Own Your Birth

What do you expect when you give birth? What do you want when you give birth? Is there any difference between what you expect and what you want? What is the difference? Should you change your wants or your expectations?

You must own your birth. You must make the choices, because you must live with them for the rest of your life. (It may not be as dramatic as all that, but then again, it just might be.)

Let me relate a story of two women I met one time at a La Leche League meeting. They both had C-sections–one had known for years that she would always have to have C-sections because of a uterine surgery she had when she was younger; the other expected to give birth vaginally, and wanted to have an unmedicated birth and had taken Bradley(R) childbirth classes to achieve that goal. The first was happy and relaxed as a mother–proud of her two-week-old baby, and content with her C-section. The other was having problems–had a particular nursing question, but she was very sad about her C-section. In telling me what happened, tears came into her eyes as she confessed the difficulties she had had in coming to terms with her child’s birth. She said her mom said she needed to “get over it” and suggested she seek counseling, but the woman balked at needing professional help.

What happened was that she was involved in a car wreck when she was about 38 weeks along, and though it was minor and she felt fine, they insisted she go to the hospital to get checked out to make sure she and the baby were both okay. So she did. They discovered her blood pressure was elevated (which seems pretty natural to me, considering she was just in a car wreck), but it bothered them since her bp had been a little high at some prenatal visits, so they induced her. Since her body wasn’t ready to give birth, and her baby wasn’t ready to be born, it naturally failed, so she then required a C-section. Quite a difference from her expectation, and a world apart from what she wanted.

Is C-section “just another way” to give birth? Not to her it wasn’t; but to the first woman it was. Should the second woman have lowered her expectations and wants? Did she have any alternatives? She did have alternatives, but she allowed herself to be coerced down a path that was not of her choosing. Yet she did, ultimately, choose it. The doctors insisted, but she did have autonomy as a patient to refuse their suggestion. It would have been difficult, and I don’t know what they may have said that made her allow the induction, but she did have alternatives. She could have refused, or requested that they let her rest in the hospital for a while to see if her blood pressure would come down, or to have further tests on the baby to see if the blood pressure was really affecting her. But she accepted the induction.

The point of this post is not to rail against the doctors for coercing or manipulating a woman into doing something she didn’t want (and ultimately may not have been necessary). Nor is it to place blame on the woman for allowing herself to be manipulated into doing something against her will. It’s not a commentary on the high rate of inductions and C-sections in America today. The point is to illustrate the necessity of owning your birth.

I don’t blame the woman for choosing as she did; but she did choose it, and now she must accept it. She may always regret that she didn’t try some alternative, but she doesn’t need to allow herself to stay in that depression (which is probably ultimately anger and bitterness). She made the choice that she thought was best at the time, and she needs to accept her own role in what finally happened. There are so many stories of women I know through email–mostly midwives, doulas, childbirth educators, or those training in these fields–who tell similar stories, but they have taken their experiences and turned them to good, in the arena of birth advocacy. Many of them speak with regret of their children’s births, though they happened 10 or even 20 years ago. But they don’t stay there. They change, move, adapt.

If you find yourself angry with something that happened when you previously gave birth, you need to find a way to move on. The International Cesarean Awareness Network is a great website for you if you’ve had a C-section, or are trying to avoid one. You may need to talk to your doctor, nurse, or friends to help you come to grips with what happened, and come to acceptance. You may just need someone to listen, and understand, and sympathize. But in the end, you must own your birth.

If you’ve never given birth before, or if you had a great previous birth experience, or have come to terms with a negative birth experience, “owning your birth” will take a different aspect. It’s with the view of “from this point on.” How do you avoid feeling like the woman in my story? It is to proactively take steps that put you “in the driver’s seat” of your birth experience. You may find that you will need to switch doctors, or hospitals, or change to a homebirth, so that you–and not somebody else–will own your birth. As you go through the end of your pregnancy, and go through labor and give birth, you may need to be a little bit more conscious of what choices you are making. I think that the woman in my story felt like she didn’t make the choices, and that was the real thing that angered her.

Should you lower your expectations? If you want a vaginal birth, should you hold that desire loosely, and be ambivalent about it, since it may be out of your control? After all, 30% of American women give birth by C-section per year. In my opinion, the answer is no. You can take steps to reduce your risk of having a C-section. And if you end up with a C-section, you are not “doomed” to be depressed about it for life. My sister-in-law also planned a natural birth–a home birth–and ended up with a C-section. She was far from depressed about it. What was the main difference between her and this other woman? She chose; the other woman was coerced. She owned her birth; the other woman did not.

3 Responses

  1. This is such a powerful concept and one that is often unrecognized. I hear so many women speak in terms of what they were “let” or “not let” to do in labor or the things that were done to them or happened without their consent. They feel like victims (and in many real ways ARE victims). If only they were exposed to and also embraced the concept of “owning” their births, how would our culture change!

    Molly

  2. Is Home Birth Courageous?

    It’s funny. I’ve recently been told—by more than one person—that Sara and I are “brave” for planning to deliver our baby at home. This from people who are educated, intelligent and have my respect. And yet, they c…

  3. Childbirth Classes

    I love the idea of being pregnant and cant wait for this little one to be out of me hahaha!

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