Saturday, November 17, 2012

Birthin' Babies

I've been rolling around a post in my head for awhile about my desire for a natural, unmedicated childbirth, but haven't quite gotten to it.  But the fact that I've been tearing up over a stranger's pending birth experience since yesterday has inspired me to finally get this out.  This internet stranger, MODG, has been hoping and trying fervently for a VBAC (vaginal birth after c-section), and despite her best efforts through diet, acupuncture, etc, it looks like she will have to have a scheduled Cesarean next week.  Her heartbreaking account and expression of her desire for a natural childbirth really resonated with me, and while it really captured my feelings, I still want to articulate it for myself.

(This could be a long one!)

For some people, the term "natural childbirth" means that just that the baby comes out the "natural" way - the same route it went in.  For others, it also implies limited or no medical intervention, like pain medication, IVs, or, for lack of a better term, baby extraction devices (forceps or vacuum).  Some people call the latter one "natural, unmedicated childbirth," or "NUCB" if you're in an internet forum.  For the sake of this post, when I say "natural" childbirth, I mean the second definition.

I've had a strange fascination with natural childbirth ever since reading my friend Amy's very non-graphic account over five years ago.  She talked about labor being intense and painful, yes, but productive and ultimately awesome.  I thought, "I want to experience that." Since then, I can't get enough of labor stories, even graphic ones.  I want to hear it all. I find them wondrous and inspiring.

I realize not everyone feels this way.  I have one friend who is even bothered that the baby comes out of the vagina ("Why does it have to come out of the vagina?  Why not, say, your arm?"), and it's not uncommon for people to start fidgeting as soon as you get past talking about water breaking.  I've overheard people say that going through an unmedicated childbirth is downright foolish, questioning why you would do such a thing in this day and age.  Once, I had another woman, a recent new mom, ask me if I was going to have a natural childbirth.  Thinking I had found a kindred spirit, I smiled and nodded enthusiastically, saying, "Yes, I'd like to!"  She laughed and said, "Oh! I was just kidding.  But that's great, though!"

Don't get me wrong, there are plenty of supportive people.  And I also have a few friends who have had very natural childbirths who have been wonderful resources and inspiration.

So, here is why it is important to me to have a natural childbirth.

First and foremost, I want to be there, completely there, for my child's birth.  I've carried this baby for the past 8 months, and I'm going to raise it to adulthood.  I want so much to be a part of his or her entrance to the world.  When my mom gave birth to me 34 years ago, she laid in the hospital bed, pushed three times, then heard someone say, "I see hair!" That's when the medication kicked in and she passed out.  Now, they don't use that type of anesthesia anymore, so I know that wouldn't happen.  But I don't want to be just awake; I want to experience the whole thing.  As I've read in several birthing books and articles, I want birth to be something I do, not something that happens to me.

Also, in light of this past election year's "war on women," and reproductive rights, I resent that women have been made to believe by the media and medical profession that we cannot handle labor on our own.  Obviously, medical intervention is wonderful and essential when necessary - just look at how the infant mortality rate has dropped in the past 100 years.  I am thankful that medical intervention will be available if I need it, and that it has helped some people I care about have safe pregnancies and births.  But I believe that, in general, women's bodies are built to deliver babies.  We've been doing it for thousands of years.  So, I find it insulting that we've been made to believe that, even if everything is normal, we won't be able to bear it.  Now, if a woman chooses to ease her pain with an epidural or other medication, I fully respect that - I just wish all women felt empowered to make the choice, and not feel like it is the only way possible to give birth.

So, I guess a part of it for me is also the challenge.  Some people want to run a marathon or climb Mount Everest.  I hate running and am scared of heights, so I know those are two things I will never want to do.  However, I respect and admire people who do.  And, if someone feels that way about natural childbirth, I'm cool with that.  But this is a personal challenge that I have chosen to take on, and it's intensely personal and means a lot to me.   For as much that has changed in our world since humans began reproducing, there is a sense of connectedness to women around the world and through time when you think that we all give and have given birth the same way for thousands of years.

Will I be upset if I don't get to have a natural childbirth?  I hope not.  I know there is a lot I have control over, like doing things now to make the process easier, or refusing pain medication in the hospital.  And I'm working to come to terms with the things I won't have control over.  From what I've read, though, and I believe this is true - it won't even be so much about having the birth I want, but feeling as though I'm an active participant in it.  So, even if I'm disappointed with the decisions we need to make, as long as I'm a part of making them, it will be ok.

I'd like to conclude by borrowing MODG's conclusion:

"But I wanted to share this with all of you in hopes that we try to understand each other more. Our differences make us interesting and that’s how we learn. This post wasn’t so Jane in Oklahoma cancels her scheduled C section because she is so enlightened now. It’s so Jane stops judging Judy who wants a natural birth and Judy stops judging Jane."


  1. Love it, Tracie! Not judging each other's birth choices and other parenting choices is so important. But oh man, there is a lot of judging out there! So much judging that sometimes people feel judged just by a very general statement. "We haven't used formula" turns into "we haven't used formula, and we're certain that you are a lazy horrible person for doing so." Deep breaths, everyone. And no judgments of other people's choices.

    I hope you have a wonderful natural birth. And I hope you feel like you can participate in giving birth. Being there and choosing the right path for you makes all the difference in the world.

  2. I hope you are able to have the birth you want. I hope that, if things change during labor, that you still feel in control of your decisions.


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