Informed Birth Choices

Tonight I had a chance to sit and talk with my husband’s 87 year-old grandmother (Mom-mom) about her birth experiences. She had seven children between the years 1949-1968. Whew, you go momma!

For all of her babies, she went to the hospital and they knocked her out completely with general anesthesia. Obviously, she lacked the ability to push, so they were all pulled out via forceps. Her husband waited in the waiting room. Her youngest baby (1968) was over 8lbs and was born blue because they had trouble getting him out. He spent a few scary days in an incubator.

It is frightening to read about this period of labor and delivery. Many women were completely traumatized and humiliated. Fathers were excluded, and laboring women didn’t know they had a choice. Often they didn’t. The natural birth movement hadn’t gained momentum where Mom-mom was giving birth.

Fortunately, Mom-mom has an indifferent attitude about the births. She says, “I would just wake up and say, ‘what did I have?'” When I asked her if she would have wanted it differently, she shrugs and says, “That’s just how it was back then.” But I can’t help but feel like she was cheated out of something very important.

Reflecting on my own birth, it saddens me that she missed the moment her babies were born. She didn’t get to see them naked, covered in vernix, take their first breath or hear their first cry. She woke up (who knows how long later) and was handed a swaddled baby- here you go, another girl.

To top it off, doctors had parents convinced that “formula” (if you can even call it that) was superior to breastmilk. All of Mom-moms babies were formula fed. Check out this 1950’s commercial on YouTube.

Nothing like a nice can of carnation sugar to jump start a newborn’s immune system! Yummy!

Obviously, in 2013, we know better. We know that breast is best, and formula has come a long, long way. We know that women need to be alert and help push. But honestly, how much better is birth these days?

A trademark of 1950s birth was convenience and coercion. But those two words still apply, and women need to be informed. There are too many doctors who perform c-sections out of convenience. These surgeries are not without risk! If you are pregnant, you need to know these risks.

Doctors may say, “Your hips are too small,” or, “your baby is too big to fit,” before you are even in labor. No doctor can look at you and know these things. If your doctor says that to you, it’s time to switch care providers.

Ladies, we have the privilege of the Internet now, so please do your L&D research. You should know what continuous electronic fetal monitoring (EMF) is, and if it is something you need, want, or don’t want. It’s your choice. I chose intermittent. You should know the risks of getting an epidural. Do you want an IV or a hep-lock? Will you be allowed to eat and drink during labor? You should know your doctor’s and hospital’s c-section rate. Under what circumstances do you consent to an episiotomy?

It’s your choice if you want to decline the routine Hepatitis B vaccine at birth. You should be researching that, as well as the vitamin K injection, delayed cord clamping, and erythromycin eye ointment. You should know why these are standard at birth and if they are right for your baby.

Please don’t let things just happen to your body and your baby. Birth trauma is real and it happens every day. Yes, thank God we have skilled OB’s who perform safe c-sections because this saves lives. It’s okay if you have a c-section, I just want you to actually need or want it. All too often the natural birth process is being meddled with unnecessarily with Pitocin inductions and conveniently scheduled c-sections. If you have to have a c-section you still can request things- please don’t tie my hands down and push the curtain down when you pull my baby out.

Be informed, write a birth plan, and choose your care provider carefully. You may not get the exact birth you’re hoping for, but if you do all these things, you’ll greatly increase your chances of it. Your body, your baby, your choice.

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Mom-mom holding my peanut girl, her 20th great-grandchild.

The Medici Madonna

It’s 10:40am- nap time- and today I am babysitting at the kids’ grandparents house, my first time here. I put the little guy in his crib and took my girl in the next room to get her to go down.

The quickest, easiest, and sometimes only way to get her to sleep at the same time as R is to nurse her while walking around. As I’m pacing, singing, and nursing around this unfamiliar guest room, I spot a glorious sight on the wall. A framed print of the preparatory drawing for the Medici Madonna. I’m not the only one breastfeeding in this room!

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I think it’s important to note that she is not wearing a cover, and that the baby looks to be a year old. In the actual sculpture, the child looks more like a two year old.

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The statue is located outside of a church in Italy. Then it got me wondering what it was like to nurse in public in a country where there are hundreds of pieces of breastfeeding art on display. Sadly, even Italy is beginning to sexualize breasts (although not quite as bad as it is in the US), according to this interesting blog post.

It also reminded me of this post I read recently about the Bible and breastfeeding. It says the Bible references breasts in relation to nursing twice as often than it does about sexuality. So, while yes, breasts can be sexual, let’s not forget their primary and most important function- feeding a child.

There are situations where I am more comfortable using a cover or going somewhere privately. Most of the time I don’t. And really it isn’t because I’m on a crusade to show the world I’m nursing- it’s more like its 90 degrees out, my baby needs to eat, she has refused to let me use a cover since 6 months old, and I’m not traipsing off the beach to waste my gas turning the air on, sitting in the car to nurse because someone might look at me funny. It’s a mother’s choice. If a mom is comfortable to nurse without one, that’s her right.

What disappoints me most is that other young women- even mothers- are often the ones giving disapproving looks. If you’re uncomfortable with your kid- boy or girl- seeing a mom breastfeeding, it’s possibly time for some reflection.

When my girl was 8 weeks old I nannied for another family. The 3 year old boy had a little brother and had seen his mom nursing. When I said it was time for her to eat, he smiled and asked, “is she going to drink from your chest?” Hilarious, but more importantly it was normal to him. I know a bunch of moms whose kids have this normalized view of nursing and to them, I give two thumbs up.

I hope that my daughter will grow up to appreciate her healthy body and that one day she will be blessed to carry and nurse a baby, and not measure her worth by her sexuality. Maybe we should all hang a framed print to remind us that breastfeeding truly is a beautiful work of art.

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Natural Childbirth

DSC_0128WMblogThe primary motivator for choosing to go drug-free in labor was my fear of having a c-section. I read that moving freely during labor and having the least amount of interventions and medications lessened your chances of needing a cesarean. Done. I was more afraid of the epidural needle and major surgery than the pain of labor itself.

Starting at 10 weeks pregnant, I read, read, read, and learned so much about labor, birth, and the psychology of pain, which is so interesting! (Nerd alert).

The more I learned, the more determined I was to not use medical pain relief. It felt like a personal challenge, and I wanted to experience it all. Waterbirth sounded fun. I was excited instead of afraid.

I kind of skipped over the early labor stage. At my last appointment I was nearly 4cm and had my sweep. I went into labor that night- and it wasn’t a guessing game when I felt my first real contraction. I started active labor immediately at 11pm just as I was getting into bed, and it was intense enough that I had to get out of bed and start walking around. My labor was 7 hours (I pushed for 1 of these). Not bad for a first timer! I also attribute my great labor to my doula and husband. I had amazing support. To top it off, one of my best friends/photographer was in the room, so I have amazing birth pictures. If you are thinking about going drug free, don’t just consider a doula, hire one. Do it. You will regret it if you don’t. And a photographer.

It’s ok if you want pain relief! Chances are though, even if you are getting an epidural, you’ll experience some active labor and can benefit from learning relaxation techniques. These can reduce pain and encourage dilation. I prepared myself for the possibility of a c-section and allowed myself to change my mind of pain relief. You just don’t know what’s going to happen.

Your mind can be your best friend or your own worst enemy, especially during labor. If you are fearful and stressed out, your body (and cervix) will tense up. Your doctor will check you and tell you that you aren’t progressing “fast enough” or at all! That will stress you out further and the vicious cycle continues. Meanwhile, you are probably in a lot of pain.

The one thing that really helped me was reminding myself that the contractions weren’t harming my body, that it is pain with a purpose. They were helping me to meet my baby. I handled them one at a time and relaxed in between.

Here is a link to The March of Dimes page on relaxation techniques during labor. You can use these at any point, even if you are planning on getting an epidural. They will help you get there faster! I used progressive muscle relaxation, massage, guided imagery, breathing techniques, hydrotherapy, bounced on a birthing ball, changed positions, and my doula used hip compressions. Whoever is going to be by your side during labor needs to learn the hip compression.

My sense of time was completely warped by 7cm. An hour went by in what felt like minutes. You’d think it would be the opposite, right? It’s your body’s way of helping you cope. When my midwife told me I could get in the water, I was excited. It did help with the contractions, although it didn’t take long before I was ready to call it quits. My doula (who had been doing the amazing hip compressions during contractions) couldn’t physically help squeeze my hips once I was in the bath. They were one on top of the other, no chance to relax in between anymore. Everyone was just watching me work through them, offering supportive words and cold water.

I was starting to feel like I couldn’t do it. I said I changed my mind several times. A contraction would come and I would jolt up onto my knees and rock back and forth in the water. I pleaded to know how much longer, and nobody answered me. Then I felt a pop! And said “my water broke!” The midwife checked me. 9.5cm, I could start pushing after just a couple more! My spirits shot back up- I did it! I made it through transition, which everyone knew I was in by my actions and words, but I myself didn’t recognize while I was going through it.

Pushing was hard work, but it didn’t hurt. It felt like a relief. The only part that hurt for a short time was when her head was actually crowning. I pushed for an hour. When my little girl finally made her entrance, it was the best feeling in the whole world. I know that’s true no matter how your baby enters the world- there is nothing like the moment you get to see your baby’s face after all that waiting!

It was extra special for me to feel like I accomplished something I set my mind to. I imagine it’s a lot like running a marathon- someone prepares mentally and trains hard, and when they finally cross the finish line they feel accomplished and empowered. Pushing your body to its physical limits and overcoming is an amazing feeling. I cannot believe that was almost a year ago. I think about her birth often. I did it for myself, and I can’t wait to do it again.

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