& Lessons I Learned, namely: Why Your Birth Attendant Makes a HUGE Difference & How to Check Them Out Thoroughly.
You are going to be a new parent. You are so excited. You research car seats, baby monitors, diapers (nappies), have baby showers, get lots of presents, all that FUN stuff.
If you are like me you might also research what kind of birth you want to have and select your birth attendant very carefully. My first baby was born in 1982. It was absolutely the most significant event of my life up until that point. I basked in the grace God had bestowed on me in making me a mom.
During my pregnancy I attended the hospital “preparing for birth” classes AND we also paid extra money to attend the local “La Maze” more natural oriented preparing for childbirth classes. My husband graciously accompanied me to all those classes! I also attended the series of four La Leche League meetings that covered all thing breastfeeding, but also overlapped to discussing how our birth choices can impact our breastfeeding outcome. The LLL distilled wisdom sums it up like this: “Alert and active participation by the mother in childbirth is a help in getting breastfeeding off to a good start.”
Both the La Maze instructor and the LLL meetings had a lending library available for further learning. I read EVERY SINGLE BOOK in both libraries on the topic of natural birth.
I believe I was as prepared as I possibly could be – at the time. This was long before the Internet and before a lot of great courses and books had appeared on the scene. I had lots of theoretical knowledge of birth, the process and how to cooperate with the process for the most natural, healthy outcome – all for the sake of my precious baby.
I spoke to all the more naturally oriented mothers around and got a recommendation for a wonderful OB/Gyn who happened to be 30 miles away from the major center in which we lived. He believed strongly in the benefits of midwives and so his practice included midwives – quite unusual for the Midwest USA at the time. His practice had fantastic outcomes and we were happy to drive that far for all the appointments because their philosophy about birth matched what I had learned that would be best for mom AND baby. I was planning a natural birth, because I did not want any unnecessary medications to interfere with this most precious new life that God had blessed me with.
It seems we had planned for absolutely every eventuality – except the weather. My labor started in the very early hours of the morning in the middle of one of the worst snowstorms to hit the Midwest in over 50 years. There was such a dump of snow that ALL the roads were closed. My labor was quite mild at first and I was quite happy just to stay put. My husband was a lot more concerned, i.e. panicking. We were both very new at this. He decided to phone someone (can’t remember now) and after a large snowplow cleared the major road we lived on, an ambulance arrived to take me to the local hospital about 5 minutes away.
I don’t think I even have a written birth plan. I had so much confidence in the more ‘alternative’ birth center we had chosen, that it wasn’t a necessity. Now I was thrust into the care of a very medically orientated hospital. On top of their differing philosophy and respect for the natural birth process and a woman’s body, because of the huge storm, they were also doing a double shift. Since the roads were impassable, no new staff had been able to arrive for work, thus everyone on duty had to just keep on keeping on.
So I found myself alone in my desire to have a wonderful, peaceful, calm, supported fully natural birth which respected the capabilities of birth my body was designed for. Modern medicine has certainly been responsible for many life-saving techniques. A woman with a complicated non progressing labor may need serious intervention and help. But for most women most of the time, studies show better outcomes if they are supported in labor and their body is able to proceed to do this very important work with as little interference as possible.
Instead of being able to settle in and allow my labor to do the work, I had to battle and think about every single thing they were trying to do to me! First it was the IV, then the fetal distress monitors, then in the middle of the second stage (pushing) it was the huge needle I’d never even heard of that the doctor (or resident) started to inject – without even asking.
I said, “what is that?”
He answered, “Oh, it’s just a pudendal block.”
I said, “What’s it for?”
He said, “So you don’t feel so much pain.”
I said, “I TOLD YOU no medications!”
You see, he had briefly come into my room while I was laboring where I filled him in on the fact that I wanted a COMPLETELY NATURAL BIRTH. To me that meant no medication at all, but obviously to him it meant something quite different.
Well I guess he thought he was being considerate because this is a form of local anesthesia that numbs the whole area similarly to how a dentist numbs the spot before they drill. He thought he was being nice because he knew his next step was a MAJOR episiotomy – routine you know.
I had no idea. I had been rolled into the delivery room on a bed. My labor hadn’t been that terrible. In terms of pain it wasn’t too bad. But the support and assistance and having to question and usually oppose all the routines is never a good way for a woman to experience labor.
Here I am, on a hospital delivery bed and they strapped my legs into stirrups! If anyone tells you they do that for the woman’s convenience, they are too delusional to believe any other word that comes out of their mouth – that is a bold-faced lie.
So in this very undignified position I now have at least three or four “cheerleaders” peering into my private parts. With every contraction they shout in unison “PUSH, PUSH, PUSH MOMMA, YOU CAN DO IT.” It is really hard to ignore such a powerful intrusive force. I’m not sure who those people were. Maybe a doctor, with a resident and a couple of nursing assistants. Who knows. But they were all people with no respect for a woman’s ability to birth a baby on her own. They thought they were helping.
With that much enthusiastic cheering I was forcefully pushing my precious baby through the birth canal – but just a little bit too fast to accommodate all the stretching needed – actually, maybe a LOT TOO FAST. The ‘kind’ doctor decided to help by giving me an ENORMOUS episiotomy.
Thus baby number one came into the world.
I must say that despite the medically mediated “natural” birth, the experience of holding our baby and seeing him was awesome and spellbinding. It was an instantaneous healing of sorts. However, there was still the small matter of momma being sliced up and needing some serious stitching. The ‘kind’ doctor managed to do it in about 40 minutes while momma’s feet were still strapped in the stirrups.
I can’t really remember how much skin to skin we got to enjoy with baby. It wasn’t optimal. In fact he hadn’t even found the nipple or tried to nurse. I was euphoric from all the birth hormones and the sight of our awesome amazing new life – our baby. In the recovery room we were blessed with an experienced nurse who expertly helped baby to latch. I don’t know how long it had been, but he latched like a little pro took a couple of sucks and proved to me that he knew what to do! We continued to practice frequently – as I’d learned at the La Leche League meetings.
The reason I even started writing this blog and rehashing all these memories – some 33 years later – is that I happened to remember a story under the topic of ‘most embarrassing private moments of your life’ based on something that happened later the same night.
You see, the ‘kind’ doctor was worried about his repair job. He was concerned lest I might have a bowel movement that might tear me apart even more. His cutting job had gotten a little too close to a very essential other part of the human anatomy. He thus asked me about my bowel patterns and suggested that a laxative would be a good idea to help soften the stool especially at first.
So sometime in the middle of the night around 2 am I was holding and feeding my precious treasure – still in absolute delight – when I felt a very strong urgent call of nature. The problem was this was URGENT and I still had to: 1. Put baby down safely; and 2. Maneuver my body with all the associated soreness of a HUGE incision in a most precarious location off the bed and over to the bathroom.
I didn’t manage.
The laxative had done its work – well. The sheets were a mess. I called the nurses who were very gracious and helpful. It turns out there was a good side. While we were in the middle of getting cleaned up, the “baby nursery nurse” came in to collect my baby. I said, “No, we want to room in.” She said, “ALL babies go to the nursery on the FIRST night, even those that room in.” To which I responded (sometimes I think fast), “well, he didn’t finish breastfeeding the last time because we kind of had this big interruption, so I still need to finish.” And she disappeared – and fortunately never came back!
After the first experience of a hospital birth my dominating concern was “I never want a doctor at any future births – give me a midwife.” So the next four births all had midwife assisted deliveries, the last three were at home.
Fast forward 17 years to the birth of my fifth child. I had a relaxing labor, spent part of the time in a water pool which my loving husband had filled in our birthing bedroom. It was early in the morning and all the other four children were still asleep (they were 17, 15, 10, & 7). The midwife arrived, I labored outside the pool for an agonizing half an hour, got back into the pool, where are precious baby number 5 was gently transitioned into the world and onto my chest. My body could do it – all n the matter of a few hours, without the cheerleading, the episiotomy, the medical ‘assistance.’
My daughter-in-laws births are also a fantastic demonstration of the importance of preparation – but more importantly the personnel who attend your birth. These wonderful girls birthed healthy babies at full term with no drugs, no episiotomies and NO STITCHES! They’ve each had two babies and were attended by experienced midwives – one in a hospital and one at home.
The attendants make all the difference. Choose your attendant wisely. I leave you with two thoughts about making a wise choice for your birth attendant:
- If you walk into a surgeon’s office what can you expect? Surgery.
- The best indicator of future performance (how your birth is going to play out with this person as your attendant) is past performance. What are this person’s stats? How many completely natural births have they ever seen? What is their definition of “natural”? What position do most of their moms deliver in? (This is a very telling question. Most doctors don’t like to be inconvenienced too much, thus they like the mom to be in a position more suitable for them than for the birthing mom and baby.) Don’t ask what they will allow you to do – ask them what their patients have done in the past. Remember, past performance is the best indicator of future performance.
Proverbs 14:12 says “There is a way that seems right to a MAN, but its end is the way of death.” I think this particularly applies to childbirth. If it seems right to a MAN, it might not be the best way for a woman. Of course there are some rare men, such as Michel Odent who left his OB practise to become a midwife, but overall most women, most times are going to have a much better birth outcome by trusting the way God has made their body, and trusting a woman who respects the natural birth process to be her birth attendant.
This little booklet, called The Basic Needs of a Woman in Labor, was written with information gleaned by a midwife who worked alongside Michel Odent and is HIGHLY RECOMMENDED for all pregnant couples.
Through Dr Odent’s many years (more than half a century) of attending births (around 15,000 births) in both hospitals and at home, Dr. Odent has come to the conclusion that a laboring woman needs not much more than to be left alone, simply to be attended to by a quiet, non-invasive and low profile midwife.
If you’d like to read more information on the safety of homebirths, this is an important study recently published:
Outcomes of Care for 16,924 Planned Home Births in the United States: The Midwives Alliance of North America Statistics Project, 2004 to 2009, Journal of Midwifery & Women’s Health, Volume 59, Issue 1, pages 17–27, January/February 2014 http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/jmwh.12172/abstract
And this is a discussion of the study by the Midwives Association of North America: http://mana.org/blog/home-birth-safety-outcomes
[The study] confirms the safety and overwhelmingly positive health benefits for low-risk mothers and babies who choose to birth at home with a midwife. At every step of the way, midwives are providing excellent care. This study enables families, providers and policymakers to have a transparent look at the risks and benefits of planned home birth as well as the health benefits of normal physiologic birth.
Birth is such a wonderful, incredible event in the life of a woman. Most of us don’t have enough children to allow us to “get it wrong” too many times. I urge all pregnant or wanting to be pregnant women to choose your birth attendants with much information and awareness.
Author Becky Hastings, wife, mother, grandmother, is passionate about health, Jesus, and joy, and has been helping mothers breastfeed their babies for over 22 years. Becky blogs at http://journeyboost.com and shares health information on her Facebook page. Please like journeyboost on Facebook!
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