What happens to you during birth is less important than how you feel about what happens to you.

How did I arrive at this conclusion? By reading other women’s birth stories, and seeing what they took away from it. In various pregnancy- and baby-centered websites there will be pages where you can post your own birth story and read other women’s stories. Soon after my older son was born, I read several of these, focusing on the “negative” birth stories because I wanted to understand why these women felt as they did after birth–especially since I felt so positive and empowered by giving birth. Almost uniformly the stories were of women who wanted a natural birth and were coerced into accepting unwanted and possibly unnecessary interventions–they wanted to walk, but were made to stay in bed; they wanted to avoid drugs, but gave in to epidurals and Pitocin; they wanted to give birth vaginally, but were coerced or scared into having a C-section. And there were some heart-wrenching ones–like the woman who was certain that something was wrong because she was in terrible abdominal pain but the machines didn’t register anything wrong so the doctors and nurses ignored her complaints, until they finally realized that she was suffering from placental abruption, and her baby almost died; or the woman whose epidural for a C-section didn’t take, but the doctor ignored her when she said she could still feel her abdomen and cut into her stomach and uterus, and she was screaming in agony, and the anesthesiologist quickly put her completely out, mercifully. But one that got my attention, because it was completely different was the woman who was absolutely angry that her request for an epidural was ignored, and she had to give birth without any pain medications. In her first birth, they wouldn’t give her an epidural when she first requested one because she wasn’t far enough dilated, and then she progressed quickly so they refused to give her an epidural because she was too far dilated, and it could interfere with her pushing or be detrimental to the baby. So when she went in to the hospital in labor with her second child, she related her first experience to the nurses, and they assured her that she would get her epidural. But the same thing happened again.It made me really rethink things. Most childbirth educators teach women how to advocate for themselves so that they will have the birth experience they want–typically things like avoiding Pitocin, epidurals, IVs, being stuck in bed, etc. Most of the negative stories were of women who tried to avoid these things and failed; yet here was this woman who had an unmedicated birth–the goal of most women I knew–and was mad about it!

In thinking over all of these stories, the one common denominator was that all of these women were ignored. They were not treated as individuals, as humans. Their wants (to have or to avoid an epidural), their words (classic symptoms of placental abruption, but not gushing blood; insisting that they could feel a supposedly numb area) were brushed aside as unimportant. They were brushed aside as unimportant, although they were the paying customers–the doctor, nurses, and hospitals work for them, yet they were treated as servants, to be told what to do and when.

To me, childbirth education is not about achieving my idyllic birth, because everyone’s ideals will be different. Also, some women may not be able to have their ideal birth–they may plan a totally natural birth, only to require a C-section if the cord prolapses, or the baby suddenly stops moving. They may plan to have an epidural, only to find that their health condition precludes it. These things happen, though rarely.

Childbirth education to me is educating a woman about what happens during childbirth–normal, variations of normal, some of the more common things that may go wrong, risks and benefits of various drugs and procedures, advocating for yourself and what you want, and tips to help you through labor. It is most definitely not “one size fits all.”

If you want a C-section and are denied it, you will be just as likely to be upset as if you want a vaginal birth and are denied it. While I cannot quite understand why any woman would choose major abdominal surgery unnecessarily, I accept as a fact that some women do. When your request is ignored, or the doctors or nurses don’t fully explain what is happening to you, or why it is necessary, then you will feel like you are less than a person….unimportant. You will likely carry negative feelings with you regarding your birth for a long time–even if you eventually accept these things as necessary, but were confused or ignorant at the time. This is why it is so important to fully understand and really choose what happens to you. It doesn’t matter what I would choose, or what I chose–it’s not my birth. It doesn’t matter that this is what the doctor would choose for herself, or choose for his wife–it’s not their birth. It’s your birth, your body, your baby. It’s important to you, so you have to make yourself important to them.

9 Responses

  1. This is SO true! Care providers need to LISTEN to the moms. That would help in so many ways!

  2. I agree on most of the text except the part “While I cannot quite understand why any woman would choose major abdominal surgery unnecessarily, I accept as a fact that some women do”. That statment is pretty harsh…does it make you any less of a mother opting for an elective c-section. What abt those women who where so brain washed into having a natural birth and couldn’t have one and felt like faliours for the rest of their lives. Now a days there are so many things that affect our health and things are not like they were 50 years ago. Things are way riskier then they are now. Why is it that stats show that only 47% of the labours will be natural. Do you have any ideia of what the other labours are like? I am not saying that everybody should opt for an elective surgery but that comment is not fair.

  3. I’m sorry you took exception to my phrasing — it was not meant to reflect on “how much of a mother” a woman is. In a non-judgmental, perhaps off-the-wall way of saying it, it’s like not being able to understand how some people can not just tolerate but actually enjoy and prefer mustard. I can’t stand it — it’s just disgusting to me. So I don’t “understand” how they can enjoy the flavor, but I accept it — it’s just not my personal taste. In a similar way, I look at my personal taste and experience in birth (two successful home births), and compare them to some of the stories of difficult C-section recoveries (including one of my friends who had a serious infection in her incision, plus she developed blood clots in her legs which could have traveled to her heart, brain, or lungs and killed her), and I say, “if you can have an experience like mine, why go through an unnecessary major abdominal surgery if you don’t have to?” But I understand that not everyone who has a vaginal birth has an experience like mine — but I think it’s almost always possible. And that’s more the point of this post — that when a woman is supported in her decisions (whether it’s a home birth or an elective C-section or anything in between) — when she gets to choose what will happen, instead of being forced or coerced into having something done to her, then she will have a good birth experience, at least comparatively.

    I recognize that there is a lot of thinking that goes into a woman’s decision to have a C-section. Some women are just terrified to attempt a vaginal birth, and think that a C-section would be better, easier, less painful, or whatever benefit they’re basing their decision on. Some women had interventions in one birth that necessitated an emergency C-section, and the fear of losing that baby led them to just choose a C-section for subsequent births, so they could avoid all the other interventions that led up to their first C-section. My sister-in-law chose an unnecessary C-section for her 2nd baby’s birth, after her first birth (an attempted home birth) ended in a C-section. She was scared of going through all that labor again (her first was 40+ hours of hard labor, several hours of pushing, and a forceps attempt), only to end up with another C-section, so she just picked the C-section to start with. But she likely would have had a successful VBAC, since her younger son weighed nearly 2 lb. less than her first son. So I “recognize” why women choose C-sections, but it’s not what I would choose, because I have different tastes or a different background. Were I to go through something like what others have gone through, I would be able to understand it — because I would have experienced it. Until then, I understand why women choose C-sections unnecessarily… and yet, like why some people like mustard, I still kinda *don’t*.

  4. I gave birth 3 weeks ago and it was a mortifying experience despite largely getting what I wanted, and very narrowly so may I add. (Withstanding of course that my due date was miscalculated because the doctors who detected my pregnancy failed to listen to me regarding my last menstruation leading to my having an unnecessarily induced labor)

    I didn’t mind so much that my labor was induced, so much as the experience, it was just that the doctors refused to listen to me throughout most of the pregnancy and even during the delivery, one female doctor taking the exceptional offense of questioning my knowledge seeing as she is the doctor and I am merely a young patient, what do I know, since she has the degree? I love the fact that I proved her wrong, but I digress, being actively ignored for the large part put a damper on the experience. Said doctor also tried to force me to get a C-section, even remarking that she could get a court order to do the C-section despite my refusal. She also went to my attending family and friends to tell them that without a C-section, I would surely die (this is after I proved her wrong on my fetus being at high risk for death- the fetal monitors showed her vitals being just fine in there, and a different doctor not long before telling me that the baby was doing Very well in there). Of course they naturally came in to try to convince me to get a C-section, so I promptly started screaming that I wanted everyone to leave the room as the doctor kept trying to get me to allow the c-section.

    It wasn’t all bad of course, that was simply the worst of it. The real doctors came in and promptly kicked that horrid woman out of the room and blocked her from coming in when I was in active labor. The doctor in charge of that floor told me I would be fine and if I wished, I could keep trying for a vaginal delivery. Lo and behold, the next day I pushed out my little girl after finally dilating to 10cm. I do wish of course that I wasn’t cath-ed at the end, I proved I could pee just fine after birth, but that nurse just shoved it in there while I screamed with pain. Why, thank you for not listening. Of course, that pales in comparison with that awful doctor.

  5. Thanks for answering my comment. The whole idea of life is being different, therefor we are all unique beings with individual personalities, tasts and opinions. It’s good that we can come out and discuss these things without trying to eat of each others heads like i’ve seen in other blogs. It’s just plain childish. Just like a mother that knows what is best for her child the same way she will know what is best for her body. It’s good laying out the options and consider them, instead of making a general assesment by saying that every women can have natural birth because we are designed for it. It’s pathetic and just a desperate way to try and show others that the only thing they have not failed to do is giving birth naturally…believe me…i’ve seen and heared this. Obviously you have selfexplained yourself and justified what you have written, and i’am actualy releived knowing that you are not judgemental. I just feel agravated when i hear people saying some relly stupid and nasty things.

  6. Yes, people can be very judgmental, whether it is about birth or anything else, which is regrettable. You may also enjoy this post I wrote along the topic of being judgmental about birth.

  7. I like talking to you….you seem like somebody that can bring it on and still respect others opinions. What do you think abt breastfeedding…till what age and if there trully exists breastfeeding for the wrong reasons?

  8. Tanya,

    Thank you for your kind words! I really appreciate them, and try to live up to it.

    As far as breastfeeding goes, I exclusively breastfed both of my children until they were six months old, and then continued to nurse them for many months after that. My older son weaned at 13 months of age (in one day — nursing strike), when I was about 3-4 months pregnant. I weaned my younger son around 22 months of age because he kept waking up 1-2 times a night to nurse and I was getting tired of it. (But I still kinda feel bad about that sometimes.) Because of the health benefits, not to mention the bonding and the good snuggling time, I advocate for women to breastfeed for at least the first year if possible (although some women have issues like working, and some babies will self-wean earlier, so this is not always do-able), and then for as long after that as they wish to. My sister-in-law nursed her son until he was about 2&1/2, and then quit because he seemed to lose interest, or nursed only out of habit.

    Although I’m personally uncomfortable with the “extended breastfeeding” of children as old as, say, 4 or 5, I don’t think it harms them; and if everybody involved in the decision (mother, father, and baby) is okay with that, then who am I to object?🙂 The only “wrong reason” I could think of to nurse is if the mother somehow got sexual pleasure from it, and then it gets a little weird. Although breastfeeding shouldn’t hurt and should be a pleasant experience, if it gets sexual overtones — then it might just be crossing the line.

    If you would like a good resource in the “extended breastfeeding” department, I’d recomment Dr. Denise Punger’s book and blog Permission to Mother (http://permissiontomother.blogspot.com). She’s a board-certified MD, as well as an IBCLC, and is “the” breastfeeding doctor to see in her area, and is still nursing her youngest son who is about 4.

  9. Hi Kathy!
    It’s been a while but can you remember me? Yeap, well… I am the proud mommy of Nathan who is now 7 months old. I feel, now that I have a child I can add on to my previous posts.
    I still feel that the way a women gives birth does not define her. To start with, my pregnancy wasn’t the most fantastic one, since I literally “pucked” everyday until I had him. From my 32 week, I developed high-blood pressure but it wasn’t pre-eclampsia. Funny enough, my sister-in-law was pregnant too, to be more precise, we were about 5 days a part. So to cut a long story short, my doctor who was also pregnant at the time, had mentioned before that if I wanted an induction, that she wouldn’t do it before 39 weeks. I didn’t want one but she just got some stuff off her chest that day. When I went for my 38 week and 2 day check-up, she was alarmed when my bp was 149/110, so she admited me the following morning. I was induced, and for 10 bloody hours I dilated 1cm and a half and to top it all I went through bad back labour. I did my breathing, focusing blah blah blah and nothing worked for me. Then, I started devoloping a fever… and his heartbeat started rising. Eventually I got 2cm and I was begging for the Epi. Didn’t feel a thing. Finally I was enjoying my labor. In abt 20 minutes I dilated to 5cm, so it didn’t really stop my contractions. They couldn’t find the sorse of the infection. My obgyn was a bit worried abt the fever and the fast dilation but was positive. Then everything took a turn. In a matter of seconds his heartbeat went from a 180 bpm to 60 bmp. I never heared so many machines beeping in my life. In about 5 min I was on the table were they had performed a c-section. When she took his head out he had the cord 2 times around his neck but he was already crying, thank God! He is perfect and normal. The c-section was no biggy. I had 3 tough days but fortunetly I was in hospital. What happened that day, needed to happen. They never forced anything on me. I trusted and trust my doc. My niece was born 5 days after my son, natural water birth and over 10 pounds. Her first child she tried having at home, but they had to rush her to hospital. Thie second was at hospital in a pool and went so much beter. I’m happy that she got what she wanted. Which brings me to another point, for me it’s not about the birth and how it happens… for me it’s about that child being perfect and healthy even if it means going through hell (contractions I mean)! But that’s me. My recovery was fantastic. The nursery at the hospital stayed with him during the night so that I could rest. They did bottle feed him during that time and during the day, I breastfed. I was ok with it. I don’t believe in nipple confusion. Breastfeeding was an interesting adventure. I breastfed for 4 months until I went back to work. But mainly because I had mastitus 5 times. I’m not talking abt engorgement but 40 degree fevers with red mark on my breasts. Nathan is healthy and happy! He’s been on the Tracy Hogg routine since he was born and since he’s 3/4 month has been in his room sleeping 12 hours at night. I must have done something right and it has nothing to do with the way he was born hahahaha!

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