Thursday, March 17, 2011

The Right to Birth

When I was first pregnant with my son, I didn't know I had options. I went to a doctor, I had all the tests done, I gave birth in a hospital.

I had heard of midwives. I thought all midwives were nurse midwives. I had only heard of birth centers as being part of a hospital. Honestly, I never looked any further into it.

I assumed that people only gave birth at home on accident or because they were a little crazy.

Man... I've learned a LOT in the last year. I can't believe I spent so much time, all freaking 10 months of my pregnancy, focusing on what stage of development my son was in, rather than researching birth.

Pregnancy was the journey, birth was the end result. I didn't think a big deal needed to be made of it. I would go to the hospital in labor and have a baby and come home. End of story. Truthfully, I think I didn't think much of my labor and delivery because the thought terrified me. I knew there would be unimaginable pain, my brain just didn't want to process the possibility. I did spend a lot of time thinking about the moment they would put my son in my arms and how I would feel, but I didn't dwell on how I would feel BEFORE that moment.

A month after my son was born, I attended a babywearing meeting (to learn how to properly use my Moby) at a birth center, directly across the street from the hospital I delivered at. How on earth did I not notice this place, driving past it every month, then every two weeks, plus six weeks of "childbirth preparation class" (what. a. joke.). A good percentage of the women in attendance of the babywearing meeting had given birth there. I was a little jealous.

Within a few months of giving birth, I fully realized my mistake. I began to dream of a natural birth in a birth center, with a midwife. Home birth sounded romantic, but... eck... birth is so messy.

Then a friend told me the midwife cleans up afterward.

Well then... something to consider, huh?

I suddenly had this idea that I could give birth however, wherever. I watched home breech birth videos. Home multiple birth videos. I fell in love with the realization that a woman's body really does know what to do.

I then began stumbling across articles. In some states, it's illegal to give birth at home on purpose, at all. Women are crossing state lines to give birth in hotel whirlpool suites. Some states, it's almost impossible to find a hospital that will "let" a woman "try" for a VBAC, let alone a breech or multiple birth.

In my own state, it's illegal for Certified Professional Midwives (CPMs) to attend home breech or multiple births.

While I'm learning these facts, I'm also studying copious amounts of literature pertaining to natural birth (oh, I am SO ready for baby number two!). The more I learn, the more I think, "Birth is normal. It is not a means to an end. It's not a cure to the disease of pregnancy. It's not a privilege. Giving birth is a right."

It's a natural part of being a woman. Given the right support, and in some cases none at all, we are perfectly capable of delivering babies all on our own with only our innate knowledge to guide us through.

In fact, the more I read on the subject, the more I think obstetrics (although it does have it's good points here and there) basically gets in the way of the normal birth process. Lying on one's back, silly breathing exercises, crazy deadlines for how long one can be in labor, inductions at or before forty weeks... These things only seek to inhibit and destroy a woman's natural ability to move her baby through her pelvis when baby is ready, and for however long it takes.

No wonder there is such a high incidence of postpartum depression (as many as 80% of women) and low rate of breastfeeding upon leaving the hospital and for months after. Women are being robbed of their right to birth the way their body needs and wants to. Then their babies are separated from them and bathed. Or worse, women are cut open, at a rate MUCH higher than anyone can truly excuse and then, of course, separated from their babies.

In starting to feel a pull towards the birth arts, and considering a career path as a doula, I began talking more and learning more. And realizing, being a licensed or certified birth professional of any sort binds you to a strict list. There is no self-management, only state determined guidelines (essentially, ACOG guidelines) under which the practitioner must remain. In my state, home birth and birth center CPMs have a check list. After so many things "go wrong", the laboring women is either A. Transferred to a hospital, B. Abandoned, C. The midwife must go rogue. The leads into a transfer rate of anywhere from 20-50%.

Midwives practicing under the certified radar tend to have much, much lower transfer rates (I've heard between 1 and 5%) and deal with much more complicated births (like the breech and multiples CPMs can't touch in my state). But in the event of a transfer, they must act as a birth attendant or friend, they are no longer in control or any position of power or influence.

While pregnant with my son, my grandma told me about how wonderful her births were. She went into the hospital in labor and was 'put to sleep'. She woke up a while later and was brought her baby. She raved about long hospital stays (nearly two weeks with one of my uncles due to jaundice). I HAD to do more research on this. What did she mean they just 'put them to sleep'?

Twilight sleep. Where they drugged the woman and strapped her to a bed (because the drugs would make them literally climb walls and throw things). The women didn't remember their labors (some times prolonged by days). This did NOT sound like a wonderful birth experience to me.

I'm currently reading The Baby Catcher in which the author outlines her experiences in obstetrics during the 1960's. She talks extensively about the regulations put on laboring women. The took laboring on the back in bed to the extreme. Women weren't even ALLOWED to get out of the bed during labor.

You would think, with all the advances we have made in human rights since the 1960's, we would have made a few advances in obstetrics. But, despite the amazing life-saving capabilities of obstetrical medicine (and modern medicine in general), many obstetrical practices are still dead set in the stone age.

Actually... that's not true. I'm pretty sure in the stone age, women weren't confined to laboring and delivering on their backs.

As a lifelong student of feminist culture (No, really, ask my mom. AND, I took a TON of college courses in women studies), I am constantly seeing an incredible, unbelievable similarity between long-ago witch hunts and the environment around modern midwifery and birth. That a woman seeking a natural birth in an environment she feels most comfortable can be a crime in this day and age? It's a travesty and we clearly have not learned from our puritan mistakes.

What's the solution? I have no idea. I really don't. I've only recently gotten so far as to realize there IS a problem at all. I suppose now that I understand these things, it's really time for me to focus on how I, as one person, can affect change in the climate of modern birth practices.

Right now, I'm just telling everyone who will listen. Even my friends who prefer an OB and hospital birth are amazed, and often appalled, by the limitations put on women who simply want to give birth.

Can anyone chime in here? What do we do?


  1. Do exactly what you're doing. Tell anyone and everyone who will listen the things that you've learned. Help them to discover on their own what you have discovered. Plant seeds. Encourage them to do their own research about birth. Let them know that they have options.

    Since I am in the process of becoming a doula, I feel like I have an excuse to talk about birth all the time.

  2. Sometimes I just want to walk up to a pregnant lady in the store or at the park and just tell her everything I know now that I didn't know then... I think most people would think I'm completely insane. Heck, I thought people like me were completely insane before I actually KNEW. I will keep talking for sure though... If I open one person's mind to the possibilities beyond OBs and hospital birth, I'll feel really good.

    I'm considering becoming a doula. Right now I'm just reading everything I can get my hands on about birth. Are you following a program?