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Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Birth Faith

The blogger at Birth Without Fear has been writing some wonderful, heartfelt posts lately about the upcoming birth of her fifth child, which she is planning to do unassisted, like her last. While I have never had an unassisted pregnancy or birth, I can relate to what she is saying on so many levels, and I find her writing to be quite wonderful.

She has recently written about her desire to have an ultrasound, even though she is presumably doing the rest of the pregnancy, and hopefully the birth, unassisted. She confides in us that she has been having unexplained fears and some thoughts about the baby and upcoming birth and feels that she needs to have an ultrasound to make sure everything is okay. While I don't know ultimately whether she will get one or not, or already has, she has been getting some flak from some in the birthing community - that perhaps say she isn't trusting enough in the birth process or in the ability of her own body to birth a baby. Part of the criticism, I think, is because she's considering relying on technology that is considered, to some people, to be wrong, dangerous, or unnecessary.

I find this kind of sad. As I said on her FaceBook page, I think sometimes other birth advocates can be a tremendous source of support to each other, and at times we're our own worst enemy . To some, BWF's decision to birth at home unassisted is foolish; to others, it's brave; and to still others, it's the only way to go.

I can't say I'd ever intentionally do an unassisted birth, and yet I have day dreams about setting up the back of my husband's 1996 Safari van as a little haven just in case I should happen to give birth while en route to the hospital. I picture the baby coming out perfectly, and bringing him or her to my chest - no separation, no interference, just me and my husband. I can see, especially given the traumatic births some women have experienced, why they would choose home or even unassisted birth. I imagine that takes an amazing level of faith in oneself and calm that some people cannot understand.

For me personally, my birth faith is not so much derived from myself, but from my belief in God. I've always wanted to write a post about the spiritual aspects of giving birth, and was never sure how it would be received. I realize not everyone shares the beliefs I do, and I'm not even sure some Christian mothers experience the feelings that I did. In my experience, I know the intuitions and feelings that BWF is experiencing, and some are no doubt just plain old normal fears that come with being a mother, and some might be founded. While some people think the idea of God speaking to them is crap, I don't: I know that many of the intuitions and feelings I had while pregnant and in labor were that still, small voice in my head telling me, 'Do this, don't do this.' Somehow, it all worked out for greater good and events fit together like puzzle pieces.

While in labor with my VBAC baby, I stayed at home as long as I felt comfortable. Something told me to eat before leaving the hospital - I had been up since early morning and had not felt like eating. I was beginning to feel nauseated and emotional for no reason, and in hindsight, this may have been the beginning of transition. I ate two pieces of buttered bread and a small glass of orange juice and was on my way to the hospital. Before getting there, though, something made me want to stop at the grocery store to stock up on magazines and water for my labor/hospital bag, and I paced and walked through contractions. Something told me to keep moving and remain upright. When I got to the hospital, I was about 6 cm (pretty good for my first vaginal birth!) and delivered about three hours later.

While pregnant with that child, it was a tremendous leap of faith, some would say, just to reach the point to decide to have a VBAC in the first place. There was nothing saying that, even with no interventions, that I wouldn't have another cesarean or that something catastrophic wouldn't happen. I prepared myself physically and emotionally, as well as spiritually: I prayed every chance I got, while walking, while rocking, while sitting on the toilet, even. I prayed that God the Divine Physician would give me confidence and strength to know when to make certain decisions, and that he would guide me through labor. I prayed that he would put his hand over my scar and protect me. And he did.

When I was pregnant with my third, I was again planning a VBAC. At one point during my pregnancy, I sat quietly - probably on the computer! - and a clear voice in my head told me, "This child is a boy and will be born by cesarean." I had no reason to believe either - we had not found out the gender and the baby was head down, so things were looking good for a vaginal birth - and I kind of frowned to myself and forgot about it. As I approached my due date, I was having trouble with elevated blood pressure and rather unsupportive OB's, and - surprise! - my baby had turned transverse and later breech. Even after being admitted for observation and refusing a cesarean then, I trusted my body - and God - to tell me when it was time and when it was not, and to guide me to make the best decisions for my baby and myself. I decided to go home and rest, wait to see if the baby would turn, and let him or her pick the day to be born. I also prayed I had a quick, painless labor and an easy vaginal delivery.

As the day approached, those intuitions kicked up again. The night before, something told me, "Don't finish all your dinner." I was kind of hungry, but had no desire to eat. I left most of my plate untouched and tried to rest. By 10 p.m. I went to bed but was having mild contractions that kept me awake much of the night. I do know I managed to sleep and even dream, but by 4 a.m. I was now in full-blown labor and had lost my mucus plug. Not knowing what position the baby was in, I packed up my stuff, ate my usual bread with butter and orange juice, and left for the hospital.

By the time we got there about 35 minutes later, I was fully dilated. My water had narrowly missed breaking all over our freshly-detailed interior. When they did an ultrasound to verify the baby's position,  the baby was breech. I was more worried about them accidentally revealing the gender right before the birth than the impending cesarean. And while a nurse confided in me that my baby could be born vaginally, I knew in my heart that I was not willing to risk it if my unskilled doctor hadn't delivered a footling breech baby in probably a decade or more, and told her as much.

When they delivered my son by cesarean, I thought back to those words I had heard in my head and knew my intuition had been correct. It was like a warning bell that prepared me for what was to lie ahead, even though I had tried to ignore it. What I knew was that I had trusted God to let me know when to do what, and trusted my body as a machine created by him to do great things. But it is not perfect.

I often think back on how I was perfectly ready to have my baby at home, with just the EMS squad - who I knew have not delivered a baby before. I wonder, how would we have handled the birth?

We are blessed with mother's instinct and intuition for a reason. While I am a strong advocate for natural birth - as much as reasonable or possible - it is important for us as advocates not to be so arrogant or too trusting to assume that things can't go wrong even when there are no interventions present. In the end, you can trust birth all you want, but unfortunately things can go wrong, babies die, sometimes whether their labors have been "tampered with" or not, and some people are unwilling to admit this. Things can happen, but this doesn't necessarily make birth inherently dangerous. But it's a fine line to walk.

You might find that, had you not acted on your suspicions or feelings, something terrible would have happened. You might also find that nothing whatsoever is wrong. And then again, you could be feeling great the entire time and not see for a minute that something is around the corner. Sometimes an intervention can prevent things, sometimes not; but to say that "had you only had a cesarean, your baby would have lived!" is often misleading and wrong. You cannot live your pregnant life in a bubble, hooked up to monitors and machines the entire time to catch such a rare moment, should it happen. You should not be made to feel like you're doing something wrong for judiciously using that same technology, even if it is just to make sure. Nor should there be an approach that suggests "nothing bad will ever happen, because I can do this!"

I don't think birth is dangerous or safe - there is a variable there that can only be measured on an individual basis and we can't always assume that it is or isn't for everyone.  We can't always assume that X happened because a doctor did this, nor can we say that nothing bad will happen because you're under a doctor's care, either. Not always can we predict the unpredictable, and if your innermost feelings are telling you something, then perhaps it would be wise to listen.

Related posts:
Home Birth Death: Are Pieces of the Puzzle Missing?  
A Journey to Homebirth: Part 2 
Where I Stand Now: Birth after Cesarean 


Kate Rowan said...

I think there is also a lot of fear for those who were pregnant, and have lost their baby. I have recently miscarried, and now have a very intense fear that I will not be able to carry to term. I have been repetedly told that my fears are ridiculous, but it doesnt help.

I wish that there was a way to be supported without being crushed by others opinions.


The Deranged Housewife said...

I had mysterious bleeding in my first pregnancy. I went to the ER - a horrible experience - and was terrified for weeks afterwards.

There is so much on both sides - the overwhelming evidence that a subsequent pregnancy will be just fine, as well as the knowledge that in some women, they miscarry every time they are pregnant. To say that your fears are unfounded is in itself ridiculous, and I don't think you ever stop worrying, no matter how many children you have. It's just normal.

I'm sorry for your loss.

Stacy said...

Interesting post. I agree whole-heartedly with what you've written, and it's rare that I've found someone in the birth community willing to even talk about this.

I delivered my fourth child in the hospital last week, after having my third at home, and attending over a dozen wonderful, peaceful births at home as a doula. I was planning a homebirth with this baby until at 28 weeks, when my husband and I both decided independently that we needed to be in the hospital.

Three weeks after that decision, and one week after meeting with a hospital based midwife, I started into preterm labor.

My labor last week was difficult and much more complicated than I expected it to be. It's likely that had I been at home, I would have needed to transfer. We are so grateful that we had that intuition/inspiration because things could have been so different otherwise.

Lisa said...

This post really struck a chord with me as I too have been spoken to by whatever higher power may be looking out for us. I personally dont believe in God, but I sure heard some life changing words when I was 9 weeks pregnant with my first son.

I distinctly heard "You're going to lose it". It was absolutely unreal at the time, and I asked my partner if he had heard anything but he hadnt. I carried those words with me for the next 12 weeks, wondering if it was just my imagination. At 21 weeks I went into irreversable pre-term labour and gave birth to my perfectly formed son.

I'm currently pregnant with our second son, 23 weeks, and as yet I havent been spoken to, which helps me hope that the same thing wont happen again. I'll never forget those words from that disembodied voice.

The Deranged Housewife said...

I think for many it's easy to say "trust your body!" when they are not in your shoes. Yes, it's a good thing to have more faith and less fear in the process. But when it comes down to it, they are not the ones often facing a decision like "Do I attempt another vaginal birth after a repeat history of shoulder dystocia?" etc. It's easy to say until it happens to you.

Thanks, everyone, for your excellent comments!

sara r. said...

I must just say that I love your blog in general, and this post is no exception.

I think the idea of "birth faith" is an extreme reaction to the total lack of faith that most women have in themselves.

In everything in life, balance is necessary. In a perfect world, with perfect bodies, we wouldn't have to worry about birth complications, but that doesn't mean that we as women can't assume that birth will go swimmingly unless something comes up. That's the attitude that I took for my one (and only) birth so far, and it was even better than I hoped. I hope as a doula to be able to instill that confidence and trust in other women- it didn't happen in my mind overnight, and it was bloggers like you that helped me get there!

The Deranged Housewife said...

Aww Sara, thank you for your wonderful comment! :)

RaisingCropsAndBabies said...

Your post was forwarded to me by a dear friend and to put it mildly... ya made me cry! You put my thoughts so tactfully into words and I thank you. I had a homebirth with my first child that ended in a severe shoulder dystocia which resulted in a lifelong birth injury (brachial plexus injury) and almost his death. My son has underwent years of therapies, surgeries, etc. I had total faith in my body to give birth... total. When I became pregnant with my second child, I was so torn. I knew I wanted to birth in a hospital incase signs of a possible s/d came up then we'd be wheeled into the OR for a c/section. I was blindsided when I was told by quite a few women in the natural birthing community that I just needed to have faith that my body could do this. That I just needed to believe and can't be scared... Like the physical aspect of my son's shoulders were stuck in my pelvic bone had nothing to do with his traumatic birth and if I believed in myself then it wouldn't happen again (yes, I was actually told that).. WHAT? I decided to quite verbalizing my fears to others. I prayed that if God knew a vaginal birth was not safe for my baby that He shut ALL doors and windows to having a trial of labor cause I was gonna try with all my might. Long story short: He DID shut EVERY door! My son was born breech via c/s weighing a pound more than my previous son. I knew God's hand was in his birth and despite my qualms with c/s, I knew this was the safest option for him. My 3rd son was born via c/s too, 6 mos. ago after another long story and I'm totally at peace with his birth. And I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that my faith can NOT be in birth, but instead in the One who created us. He knows the plans He has for us and I trust in that. And sometimes that means NOT birthing in the way we'd always hoped for, imagined, and thought to be the "right way". (btw, I'm still very supportive of low risk moms having the option of homebirthing). =) Thank you again for writing this.

Autumn said...

I may be a advocate of normal birth (not society's natural birth, but normal, uninhibited, unaltered, birth) and for the most part disagree with anything modern medicine tells a woman she has to do.

BUT....when someone is being belittled for listening to their intuition it really makes me angry.

I knew when I wanted a homebirth for my first, I was asking an "empty question" because I already knew it wasn't going to be a normal birth. When preparing for our 2nd I knew homebirth was where we needed to be, and I knew I needed to ask my midwife to give my husband detailed directions for what to do if the baby came before the midwife.

Both times I was right, I was also right about which was a boy and which was a girl.

If anyone had told me not to trust myself and urge me to do the opposite I likely would have had horrible experiences.

Also, on the "ultrasound issue"....from what I understand it's the unknown that is the fear and worry, but it's been a long time since I looked into this information.

Before my second child was born we conceived and miscarried. I was 9 weeks along when it happened, and about 5 weeks when the baby had passed away.So, naturally when I was pregnant again a few months later I worried. A lot. I had not one, not two, but four ultrasounds in my pregnancy. 5 weeks to see "yes, it's in the uterus" and to take a measurement. 6 weeks and 6 days, I had bright red spotting so at 7 weeks we went again...beautiful heartbeat 136 bpm. And then I had some wicked sharp pains at 9 weeks. Too close for comfort I hurried into my OB's office and they did a quick look, great heart tones and I could hear them this time. And then AGAIN at 18 weeks.

I don't regret any of them....the alternative would have been to stress out and completely lose my mind before she made her appearance the day before her EDD!

Autumn said...

Holy crap, sorry about the novel comment.