(or, YOUR BIRTH, YOUR WAY)
Actually, it's not just because I don't like hospitals, although that's true. (In case you're wondering, this picture is of me in a tub, mid-contraction, as Joel looks on.)
I also don't like Caesarians. Women who give birth with a midwife in attendance instead of a doctor have a much lower risk of C-section, in part because midwives carefully screen their clientele for high-risk factors, and don't accept those who demonstrate a high level of risk.
I also don't like episiotomies. Ugh! In case you didn't know, that cruel cut of your precious perineum does not have to be routine. In almost 300 births, my midwife had never had to give one to a client. Never. How many ob/gyns can say the same? I did tear a little, but I only needed two stitches, and the pain was gone after two days. This is as opposed to the weeks of pain and discomfort other mothers have reported after episiotomy.
I didn't want to worry about Abishai getting mixed up with someone else's baby. If you are like me and saw that episode of Montel Williams about those babies who were switched at birth, the possibility of your little darling getting passed off to someone else chilled you to the bone. At Puget Sound Birth Center, where I had the baby, they never separate the baby from the mother, and you can go home any time during the 24 hours following the birth.
I wanted to be able to eat and drink during my labor. Most hospitals don't allow this, which is one of the reasons their patients so often need pain relief. Think of labor as the most strenuous workout you'll ever have. Now imagine having a 21-hour workout without being "allowed" to eat anything and only being given a few ice chips. You'd get a whole lot more tired, a whole lot more quickly, wouldn't you? And speaking of "allowed..."
I didn't want the doctor's convenience dictating my birth experience. Too often, when women attempt to implement such labor facilitators as walking around, squatting, or taking a shower, the nurses resist because "it won't be convenient for the doctor to check you." I ask you, how many vaginal checks are really necessary? What do they actually achieve beyond telling you when you can push? I had about four during the entire course of my labor. One lady I talked to who had her baby in a hospital said she felt like everybody but the janitor examined her. Or how about Electronic Fetal Monitoring? The guy who invented the device said he intended it to be used in high-risk situations, not as standard labor equipment. Too often a "distress" reading results from the mother not being allowed to change positions, leading to unnecessary C-sections.
I didn't want to use drugs. I am the biggest wimp on the planet. There. I said it. I was afraid that if I had drugs easily available to me, I would use them. I know, they say it's no big deal, but a natural birth was and is important to me. (Since having Abishai, I've learned that the term "natural" means different things to different people. My mother-in-law told me that she had all nine of her kids "naturally," thus increasing my respect for her exponentially. Later I discovered she meant "vaginally." I still respect her quite a bit, but to me, natural childbirth means no drugs.) The late great Dr. Bradley, creator of Husband-Coached Childbirth, hypothesized that the use of drugs during labor could possibly imprint the baby for future drug abuse. Of course, there are a host of other factors that can lead to drug abuse, but with a history of addiction in my family I didn't want to take any chances.
I wasn't sick! A hospital is where people go if they're really, really sick...or if they're having a baby. To me, this just reinforces the faulty perception in our culture of birth as an illness. Birth is a natural function that most (not all) women are perfectly capable of performing without medical interference, although you wouldn't know it from the C-section rate.
THINGS YOU MIGHT WANT TO KNOW ABOUT GENTLE BIRTH
Weren't you afraid of complications? No, the birth center I chose was literally a block away from the hospital. Should anything awful have happened, we could have been there almost immediately. If you choose a birth center, this should be a consideration of yours, too.
Did it hurt? Well, in a word, yes. It hurt really badly. It was not a "good" kind of hurt, either, despite what some birth books suggest. However, I truly felt it was the best thing for my baby, and I was willing to endure pain if it was good for him. It turned out his head was 15 inches in circumference, which explains it right there. Plus, I was so out of shape it defies description, and to top it off I hadn't exercised since the rainy season started, which was approximately when I found out I was pregnant. I can't say it enough: Kegel, Kegel, Kegel! Do your Kegels! I have actually spoken to women who have had pain-free births without medication, so it is possible. Don't let me scare you.
Why are you in a tub in the picture? This is so cool! I had Abishai in a birthing tub, which is like a Jacuzzi tub but without jets. He was born under water, which I felt would ease the transition from the womb. I had seen it on some TV news show like Dateline when I was in high school, and right then I knew that I wanted to have my baby in a tub. It also eased the pain quite a bit to be floating around semi-weightlessly in warm water instead of standing on dry land. Infection rates are actually less for those babies born in the tub than those who are landlubbers, so don't let anyone tell you that it's not safe. However, one common waterbirthing practice that I feel is dangerous is slow emergence. Look, as Dr. Sears says in the Birth Book, if the whales and dolphins bring their babies to the surface as quickly as possible, we should take a hint from nature and do the same.
I really want to have this kind of birth, but I have to have my baby in the hospital. What should I do? I recommend you go to Babycenter.com and print up a birth plan. (I recommend Babycenter because they have the most options, unlike, say, birthplan.com.) A birth plan is a kind of strategy for the kind of birth experience you'd like to have. It is really helpful to include one with your hospital admission papers in addition to giving one to your doctor or midwife and keeping one for yourself. For some reason, the printed word inspires more compliance than just screaming hysterically during contractions, "I SAID I DON'T WANT AN EPISIOTOMY UNLESS MY BABY'S LIFE'S IN DANGER, YOU @#%&!!!"
Actually, even if you are having a home birth or birth center birth, it's a good idea to have one of these printed up and given to your birth attendant, just in case. I did.
Another almost essential part of gentle birth is that you take a childbirth class taught by a certified childbirth educator. I don't recommend you take the class offered by the hospital; usually what that class should be called is "How to Have a Birth Our Way." You can take one offered by Birthworks, the Bradley Method (also known as Husband-Coached Childbirth), or the Lamaze class that everyone uses on TV but that I've heard isn't that effective. You really, really, really want to steer clear of drugs for a gentle birth.
Also, if you are planning to breastfeed, be absolutely sure you bring along a printed sign that says OUR BABY IS EXCLUSIVELY BREASTFED. DO NOT GIVE HER ANY PACIFIERS OR BOTTLES WITHOUT OUR EXPRESS WRITTEN CONSENT. Put this sign in a prominent place on her bassinet. Nurse as soon as your baby's showing any interest (with Abishai, this was as soon as he was born). Nurses are not taught a great deal about lactation in school; I have one of the standard maternity nursing textbooks right next to my computer as I type this, and believe me, there isn't much about breastfeeding. Therefore, if a nurse tries to give you nursing advice that conflicts with what you've read from well-researched books that support breastfeeding (such as The Baby Book), smile and nod and do it your way anyway unless she is an IBCLC (certified lactation consultant).
A good idea would be to choose the "rooming in" option, which usually means your baby stays with you at all times. Insist that examinations be done in your presence. (All of Abishai's were done with me sitting right there.) There is no reason why they should not do this other than their own convenience. Who's the paying customer here? Courteously remind them of that if necessary. Insist, politely (then not so politely if they dismiss your objections), that nurses not hold your baby without your permission, just as you'd expect from your friends. Remind yourself that this is your baby. A few maternity ward nurses have an unfortunate tendency to consider all the babies "theirs." That isn't so bad until they start getting mad at you for wanting the baby with you all the time.
If you can't room in because the hospital doesn't offer that option, you can always check out AMA if you feel up to it, your baby is healthy, and you can get a medical examination the first or second day after birth for your baby. Ask for the examination sheet that they record the baby's temperature and heart rate on, and make a copy if they won't let you keep it. Ask what the danger signals are, including for jaundice. Expect dire warnings and possibly threats to call Social Services if you choose to check out. No, I'm not making this up, it actually happened to an acquaintance of ours in Seattle--only she and her baby had been in the hospital for a week with no problems. Don't worry, they can't legally do anything unless your baby is actually ill. I was home six hours after Abishai's birth, cuddled up in our bed with him asleep on my chest, exactly where he belonged.
What does all this have to do with having a high-need baby? Good question! Actually, I'm not sure if the type of birth experience you have affects your baby's temperament in the slightest. Most likely, it does not. However, bonding immediately after birth is an important part of the birth experience, and doubly important for parents of high-need babies, as their babies will test that bond constantly for the first few months. Also, babies whose mothers have epidurals during labor cry more in the hours immediately following birth. Who wants that? Not any parent of a high-need baby, that's for sure. But mostly, a gentle birth allows you to realize that nothing in the birth experience caused your child's high needs. S/he was just plain created that way.
How can I learn more about this gentle birth thing? See the Resources page. Or check at your library for "Gentle Birth Choices" or "The Birth Book."
Interesting Link: Click here to see a listing of midwives and doulas across the country, and find one near you.
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