Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Who is the Expert?

I’m a natural childbirth educator, and my career goal is to put myself out of business. My hope is for a society where women are in tune to their instincts about pregnancy and birth, feel confident that they can give birth safely, and know that when the time comes, they will know just what to do, without fear or anxiety.

In our culture, women are desperate for guidance. We will see a doctor or midwife (in most cases, a rotating team of them) an average of 14 times during pregnancy, more than twice as many times as women in Japan where infant mortality is lower and natural birth rates are much higher. We want someone, an expert, to tell us that everything is okay, and to guide us and tell us what to do.

Over the course of my first pregnancy and birth, childbirth education and labor assistant training, several years of teaching and six very different births attended as a doula, I realized a very important truth that most of us are missing and will continue to miss: we are the experts.

We are women. We are friends, daughters, sisters, mothers. We are smart, and strong, and competent. We are connected to our babies, both during pregnancy and after birth, in ways no one else could ever be. We can take care of ourselves and our babies in ways other people cannot. We can consciously connect to our babies during pregnancy and know that everything is okay. If we have peace, we can tune into our bodies and, without a single intervention, needle, monitor, or drug, give our babies safe passage from our bodies into the world.

We’ve been sold a bill of goods, and if we keep buying we will continue to pay a high price. We have been convinced that other people know what’s best for us. We’ve been told our whole lives that medical training is more important than our instinctive wisdom about our bodies. Though most women will say that pregnancy is not a disease and birth is not a procedure, most of us will live an entirely different experience with our own pregnancies, being poked and prodded and tested half to death. Most of us will have highly medicalized births, feeling as if we and our babies are on the verge of tragedy at all times.

We pay a high price for our lack of faith in ourselves, and our babies pay as well. We gauge our pregnancies by testing. Ultrasounds, AFPs, amniocentesis, gestational diabetes, group B strep. These medical terms are common knowledge among pregnant women, though few of us really understand the possible repercussions of all this testing. We go through our pregnancies knowing that if our baby doesn’t decide to come by a certain, randomly assigned date, we will either have to induce or face the wrath of the doctor by refusing.

Almost one third of women will have their babies surgically taken from them, unnecessarily at least 80% of the time. A third of women who give birth vaginally will have irreparable, permanent damage done by unnecessary surgery performed on their perineums, usually because their doctors just don’t want to wait anymore. We say “Pregnancy is not a disease.  Birth is not a medical condition.” Then why do we accept IVs and heparin locks for a normal, low-risk birth? Why do we accept being hooked to a machine for 20 minutes out of every hour, when such machine has been proven to do absolutely no good, and is useful only in lawsuits
against doctors and hospitals? Why do we smile and obey when we’re told we can have only clear fluids even when our labors might stretch to the 24 hour mark and beyond? We say one thing, but we live another.

Women planning to give birth without pain medication, in the way that we were naturally created to do, are ridiculed. We are told over and over by men and women alike that we cannot possibly do it and we are insane for wanting to try. Often our doctors, whom we are paying to provide a service, laugh at the very idea of wanting a birth without drugs. Most women planning a natural birth have researched carefully, and understand the risks of the various drugs that are given during labor. But still, we are often treated as fringe-dwelling lunatics simply for wanting to be an active participant in our babies’ birthdays.

Why does our society view women as weak, stupid, and incapable of making smart decisions for ourselves and our babies? Why are we so willing to accept things being done to us and our babies that are useless at best and dangerous at worst, just because “it’s the way we do things?”

It’s time for the madness to stop. Women are not weak. We are not stupid. When we take the time to connect to ourselves and our babies, we are capable of making the absolute best decisions for our pregnancies, labors, and births. Natural birth can be difficult, but many things worth doing in life are not easy. It’s time we started taking offense to those who would sabatoge our efforts and undermine our incredible inner strength. It’s time for us to realize that we’re tough and capable and we know what’s best for ourselves and our babies.

About the Author:
Laura is a childbirth educator near Atlanta, GA, and the mom of two girls, ages 5 and 3. She is an advocate for natural birth, breastfeeding, and natural parenting. You can read her blog at www.babystepsonline.net


Anonymous said...



Anonymous said...

This is brilliant. I'm a 21 year old mother of 1 and number 2 is due in 3 weeks time. Growing up in the USA taught me a few things. Babies are bad and when you have a baby you are done for. Thank god I moved to the UK when I was 18, moving here not only helped me grow up very fast but it showed me the world of motherhood. I never knew what a midwife was or what natural birth meant. Unfortunatly when I was pregnant with my son I had to return to CA to get a visa so my husband and I could stay together and have our family. I ended up being refused and I had to beg for medi-cal 3 months before I was due to give birth. When I had my son I had been induced, left in a room with an epidural and my husband for 8 hours not knowing what was going on really. Until it came time to push. I was cut and sewn up then sent on my way with my baby. This second time around I'm back in the UK to stay with my midwife and ready for my natural birth I should have had 20 months ago. Funny enough I keep in contact with friends I grew up with back in CA, they all seem to still have the idea that babies are a drain on their life. They are confused by me wanting to be a mother. I'm just glad I was givin a chance to see into the world of motherhood thats almost non existant (in my opinion)in america. I've never felt so connected with my life or my body. Now only if I could get people to read this blog haha. I love being a woman and everything about motherhood, I wouldn't want to live for anything else. You can have your careers and cars, I have my babies and loving husband.

sarah wawryk said...

i had a natural birth.. didnt find it painful or uncomfortable.. no one hardly heard a peep at me.. except me saying i was hot.. i had not medicianes at all wouldnt even have panadol..

saying that with the nurse telling me to push push push.. why im saying i dont feel like i need to push.. i finally snapped and looked her dead in the and yelled out FUK..

after having a wonderful birth no longer then an hour later i was on the floor screaming in pain because i had a blood clot growning fastly and they ended up taken me to surgery.. and giving me 4 shots of morphine cause the pain was not going away..

so the bottom line is.. sometimes a blood clot causes more pain then a drug free child birth..

choice_spirit said...

Bravo! Bravo!

Beck said...

Wow that is fantastic :) I feel exactly the same way but would not have been able to write it that eloquently. Im planning a home/water birth with our next little munchkin and i can't wait. Ive had to csections and i definitly believe they were unnecessary. Loved this post :)

Erin said...

I really enjoyed this post, but it also made me ache for myself and my loss of ever having a vaginal delivery.

My only child so far, my daughter was born almost a year ago via emergency c-section. They induced my labor 4 weeks early and told me that I would probably have a c-section because my child was dying. I am not going to say that I was terribly upset with the decision when it was made because I was there watching my daughter's heart stop beating everytime I had a contraction, what I am upset about is the fact that they messed it up after she was born. They were in such a rush to get her out that they damaged my uterus in a sense and I am no longer able to even ATTEMPT a vaginal delivery. Was it not enough that I was robbed of the experience in my first pregnancy? Now I have to live with the knowledge that I will never be able to attempt a natural childbirth, the way I would love to deliver my next child.

There are days where I actually mourn the fact that I had a c-section. I honestly don't feel like I have given birth to my child, I feel like she was born from me, but I didn't give birth to her. I've lost something, and I can't get it back, and it was something I didn't know was so dear to me until I didn't have it. And to think I was afraid of tearing during a vaginal delivery. If only I had known.

Confessions of a Girl said...

Sometimes i really wonder if everything with my pregnancy and labor and delivery would have gone by smoother if i'd have had a natural birth. But alas; with my poor nervous system and heart condition i had to endure high risk pregnancy twice...My friend had a natural child birth and she said that she loved it, aside from her daughter getting stuck at the end. Something she feels happened because of the incompetent doctors in the hospital room. I have a lot of respect for women that have strong will power and go through natural child birth. Perhaps if i wasn't so medically screwed (for lack of another word) i may have tried it. But i am done, and not having any more children. I love how this was written, it was perfect.

megan said...

I love, love, love this. My last two babies were born at home, the best choice I ever made. After my second birth, I vowed I would never give birth in a hospital again. I had the best labor ever, calm, control labor at the way to 10 c and then may labor stop. The nurses wouldn't let me get up and walk around, instead an hour later the started a pit drip. They said I was most likely headed for a c-section. Well, we surprised them. 13 minutes later we had a beautiful baby boy, c-section my arse.

Jill said...

YES YES YES. Right f***ing on. You preach it, sister. Take that soapbox to the streets!

flowers said...

I love this post and this is my personal viewpoint and soap box. Wake up women! We are not only the experts we are the consumers and we are letting ourselves be treated like women's rights never happened.

I am however very cautious about using the term natural birth as the solution to our birth woes. It's almost as if then the natural birth movement becomes the expert, again taking away the trust and power of a woman to decide.

Let's give ourselves back the power and trust our sisters and help inform each other. It is so hard for women: they have the medical establishment telling them what's best on one side and the natural birth movement telling them what's best on the other side and in the middle they take this extremely personal and emotional journey. I think placing the trust 100% back to the women, without identifying which way is "best* women will then make the best decisions for their bodies and babies.

Brooke said...

I used a midwife and gave birth in a birthing center attached to a hospital with a lower than average C-section rate. I had a natural birth plan with strict guidelines for no intervention. After pushing for almost 3 hours, I told the midwife I needed help, and my son was vacuumed out, at which point they discovered he had the cord wrapped around his neck (he was showing no standard signs of distress), necessitating the cord being cut prior to his complete delivery and emergency assistance by the NICU team because his APGARs were falling. I thank god every day for medical intervention. I think it is a short-sighted perspective to believe that we don't save babies' and mothers' lives through intervention (and medical awareness during pregnancy).

Laura said...

Brook, medical intervention is great when it's necessary. In the U.S. is it horribly overused (not just in birth but in most areas of our lives). What I advocate is women trusting their instincts. Your instincts told you that you needed help, and you got it. that's the way it should be.

Brittney said...

Bravo! Stated so well. I feel the same way. Why don't we trust ourselves as women? We can do this! I had my first baby, a 9 lbs baby girl, 18 months ago without so much as an IV. It was painful and a lot of hard work, but worth EVERY second!

Thankfully, my husband supported 100% in my desire to give birth au naturale and surprisingly, so did the nurses at the hospital (had to give birth in a hospital for financial reasons - our next will likely be here, at home!).

I am a wimp by nature. Seriously. If I can handle a natural birth, any one can (and should ^_^)!

Rachel said...

I am a firm believer in natural child birth.
I also believe that having babies in a hospital leads to the many mothers, who intend to have natural childbirths, to not do so.
I have 2 beautiful healthy girls, the first of which was actually born by cesarean, after 42 hours of drug free labor at home. :( My labor stopped, my cervix began to close and my child was experiencing a lot of stress. However, this experience only strengthened my belief in natural childbirth. My midwives were very adept at recognizing the time that I could not do this on my own, and help was needed. They were also very calm and organized in getting me to the nearest hospital (I was not rushed off in an ambulance!) where doctors and nurses were waiting with all my info ready.
I was suddenly in a different world where my oppinion no longer mattered, and the doctors although I am sure they have the best intentions, TELL you what you need to do next, and blink at you in confusion when you calmly tell them you would like to talk to your midwives first. Haha
The contrast between the two forms of care was glaring and the hospital just didn't measure up. I know, I know, some of you will be saying "but see, the doctors were neccessary". True... at that point they were, and I am thankful everyday that medical science has progressed where it is now, so that when there is a need, when there is a medical emergency, people like me can still bring those stubborn babies into the world healthy.
My second child was born naturally, a water birth, in a midwife ran birth center. It was AMAZING!!! Those of you who are reading this, who have had a intervention free, calm, natural child birth outside of a hospital will know what I am talking about. For those of you who haven't I give this description;
imagine you are super-woman, you can do anything, take on the world and change it with only sheer will and love. That is what I felt like, still feel like.
Until women can learn to trust their bodies again, this kind of birth will always sit on the fringe, like the black sheep of motherhood. How can you listen to your body, when you have "experts" telling you what has to be done? Offering up epidurals as soon as you are uncomfortable and requiring too much attention and energy from the staff. And honestly, labor is hard... I mean REALLY hard (they don't call it labor for nothin') it is sooo easy to give in, when you are in pain, you are tired, and everyone seems to think you are crazy.
If you are pregnant and considering natural child birth, find yourself a great midwife, and get your butt out of that hospital! Wouldn't you rather hear "you can do this, you are strong" when you need it?
I know I did.

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