Giving Birth

Friday, October 05, 2007
I started reading this book tonight, and I can't put it down. The first 1/3 of the book is birth stories written by women who have delivered on The Farm with Ina May and her team of midwives. It encourages me to read these stories about the strength of women while giving birth naturally, completely in control of birthing their own babies. For me, I've reached a part in my pregnancy where I'm completely letting go of the fear of giving birth. I think in Western medicine, fear and childbirth are synonymous, and I'm learning that fear in pregnancy and childbirth can greatly hinder the process.

I picked up my birth kit today, and stocked the shelves of our bedroom closet with supplies for the home birth. It feels great to be in charge of gathering the supplies. In doing this, I'm already feeling in control of the process, and it's amazing how much confidence I'm feeling already that I can do this. My Mom had five children in eight years, all of which were born vaginally at the same hospital. In fact, no one in my family that I know of has had a C-section, and I come from a family where all the women have so far (before me) given birth at hospitals. Considering the statistics with hospitals, this is amazing! I watched my sister Shelly give birth six years ago, and right before she gave birth, they were telling her that they were going to prep the OR for a C-section because she wasn't progressing quickly enough. Her body knew what it was doing, however, and her son was born thirty minutes later. When I think about not only all the women in my own family who have given birth, but women worldwide who are giving birth with every second that passes, I can't help but feel strengthened by the thought that our bodies are designed to give birth, and unless a medical emergency calls for medical intervention, birth goes much more smoothly without intervention and fear. In my sister's case, "not progressing quickly enough" isn't a good enough reason for a C-section. I'm so glad she was able to birth her son w/out being convinced that a C-section was medically necessary. For first time mothers, I think it's hard to know what to do in these situations.

Part of me feels that I've had to work extra hard to get to the place where I'm at today with my perceptions about birth and prenatal care because I am a woman living in a country where birth has become a medical procedure, and the mother is a patient in need of treatment and intervention. This is the mentality that surrounds a hospital birth. When I picked up my birthing kit, the midwife who assisted me told me that Holland has the fewest infant deaths than any other country in the world, and that 80% of women there give birth at home. Unfortunately, many people do not know that the United States has the second highest infant mortality rate in the modern world. In 1960, the C-section rate was 4% in the US. Today, it has reached nearly 30%. For many, a hospital birth means a safer birth, but if you look at the statistics, home births are just as safe if not safer for both the mother and the baby. One thing I learned since birthing Samuel at the hospital is that intravenous drugs & hormones are often what leads to fetal distress. One of my friends, Dale, who lives in New Zealand, gave birth in water to both of her sons at a birthing center. She said the majority of women use midwives and birthing centers, and that women who give birth in hospitals only do so because of a medical reason or a high-risk pregnancy. What a difference it would make if that were the perception here! I wasn't emotionally ready to do a home birth with Samuel three years ago, and lacked the information I needed to confidently pursue a home birth, because it takes a lot of work to get to that point in this country where only 1% of women choose home birth. Sometimes, it isn't even a choice. Insurance companies usually only pay at a discount, and many cannot afford to do a home birth where they are responsible for all or a portion of the bill when their insurance carrier will pay 100% of a hospital birth with an OB-GYN. From what I've read, vaginal hospital births usually run between 10 and 12K, C-section births are nearly 30K, and home births are typically between 2 to 3K, and this includes all prenatal visits and 6 weeks of postnatal home visits. Our insurance carrier, for example, will pay 100% of care with an OB-GYN, only 90% with a CNM, and 70% of all other midwifery care (only because we have out-of-network coverage). So, where and how to give birth in this country is controlled by insurance carriers and the healthcare industry, not by women who should be able to make these choices for themselves. In fact, home birthing is illegal in some states. Fortunately, I had the opportunity to pursue a home birth because Oregon is one state which allows it, and I also had the financial resources to pay for the portion of the midwifery fee that insurance will not cover (and fortunately, my insurance carrier pays for 70%!).

I would like to see more women pursue childbirth without fear or intervention, whether that birth take place at home or in a birthing center. Having been through a hospital birth, I feel that birthing in a hospital setting creates an environment in which it is nearly impossible to give birth without fear, completely in control, and without intervention.

Here is a quote from Ina May's Guide to Childbirth from Karen Lovell's birth story that I found to be particularly inspiring:

I was grateful to have had such an easy pregnancy and that the birth itself was not just a psychosocial event but spiritual as well. I was thankful to have such loving, caring midwives and such a loving, thoughtful husband. I knew that this was the right way to have a baby. I enjoyed how the midwives paid attention to every detail and looked at things intuitively as well as on the surface.

The next day I felt so good. I looked at the clear blue November sky and the brown oak leaves left on the trees and basked in the warmth of the sun. I realized that I was truly blessed, that there really were some things on which technology could not improve--one of those was the billion-year-old evolutionary process of human childbirth. To some it may have seemed primitive; to me it was perfect.


Annagrace said...

I love Ina May Gaskin--can't wait to read this book!

I totally agree--birthing is something we instinctively know how to do. It wasn't till (mostly male) doctors decided to "medicalize" it (I made up a word) and treat it like a condition or a sickness that problems became routine. Of course we don't throw out the knowledge we DO have now (how to save a mother or baby that's ACTUALLY in danger, etc) but the typical pregnancy would be better served by teaching good nutrition and health, and then getting out of the way and letting them birth instinctively. Our bodies know what do and how to do it!

And the doctor whose quote is on the front is the one I was talking about. Her book "Mother-Daughter Wisdom" is one of the best books I've ever read on women's health.

Jeremy said...

I loved this book! The stories were amazing. (Isn't that the one with the picture of a baby's face crowning first???)

I couldn't agree more with both of you. It's about teaching women that they CAN birth naturally in most situations.

I'm thrilled that I was able to have a VBAC with Sawyer. It was so empowering and beautiful. Have I mentioned the candles that were lit around the tub as he was being born? What an experience.

Unfortunately, in hospitals today VBAC's are considered such a taboo that most women who can have one never even try. That's why I love books like this one. It's so great to read about women giving birth in such a natural and instinctual way.

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