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Serving the Greater Los Angeles area
Serving the Greater Los Angeles area

Telling Your Truth

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lamaze-baby

In Midwifery Today Winter Volume 2021, Midwife Lois Wilson writes: “When I entered the world of birth and midwifery in 1985, pregnant with my first child and determined to have a natural birth, there was no internet, no social media, and no famous overnight “influencers.” For information, I devoured Ina May Gaskin’s Spiritual Midwifery and La Leche League’s The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding. I sat cross-legged in my Bradley Method childbirth classes and La Leche League meetings. I discovered Midwifery Today and Mothering magazines. Everything was hands-on, personal, and face-to-face. Information was not as readily available, but we knew our sources personally, shared meals and birth stories with them, and breastfed our babies together. It was a beautiful way of learning that was ancient and organic: women teaching women. 

We were part of a movement, reclaiming birth and breastfeeding, and we knew it. Our mothers were the post-World War II generation that was birthed in the 1950s in hospitals with heavy anesthesia, episiotomies, and routine forceps. We were absolutely determined to resist unnecessary intervention, and we knew that it mattered: that it would only take a single generation (ours) for normal birth to pass out of our mainstream culture altogether.

We were unapologetic. We knew that normal birth at home and without intervention was better than a hospital birth and that breastfeeding was far healthier for mothers and babies. We knew we were strong and brave to make those choices for ourselves and our babies, and we sought to teach, promote and provide those things in our communities. We did not mince words. Mothers and babies depended on us.

Three decades later, my daughter became pregnant with my first grandchild. I supported her as I watched her access midwifery care for a homebirth and gather information on online forums for new and expectant mothers. And while I marveled at how much information was available at (literally) her fingertips, I noticed a few other things as well. Things that disturbed me deeply.

I noticed that it was no longer okay to say that normal birth and breastfeeding were best for mother and baby. It was simply a choice among many, an item on a menu, a preference. In fact, if you shared “too proudly” about your homebirth and breastfeeding experience, you were accused of being narrow-minded, insensitive, and bullying. Let’s not get radical about it. (italics mine)

I noticed that while there was a lot of information out there, a lot of it was wrong, came from unreliable or unknown sources, and was being passed along until it became twisted and unrecognizable. 

I also noticed that women on social media could be mean. Things no one would dare say while sitting cross-legged on the floor in someone’s living room were fair game when everyone was faceless on a social media platform. And while there were women truly there to help and support others, new mothers often had to wade through so much mean-spirited commentary to get to the support they were seeking.

So, in the spirit of my generation, I am going to say some things here that I think needs to be said, and I am saying them for the young mothers today who are courageously choosing normal birth and breastfeeding in this generation:

  • Homebirth is normal birth.
  • Birth without intervention is possible, and it is best for you and your baby. Routine intervention in childbirth is rooted in the medical and patriarchal model, and it introduces tremendous risk to you and your baby. It almost always leads to further intervention and further risk.
  • Breastfeeding is the best way to feed your baby. Nothing else compares or even comes close. Almost everyone can breastfeed, given information and support. 
  • You can do it, and when you do, shout it from the rooftops. We are always only one generation away from losing the legacy of normal birth and breastfeeding. It’s your turn to pass it on.”

**********

Supported Birth class: home birth, c-section, natural hospital and epidural births

My reaction to these words is complex.

I have mixed feelings about the subject of “better/best” vs menu of choices.  After teaching first-time pregnant women for almost three decades, I know undoubtedly that some are not prepared, at this moment in their lives – circumstances, prior learning & acculturation, incorrect knowledge – to realize and actualize the strength required for a natural birth – and 2-3 months (the last trimester) is not enough time to get there. It also may not be their desire, even if they know it’s healthier. Therefore, they should be validated for making informed choices from the “menu.” Their births can be powerful, rewarding, and fulfilling and should never be judged.

On the other hand, women who have had natural births should be able to say how great the outcome feels, just like others are allowed to say, “omg, get the epidural, are you crazy?”  It often seems like the “medical birth menu” women are allowed to judge: “you think you are a hero; you are making other women feel bad,” but we are not allowed to say, “no judgment, but it IS healthier & it DOES feel incredible, it is an incredibly empowering achievement, it is incredibly hard & painful, you have to work hard to achieve this in our medicalized birth system, but it feels awesome unlike anything else.”

However, it’s not black and white. A woman forced to give birth alone and unsupported in a room is not going to feel great and empowered by her unmedicated birth; likewise, an anesthetized woman is not necessarily going to love her birth. 

I have come to avoid the term “natural birth” anyway and prefer the concept of “undisturbed birth.” That’s a different subject.

I also think it’s unnecessary for any of us to be comparing births with anyone, and that the real issue is not “natural vs. medicated” but the much larger subject of the American birth system, the cesarean rates, and the crippling of women’s strengths and maternal instincts. That’s a different subject too.

Penny Simkin, in “Epidural Epidemic,” writes:

“Sometimes I feel like the voice in the wilderness. I may be the first person to tell her that pregnancy is a normal function of the human body and that the birth day can be one of the best days of her life. For me to try to undo all the brainwashing that has already happened is very frustrating. I feel both empathy and sympathy for the woman who has had the confidence drummed out of her.

I think it helps to see women who are planning epidurals as people who have a different value system than ours. It helps if we don’t automatically view their values as illegitimate. Then we can deal with the dissonance between our values and hers in the same way we would in the case of people from a culture that is clearly different from ours. I suggest that we refrain from labeling. We might be dealing with a woman who is being (or has been) beaten or harassed, or abused. The most empowering thing a woman like this might say is, “No pain today, thank you very much.” That might be a strong step for her. One woman might have a reason for an epidural that is very different from what you expect.

We need to provide appropriate, accurate information to women. What they decide then is correct. If we stay with the mother (as educators and doulas) and we don’t alienate her by arguing, she may give us an ear, and we may be able to join her on her journey and encourage her to stretch herself a bit (if she might want to try). A woman who reaches 8 cm and then wants her epidural has made an enormous leap because she may have thought she couldn’t handle anything. Afterward, she’ll say, “Wow! Next time I almost think I could try natural birth.”

We all grow, and for some people, growing with the help of an epidural is the way they grow on their own initiative. We need to recognize that growing without an epidural is our cultural value and that this is not an ideal that everyone aspires to.”

**********

So, we should be nonjudgmental, but we need not be apologetic. We need not “hide” the fact that our natural, undisturbed, unmedicated, unmedicalized births were incredible. The descriptions of my students who had home births are light years from the hospital births. Not that all hospital births are experienced as negative by the moms – far from it. But they are different, and they are very different. And I agree with Lois that if they get to say, “thank god for my epidural, you are crazy not to get it; what a martyr, you would use anesthesia for a root canal!” or “thank god for my c-section, it saved my baby’s life” (when there was a chain of intervention leading to the fetal distress), then we also get to say “I made different choices, and I had an amazing birth, and I get to shout it from the rooftops too, without being told that I am bragging or putting you down.” 

Women need to share birth experiences, tell the truth and support one another.

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