Sunday, 25 May 2014

Thoughts on birth

I am a hippy. Probably. I like strange teas, I vote green, I have my nose pierced. But when it comes to birth, it seems I am at odds with much alternative thinking. 

When I was pregnant last year, people started to ask me about my choices for birthing my baby. Implicit in many of these questions, and explicit in some of them, was the assumption that the most right on, empowered, feminist decision I could make would be to have my baby at home. 

I was warned again and again to cultivate a mistrust of the medical profession, which people assured me wanted nothing more than to take over my birth, to disempower me. Ideas of patriarchal oppression merged with historical accounts of women mistreated in hospitals and resulted in a sort of nostalgia for an imagined, idealised past populated by wise women midwives. Doctors were a hand of pariarchy, quick to remove a woman's powerful, intuitive oneness with her body, her baby and the birthing process. 

I know in the past there have been terrible practices enacted against pregnant mothers by doctors. I know horrible situations still arise today and women are left feeling out of control, unlistened to and even violated. I know in many parts of the world women are treated horrendously on a regular basis. But despite all of that, I feel like a real disservice is being done to both pregnant women and the medical profession by the alternative birth discourse. 

I am likely to be more temperate in my views of modern medicine, because of father is one of the medical profession. He is a nurse by the way, not a doctor, which straight away somewhat disrupts the patriarchal angle on his job. He was in paediatrics when I was a kid. He's in neonatal medicine now. I can confidentially assert that he doesn't want to disempower anyone. He wants to help.

And things can go wrong. 
I had fears around pregnancy before I ever experienced it because of knowing about his job. These latent fears made it all the more shattering then when my first pregnancy ended at five months with the death of my baby girl in utero. Her stillbirth was my first experience of labour and birth. It was also my first encounter first hand with the medical profession. They were incredible. Everyone we encountered treated me and my partner with compassion and respect. More, they treated the body of our baby with this same respect and care. 

Earlier this year I had my second encounter with birth. Because of the loss of my first child I was anxious - deeply and pervasively - but even before her loss, the idea of giving birth at home, away from the quick medical care I could receive in a hospital never felt more empowering to me. 
For me, the most empowered choice I could make was to go into hospital. Yes, I made this choice because I was afraid. But I also made it because I trusted that the doctors and consultants we met with frequently through my fraught second pregnancy only wanted what was best for me and my unborn daughter. I trusted that if they decided any interventions were needed, that would be the best choice.
I trusted my intuition where that was appropriate, but intuition cannot, for example,tell you your baby's heart rate during contractions. There is a machine that can, and I took comfort in knowing that machine and my midwife had a watchful eye on my baby whilst we worked together to bring her into the world. 

Yes, the room where we (my baby worked hard with me) gave birth was devoid of candles or music or home comforts. It was full of medical equipment. But no amount of machinery can distance you from the sheer, incredible, awe inspiring act of giving birth. In fact, the enormity of the physical sensations make one's surroundings quickly feel pretty damn irrelevant. 
I was never pressured to have interventions which - luckily - were not needed. I gave birth without any form of pain relief - paracetamol included. 

I'm writing this because I would never want a woman to feel as if she had somehow failed by choosing or ending up in hospital to deliver her babies. I don't want women to feel afraid that the medical profession will take over for no reason other than to flex the muscle of male dominance (just to add, ALL the doctors and consultants we met with were women). No one wants to make more work for themselves in hospital. They want to ensure the safety of the mother and the baby. 

I chose hospital for the blessed event of my babies safe delivery. It's true that fear affected my decision, but since losing my first baby I have learnt just how tragically common it is to encounter problems during childbirth. 
Sadly, the story that is so often told of women's intuitive and bodily power is not always true. For me, I did not feel powerful when I was pregnant. I felt humble. Just as I accept, finally, that the death of my first baby was not my fault, so the life of my second my baby is not my doing either. Nature, life, call it what you will, made her live. Nature grew her inside me. I did nothing. I only observed with wonder as my body swelled. 
I did feel power as I gave birth. But it was not my power. It was leant to me by biology, by nature. Maybe by my daughter too. I felt great power in that hospital room, with the midwife watching on calmly, with my partner beside me. 

Everyone should have the right to choose where and how they feel safe to give birth, be that at home or in a delivery ward. Everyone should have the right not to feel pressured or judged for their choices - by the mainstream medical profession but also by the voice of the alternative. 

I wish hospitals and their staff would stop being demonised and start being recognised for the incredible work they do. 

13 comments:

  1. Amen to that. We're it not for the intervention of a midwife who just happened to have come back from some training about pre-eclampsia then I would not be here in the first place and but for medical intervention when Ben's head got stuck in my pelvis he and I would have died in childbirth. There are of course a few monsters out there, but there are monsters everywhere. x

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    1. Thank you for reading this lengthy post! All blessings on that midwife and on everyone who helped you.

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    2. It's true there are monsters out there, but like you say that happens everywhere. (Sorry this is in chunks - it won't let me reply with lots of text for some reason..)

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  2. I love this post. I also gave birth to both of my girls in a hospital setting. It was so hard to get pregnant with Grace, that I knew that I would not be able to live with myself if anything happened during a home birth that could have been prevented, and then she died before she was born. I was induced, but otherwise had no interventions, no epidural, no pain medications. For Rosabella she was born at the same hospital, I had a doula present and I also had her without any pain medications. They were respectful of my decisions and I had the choice about the interventions offered. The medical profession does not deserve the rap they get from the natural birthing community, and the medical profession should be more educated about natural birthing options. Finding middle ground is what will affect changes in how we labour and birth our babies

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    1. It's so good to hear other positive birth experiences which happened in hospital. It's important to be supported in the way you were - for both your daughters.

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    2. Am I right in thinking you are in the US?

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  3. I read this post through with a tear and a lump in my throat. I could not agree with you more. My eldest boy and I would not be here if I had been at home. Each hour was labour in every sense of the word. for that I thank the incredible team who looked after us. To this day I wonder if his Asperger's is due to his traumatic journey. I do not know and would not change him. ' Bless you and your loved ones that the Hospital team looked after you Wishing you joy, Charlotte. PS. my Second sonWas also born, in the same hospital. He arrived in the water birthing ' pool and was equally well cared for x xx

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    1. I am so glad my thoughts are resonating with people! Thank you for sharing your story a little on here...I'm endlessly fascinated with birth stories. Again - bless the team that helped you both survive. Xxx

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  4. I'm very glad you wrote this post. A woman's right to decide means just that and I think a lot of women handle pressure less confidently while pregnant, so it is particularly important to allow the mother and father to make their own choices. I had my daughter in a hospital. The midwife was very respectful of my wish to be left alone. The doctor who was called to use ventouse when both our heartrates were falling was harsh and bullying towards me, but she did get my girl out without a caesarian, which would have been dangerous for me. I have relived her words many times and for quite a while wondered of I had failed somehow, as she seemed to suggest. It could have been done better if it had been from a place of compassion. But it could not have been done at all in my home. Had I attempted a homebirth I may have had an emergency caesarian. If I ever get to birth another child, it will be safely in hospital.

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  5. Excellent post! I must thank you for this informative read.

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  6. Well said, Nomi! I guess I am a hippie too, had natural births and long-term breastfeeding but I would not have had four children if I had my first at home, he and I would both have died. (I haemorrhaged, he ended up in SCBU). You are absolutely right, the awe and wonder-full mystery of birth is not diminished by being in a hospital room. Just think how much mothers in say - Syria, Afghanistan, Congo - would appreciate giving birth in hospital. It's not some strange fluke that makes our live birth rate so high!
    Also, well done for saying that you were afraid...that is the other taboo I have noticed in alternative circles, that we must not admit to fear about this huge, life-changing and completely unimaginable-until-we-have-done-it experience.

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  7. This is a very beautiful piece of writing, Nomi. I'm so glad that Minka Rose is here. And you and Andy too.

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    1. I feel exactly the same as you Nomi..my children are now 24 and 21,the oldest is now expecting her 1st child...I too am a hippy,nose ring..a bus. Tho I don't like funny teas.I chose hospital both times and they were both brilliant...I too feltclike nature was working through me and despite me and was grateful for 2 healthy babies at the end of labour...old magic can be good but so too can modern...and at the end of the day the power is in having the choice.x

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