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