Monday, August 27, 2007

All substance, no style

American women are dying in childbirth at the highest rates in decades according to a new study that was all over the newspapers last week.

No one is sure if maternal obesity or increasing Caesarean rates are to blame, but after reading the article I know one thing for sure.

Having a baby is serious business.

That might seem obvious to some people, but I didn’t really believe it until I endured 20 hours of labour followed by an emergency C-section.

You see, I had planned a home birth with midwives - groovy and drug-free. I wasn’t the least bit scared about going the natural route as two of my best girlfriends had just had wonderful experiences birthing their first babies that way.

But me? Not so much. I was 8 centimeters dilated when someone realized that Graham was coming bum first and that it was his tailbone and not his head that was about to emerge. Luckily I was in the hospital at that point and surgery was able to provide a happy outcome to what could easily have been an unmitigated disaster.

I shudder to think what could have happened to us had I insisted on sticking to the ideal birth that I had envisioned.

Since Graham’s birth I have come to see that original vision for what it was: narcissism. Obviously not everyone who chooses a home birth is a narcissist (quite the contrary) but in my case, I think it was a way to reinforce an image of myself as strong, fearless and unflappable.

I have always been a bit of an adventure junkie. Whether it’s maneuvering a float plane out of a tiny lake or camping in Africa, I have gobbled up new experiences like they were candy. When I contemplated labour, I expected that it would be another rough and raw accomplishment that I would sail through with grit and style.

I feel embarassed to admit that today, but I don’t think I am alone. I have a friend whose very accomplished and educated sister went into labour and, eschewing hospitals, drove several hours to a rural commune where “holistic” practitioners assured her they could deliver her breech baby naturally. After untold suffering, she was finally rushed to a hospital where the baby was born healthy via an emergency Caesarean.

Women today are giving birth later in life and many are doing so after already boasting varied and impressive achievements. To many of these alpha females a drug-free labour, endured stoically and without intervention, is viewed as the highest order of accomplishment: anything less, if not a failure, is certainly a capitulation.

My dad always used to say that having kids knocks the corners off a person. In my case I had a few corners rounded on the very first day. Giving birth was not the spiritually transformative experience I expected it to be: it was a scary, heavily medicalized procedure.

But in the end, it was just the first day in the rest of our lives.

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Laura said...

OMG - we are kindred spirits! I can totally relate to your post. My experiences are so similar to yours - from the natural birth plan, to long labour then c-section right to the camping in Africa!!!...and your words really hit home. I am currently coming to terms with Madigan being our last baby...and part of me has been wrestling with the fact that none of our births were the spiritual, emotional and non-mendical births that I craved and desired. It is difficult to come to terms with this fact - but like you said, it is but the first day of the rest of our lives together. THANK YOU.

BlondeMomBlog (Jamie) said...

I am going to comment (looking through your archives!) ;)

Any way, I was always planning on an epidural...I am a wimp...but I had NO idea I would end up having an emergency c-section with my first daughter in 2002. I lost so much blood I almost had to have a blood transfusion. With my second daughter I did the planned c-section per my OBGYN’s advice and it was so much easier. I wasn't in tremendous/freak-out kind of pain. I wasn’t up all night laboring or trying to push her out for almost three hours until I was about to pass out from exhaustion. I was able to nurse both of them, but in retrospect I realize now how hard being in labor and then having surgery was on my body. Birthin’ babies is serious business!

Lisa said...

What a beautiful post. I was lucky to have two easy labors, but did not have easy pregnancies. With Goosey I went into full-blown labor at 33 weeks. Thank God for modern medicine - they were able to keep her "baking" so her lungs could continue to develop and she could be the healthy sweet baby she is. Inbetween the girls I had two miscarriages, so when I got pregnant with Lulu I had progesterone supposetories that I had to take daily for the first trimester. Again, not the fairy tale, but who cares when the ending turns out as perfectly as it did ;)

RiverPoet said...

DMD - I'm so glad you got to a hospital! The outcome otherwise would probably have been very disastrous. Lots of women die around the world every year from a lack of obstetric care during pregnancy and during birth. It's sad, really.

I think that we of this generation simply tried to swing the other way from what our mothers/grandmothers had - such heavily medicalized births. None of us wanted to be "knocked out" only to wake up and find that we were too groggy to enjoy our new baby. I had an epidural with my daughter (because they thought she was going to have to be a C-section; my body wasn't doing what it was supposed to know how to do!) and with my son I had no drugs at all. I had both of them in the hospital, though, and it was okay. Like you said. It was just the first day of many days I'd have with them.

Peace - D

Anonymous said...

we hired a midwife to assist us in our homebirth with our second daughter. Let me just say...she didn't make it. You can read the post, "Babies, memories" in my side bar. And yes, it was narcissistic on my part, as well. I know that now. I nearly died during labor, along with her.
I've gone on, by the grace of God, to have two more children. But yes, birth is by no means simple and easy in the USA.
Blessings and love to you.

Anonymous said...

Like Laura, I read this post and felt like we have a lot more in common than I realized. I've camped in Africa and have labored drug-free for 12 hours before being rushed into an emergency C-section.

Ethan wasn't descending into the birth canal due to be tethered by the umbilical cord, which was wrapped 3 times (and knotted) around his little neck. The OB told me many months later that we had angels in the delivery room that evening.

I love the brute honesty in all of your writing, but the comment on narcissism as it relates to this topic had me howling! I have LOTS of women friends who are all about the hypno-birthing and who say giving birth is not a medical procedure. To them I say, you got lucky and had an easy birth. End of story. If I'd tried to do it at home Ethan would not be with us today.