shouldn’t be just “one more patient” because that’s no better than our maternity care system that has the same mentality of “just one more patient”. I think there should be more support, more information. Especially at the clinics. That is the point of saying all this. It wasn’t the fact the getting it done and “killing an unborn” that traumatized me, or many others. It’s the procedure itself, those who perform it, and the lack of support.
In antiquity, midwives, who were also the village healers-witch doctors, were gone to for abortions. Midwives knew the herbs, they knew the chants. They knew how to help women, and Be With women. That is a part of midwifery that I think is critical (and I will touch on midwifery and death in later posts) but is being swept under the rug.
It is cold, winter is upon the land. The leaves are gone from the trees and snow threatens. The pangs of child-bringing echo out from the cavern of her womb. It is time. She walks calmly, pausing to catch her breath, to the shelter that she will bring her child into the world from. The canvas is wrapped tightly around the pine poles, inside she lights a fire, the smoke rising and leaving through the top of the teepee. A soft, fire-glow reflects around the interior and warms it quickly, chasing away the bite of winter. A bed roll sits opposite the door, warm furs welcome her naked body as she kneels upon them. Her voice gives forth primal utterances from the depths of her being, she rides the waves of creation. Sweat drips from her breasts as she calls out to the creatures of the forest, all is still. They know the sounds of a birthing mother. They stand watch with her. There is a pool of water near the fire, it was made from the wood of an old oak, and warm stones from the fire heat the water. She slips beneath its surface and floats there as she rides the waves of childbirth into the cosmos. She has crossed the threshold. Her mind is lost to us until her child enters the world, she stands one foot in the world of the living and one in the dead. Shaman. The spirits sing, her ancestral women-mothers dance her the Birth Dance. Her priestess-sister stands as sentinel, watching, dancing, chanting in the mortal world, giving her a tether to this plane. Raising the birth energy with her sister. The Wise One sits quietly, undisturbing, in the corner, hands busy with some craft but her eyes are sharp and her consciousness tethered to the birth field to sense for any ill that would require her attention. Until then, she sits and lets Be. Her mate, her child’s father, holds her hands and works her body, easing the pain away with his touch. His voice is comforting in her ear. His eyes watch hers, but she is not in this world, she is meeting her child in the spirit plane, preparing to birth, to bring life into the world from the plane of the Ancestors. She is primal, the essence of female power. She births her child peacefully into this world, smoothly into the stone-warmed waters, an easy transition from the ocean of her womb. Her child has been brought through the veil. Her child’s life-link follows shortly after, she consumes part of it like the bear-mothers or the birthers of wolf kin and saves the rest to offer to the Earth. They are dried and laid down upon the furs, mother, father, child. Warmed by love and the fire. Babe is brought to breast, milk flows, the bond is sealed……. This is my dream birth. What I envision in my mind’s eye when I lay to sleep and wake in the morning.
[This post was originally written by me back in January, 2012 while I was still pregnant with my second son, and since its writing some of my views have changed a bit, which you will see in posts to come.]
Most of you know that I delivered a premature son back in 2009 who did not make it. Most of you also know that I am currently speeding down the road to another birth. Most of you, however, don’t know much about either experience, or about how my experiences in the modern prenatal/postnatal medical field have validated how screwed up the system is or how they led me to the place that I am as a person, mother, and activist……
The premature labor of my son was not caught soon enough to be hindered, nor was it diagnosed correctly when it was. When I complained of painful, irregular cramps I was told I might be dehydrated and had a urinalysis taken. However, I never learned the results of the test. When I had gone into full-blown labor 3 days later (still with menstrual-like, irregular cramping switching with low-back pain/pressure), L&D nurses at the naval hospital told me over the phone that I was dehydrated and not in ‘real labor’ and to take Tylenol extra strength, drink lots of water, and get in a bath. When that didn’t help they said to come in to be checked. I arrived in an ambulance around 9 am. holding the descending amniotic sac cupped in my palms. I delivered a 29 week old baby at 9:36 am after about 4.5-5 hours of labor and 15-20 minutes of pushing.
I remember once being admitted to the hospital that my contractions, which had stopped in the ambulance ride, returned. The doctor said we could either push the sac back and hope I don’t get an infection, or break my sac and have a baby. I chose to have the baby. I remember having to pee terribly and they wouldn’t let me go to the bathroom so I peed there in the bed after refusing a catheter. I remember they refused to let my mom in the room, only my boyfriend, even though there was room in the corner for her or up by my head next to Shaun. She was supposed to be my coach. I remember having a NP holding my right leg and a nurse holding my left and the NP wouldn’t let go or lower my leg to be even with my other one even though I kept trying to push it down with my hand, she was holding my leg so close to my body that I had muscle damage in my hip from straining against it (that was the only thing I took pain medicine for and had hip problems until recently). They kept telling me when to push, how long to push, and I barely got to breath they had me pushing so close together. I started to black out and hyperventilate and because of that don’t remember much of the actual birth. I remember the doctor saying he was coming and it would burn a bit, I said “It burns!” and with one push he came sliding out. I remember a flash of red and fluids, can’t really say I remember seeing my son actually come out, and then I remember nothing until they brought him to me cleaned up and bundled to give him a kiss before taking him away to be hooked up tot he CPAP machine to breathe for him. I don’t even remember delivering the placenta that’s how out of it I was. I remember being scared, Shaun scared and so amped on adrenaline that he couldn’t sit still for hours after. I was up and walking not even 30 minutes later because I had to pee (again) from the IV they had given me. I got to see him for only a few minutes even though they didn’t transport him until an hour or so later.
When we got to Pitt Memorial the next day (after a huge mix up between hospitals… I was delayed discharge because Pitt thought I had the H1N1 virus when it was a doctor who had been taking care of my son right after birth who had called in the next day with the flu and she had to be tested to make sure it wasn’t H1N1) they told us a little something about ‘kangaroo care’ and had a book there for me to flip through. We didn’t get to hold [my son] until he was 3 days old I believe, and I didn’t even get to do full kangaroo care, but when his naked skin touched the little bit of skin my shirt exposed on my chest, my milk immediately came in. That was the only time in the 3 weeks he was alive that I got to feel him skin to skin. And now, years after the fact and having done more research on KC, I wonder if I had gotten to do it every time we were there if he might have lived/not needed some interventions that came from complications developing, if it would have helped his sleep apnea and his digestion problems. I also remember that the last few days he was up at Chapel Hill, the last day I saw him before he died I wanted to do KC and the nurse said since my mom wanted to leave in like 30 minutes that it wouldn’t be ‘worth it’ because it would ‘take too much time to get set up’ that ‘i would only get to hold him for maybe 5 minutes’. She was so uncaring and nonchalant about it. And even though I was upset, I didn’t question it. And I wish I had.
Being pregnant with [my first son] was what opened me up to the worlds of natural childbirth, midwifery, and homebirths. The pregnancy and subsequent birth trauma led me to the path of becoming a midwife. When I got pregnant again I knew I wanted to have a homebirth, or at least a birth center birth. Unfortunately, the closest center is 3 hours away and CPMs are illegal in NC. They’re abundant up in the mountains practicing under the radar either solo or under the eyes of nurse midwives at birth centers. Down here on the coast, it’s almost impossible to find one or a homebirth NM. But I searched and searched. When I had given up, I decided to settle for a doula-attended hospital birth. While searching for a doula, I found a local woman who was planning a homebirth with a local CPM and was due in a matter of days. I got the contact info for the midwife and set up an appointment. I thought I was going to luck out and get the birth I wanted, I deserved. But having found her so late in the pregnancy, there would be no way we could afford to pay half the bill ($1,000) by the time of delivery, even though she was nice enough to let us pay her back the other half over the course of a year. So there went that option. Severely let down, now being out a birth center, a midwife, a homebirth, and more than likely a doula (the one I was talking to delivered her baby and took maternity leave from doula-ing and wasn’t sure she’d be able to attend me come Feb. since her husband is deployed and she has 3 other kids). Disheartened, I began to try and come to terms with having to deliver in the hospital, with a doctor I may or may not have ever met while receiving care at my clinic, with the risk of having my freedom and desires taken away.
During my pregnancy I have been receiving care from a local Women’s Clinic that has over 30 doctors and nurse midwives working there. I’ve seen probably about half of them at some point or another. There is a chance of having any one of them, and any one of the docs or NM from the other women’s clinic across the street from them, to be the doctor on the floor when you go in to deliver. So there is a large chance of being delivered by a doc or NM that you’ve never met. And there’s no way of requesting a certain care provider. While going to this clinic, it has been one thing after another. I’ve memorized practically my entire medical file/history, etc. because they never know what’s going on, where I’m at, what treatments I’m getting or when my next US is, etc. even though they have my file in front of them, in paper format AND now on laptops that they carry around with them. The standard procedure for an appointment is as follows: arrive at clinic right on time for appointment. Called to the lab to pee in a cup, be weighed, and have BP taken and asked “do you have any complaints today?” anywhere from 10-30 minutes after arrival. Then you return to the waiting area and it could be another 15-30 minutes before you’re called into the actual exam room. (I will admit a couple times I got back into a room after just a few minutes). Then, once in the room, you wait another 15-30 min. on average for the doctor or NM to come in. When they do, they spend more time looking through your chart on their laptop then they do talking to you. Listen to baby’s heartbeat, measure your fundal height, ask if I’ve received my progesterone shot yet, then begin to mutter over my next visit, put the request in the laptop, then leave and I go home. They’re usually in the room with you for maybe 5 minutes.
There has been an instance where an inaccurate bit of medical procedure history was put into my file and I had to have that cleared up (it took 2-3 visits to get cleared up). Multiple times I have had doctors try to reschedule me for 2 weeks or a month when I’ve been coming weekly for my shot for months and HAVE to get it weekly.They seem to not really care, they see me as just another patient, another belly to measure and send on my way. They don’t ask how’s my home life, have I been feeling ok emotionally, they don’t even ask regularly if I have any questions and only bring anything up if I’ve mentioned a ‘complaint’ to the nurse while being weighed and even then I usually have to bring it up again or they’ll forget. It has not been the kind of care that I want, need, or deserve, me or any other woman there. Until last week.
Last week [at around 32 weeks] I was seen by a brand new NM, she had just started the week before. She came in, skimmed over my history and pregnancy so far with me to make sure the info was correct, asked if I had any questions, was very adamant about answering them, was very upbeat and positive and gave off good vibes. She checked to make sure my BV was cleared up, listened to baby, measured my fundus, and even palpated my belly to see where baby was positioned and that was the neatest thing to me because she seemed genuinely ecstatic about it. She beamed when she found his head down in my pelvis told me his head was right there and she said something along the lines of ‘that’s so awesome’. She advised that I really try to stick with my multivitamin and that I should start iron-supplementing.
And as soon as I mentioned I wanted to become a homebirth midwife she got all excited. She told me she had come from Wyoming where she had been attending almost entirely homebirths and birth center births. So that was it. THAT was the key to the phenomenal difference between her and all the others. She was a homebirth midwife. A nurse midwife, who loved attending homebirths, so she had a foot in both worlds. She had the nursing/medical training/background with a homebirth midwife’s mentality. She believes in women being able to labor how they want to, where they want to, and to catch their own babies. She admitted to wishing she could deliver me, but she knows how slim the chance is of getting her.
All of this has further opened my eyes to the world of the medical field in regards to pregnancy and childbirth. It took me out of other women’s stories and into my own. Gave me real, tangible evidence, personal experience, to work from and grow from. It has shown me how royally screwed up the entire system is. It’s shown me how detached doctors and non-homebirth trained NMs are. How screwed up the hospitals are, the NICUs. It’s shown me how desperately we need midwifery to be legal in NC [and everywhere] and that women need to be taught to trust their bodies and their intuitions, not to fear them or dismiss them. And I hope that my own experiences can be added to the thousands of others to help bring these things into the light. To help people realize, women, couples, dads, legislators, doctors even, that hospitals and doctors are not a requirement for a safe birthing experience. They are only required when life-saving interventions are a MUST, not a convenience. And when it is only for convenience, they can become life-threatening, scarring, and traumatic.
- The US has the 2nd highest infant/maternal mortality rates in the WORLD.
- The US has some of the highest rates of C-sections in the WORLD.
- The infant/maternal mortality rates skyrocketed in the 1930’s when the rates of childbirth at home went from around 90% to less than 5% in a few decades. Babies born in hospitals and not at home= higher death rates. This was a time when doctors were becoming more popular and they were pushing to eradicate homebirths using slandering and racist ads to promote hospital births (for example, a picture of an old Irish midwife and a caption reading ‘would you want this woman to deliver your baby?’).
- Only 1% of US births are attended by midwives. In all other industrialized countries (Japan, Norway, Great britain, Australia, and others) 60-70% of all births are midwife attended, and subsequently those countries have lower death rates that the US. There are hundreds of 3rd-world countries that have higher maternal/infant survival rates than the US does and many, if not most births in those countries are Unassisted Births (no doc or midwife).
If the stories themselves aren’t enough to make you question what’s going on, the statistics should be enough. The changes in rates over the last 100 years should be enough. Do your research. Know your options.