Wednesday, February 27, 2008

The Business of Being Born

In five months, I will give birth again. It is hard to believe.

My first birth was the most exhilarating, overwhelming, beautiful experience of my life. From start to finish, it was textbook perfect and there is nothing in the world that can prepare any woman for the moment when the baby emerges. After 11 hours of non-stop intensity, Sam's little face was as welcome as the sun in the morning. I was so filled with love and gratitude. Gratitude to my body, which birthed her so easily and without medical intervention; gratitude to my husband who supported me so beautifully and gratitude to my amazing midwife who never lost her confidence, even when I was sure I could not go another inch.

According to the film I saw tonight, that gratitude and love is a natural reaction to birth, a reaction the current standards of birth are literally anesthetizing out of the process. I have been anxious to see this film since the day I learned it was coming out. Since most everything I do is all or nothing, I am a passionate, vocal advocate of natural birth. The film only reaffirmed my conviction.

The film is basically a celebration of the lost art of natural, home births. Ricki Lake, the exec. producer, had two births, one a C-section, the other a natural birth at home. Which do you think she refers to as life-affirming and amazing? They do not necessarily come down on other means of birth, except to show that the prevalent birth process is largely a product of doctors who want to get home and who are systematically seizing control from the woman, telling her she does not actually know what to do. This is despite the fact that women have been birthing babies since the dawn of time. Further, the infant mortality rate in the US is the 2nd highest for an industrialized nation. 92 percent of births are attended by a doctor, when the reality is, birth is normal. It is a process we could almost do ourselves. And almost every other country in the world (Scandinavia, France, UK, etc) have a majority of their births attended by midwives. Birth is not an emergency. It is not a medical procedure. And we can do it so much better than we are.

Before I go any further into this discussion, let me say that I know there are some medically necessary C-sections. I would never fault a woman for having a C-section if that was needed. I also know that some women know they want the epidural going into the birth. That is also their choice. Birth is a series of choices and I believe that all women have to decide for themselves what they want.

That said, there are many myths surrounding childbirth, myths our culture perpetuates in film, on television and in popular culture. The woman screaming for pain drugs, telling her husband to F$%# off, IV in arm, pitocin drip at the ready. The film delves into the way all of our modern interventions are raising the likelihood of C-sections. In fact, one in three births today are done by Caesarean section. While there is nothing inherently wrong with this method if it is medically needed, there are many studies proving that the procedure does interfere with maternal bonding. Further, it is major surgery. Posh Spice may have us believe that it is a walk in the park, but it is far from it. It is a serious business and not something to be scheduled in just before the tummy tuck.

My vision of birth was formed when I watched my mother birth my sister. Even though it was terrifying, it was also gratifying to see her do it naturally. I never feared birth because I had seen it. I knew what happened and I was well trained. Everything about Sam's birth was beautiful. I wish that more women could experience the high of natural birth. For about eight months following, I was sure I could do anything. It was the single most empowering experience of my life. If and when I run the marathon, I imagine it will be the only thing that comes close.

Was it painful? Not exactly. It was intense, like an internal hurricane. Whenever we get into the tree pose (a balance pose where we bring one foot to our crotch while the other stays rooted in the earth), my yoga teacher always tells us to "stand in the eye, the eye of the storm." That was my birth. I stood in the eye of the storm. It was the closest I have ever come to really understanding what it means to be human. I have never been more animalistic, more base then when I was giving birth. Maybe that kind of intensity is not for everyone. But I feel like our medical establishment is robbing so many women of the opportunity to choose their own destiny. If more women understood that it is not like TLC's "A Baby Story" and knew how life altering birth could be, I think they might try it au nauturale.

It frightens me that something so natural, something we have literally been doing for millions of years is all but bred out of our culture. The truth is, I must live in the biggest hippie enclave in the US because I know many women who have gone sans epidural. Turns out? Only 8 percent of the US population is with us. Eight percent! That is insanely low.

Many ask why anyone would choose pain when they can manage it. It is hard to explain. Maybe it is because during my mother's dying process, I saw too many ports, too many needles, too many toxic drugs that hurt her more than the cancer. For me, hospitals, drugs and doctors are synonymous with death. Birth is the opposite of death--and thank G-d for that. Why should it be medicated away? I did not want a needle in my spine. I wanted to feel connected to all the generations of women who had birthed. I wanted to know what my body could do. I wanted to prove it to myself. And I knew it was the hurdle I needed to jump to get to motherhood. From the moment the pee stick turned pink, I knew I would do it naturally. Had I chosen, we would have done it at home, too. But R was not into that. So we compromised with our natural hospital birth attended by a midwife.

It is hard to talk to mothers about this issue because it is such a deeply personal issue. A friend told me the other day that some woman told her she was not a "real mother" because she'd had a caesarean. It is this kind of judgment that tears us all apart. I never felt more in love with women or with my own womanhood than after giving birth. Still, no matter how a woman gets there, she can be a mother through a myriad ways (adoption, natural birth, epidural birth, caesarean, surrogacy). My worry is for the process of birth itself. It seems like a dying art, something so beautiful that more women are capable of than they know.

I have no idea what the future holds. This baby could be breech. I could have any number of problems. For now, I plan to do it the same way it went with Sam . Still, we do not always have the control. I know this. But no matter how I birth this new baby, I will always be grateful to my body, to Sam and to the universe for my first birth. After all, it was the way I became a mother.


Lis Garrett said...

This is such a beautiful, well-written post!!! My third was the only epidural-free baby, and it was a rush (I went from 4cm to baby out in 45 minutes!). With each of my births, however, I stalled early on and needed a low dose of pitocin to get me going again. That's my only regret, as I had fantastic births otherwise. I didn't want pitocin with my third, because forced contractions hurt like a b*tch, so much more than birthing the baby (in my opinion). I also had tiny babies, so maybe I'm not the best to judge pain! Anyway, the best part of being pregnant was having the opportunity to go through labor and delivery. I would never elect to have a c-section. And had my husband been more comfortable with the idea, I would have chosen to have #3 at home.

Kristi said...

Wow. Somehow I forgot that you you had Sam without drugs. I give women who give birth naturally all the credit in the world. That's never going to be a choice for me, given my situation, but I'd like to think I'd try it naturally too, although I'm really not sure. With all the surgeries and medical procedures I've had throughout my life, I wish I had a stronger pain tolerance than I do.

Brigid said...

Kuddos for your natural childbirth. I can say from two vastly diffent childbirth experiences that every birth is different. I had an epidural with my son (9 pounds, 2 ounces) after the vomiting from pain was too much. My birth with him was clear and beautiful. Had I continued the vomiting I do not think I would have had such a nice experience. I labored with out any intevention for 11 hours with my daughter, which I am extremely proud of, but ended up with an emergency c-section due to a knot in her umbilical cord sending her into fetal distress. We have recently had to attend a funeral for our friend's baby - and I can tell you that nothing is worse. Find a good doctor or midwife and have a SAFE birth, no matter how you chose to do it. One comment I will make - it is a rare thing to hear of women dying in childbirth now, which I do not believe was the case in the past.