Thursday, April 27, 2006

Beautiful Birth Story

I really haven't been posting as much as I wish I would. This might have to do with the fact that within the last week I have finished a semester, moved, and started another semester!

Anyway, the founder of the birthNETWORK has had really interesting experiences when it comes to giving birth. She wrote the birth story of her last daughter, which also describes her other birth experiences, and she allowed me to post it here. It is long but soooo worth it. Enjoy!

I am still in awe when I consider Thursday, September 9, 2004. “Beautiful…magical,” is how our nine-year-old daughter Bailey described it. And I would add, nothing short of miraculous.

To get the full effect, I should back up ten years to describe a time in my life that was bittersweet.

Of course, there isn’t much that compares to the joy of welcoming a new baby. We were thrilled when Bailey (1995) and Jacob (1998) were born healthy into ours.

But with each pregnancy--after hoping, dreaming and praying--my desire to give birth naturally was met with great disappointment.

Both my first daughter and son were born by “emergency” cesarean section due mainly from my fears and inadequate care.

I had labored with both, 24 and then 18 hours. My daughter Bailey was wedged in a posterior (face up) position after the doctor broke my water. Eyes nearly swollen shut from pushing for two hours and still no baby, I consented to the surgery.

The second c-section was harder because I had done even more “homework” during this pregnancy, confident that a vbac (vaginal birth after c-section) was possible.

But after three hours of pushing I was told my pelvis was too small (this was news to me after years of gynecological exams), so I consented to another c-section.

I now know both of those surgical births were preventable, but at the time, I was left feeling confused: why didn’t natural birth work for me?

Many consoled: be happy, you have a healthy baby, not everyone can have a natural birth. “What would be the point in being a martyr anyway, going through that pain just to have an experience of vaginal birth?” was the judgmental tone I caught from others, pitting my desire for a satisfying journey against my ultimate destination as mother.

I was made to feel guilty and selfish for caring about how my baby was born. But as the rest of the story will tell, one non-profit consumer advocacy group and two children later, I can say with all confidence: it is not selfish to care how women and babies are treated during pregnancy and birth!

After Jacob’s birth, I was determined to help others avoid the experience I had. Because I was pressured by the doctor and midwife to give birth by their protocols, my body shut down (dystocia)—labor “stalled” in an effort to protect me and my baby.

“You better cooperate or your baby could die,” were the last words of the doctor before I consented to surgery.

Eighteen months later, energized by a desire to help others avoid similar experiences, I had gathered four like-minded friends and started a grassroots consumer group called birthNETWORK (see www.birthnework.org), for anyone seeking information and support for healthy pregnancy and birth.

Three months later my husband and I learned we were expecting our third child in the fall of 2000! As my belly grew, so did birthNETWORK. Prospective parents, expectant parents and childbirth professionals gathered monthly to connect and learn more about “mother-friendly” care (see www.motherfriendly.org).


That pregnancy was very different. I chose to forgo conventional care after I learned through birthNETWORK that the most up-to-date research proves that obstetricians are in fact NOT the experts in normal birthing care… midwives are. The U.S. is one of the only industrialized nation NOT choosing midwives over doctors.

I found a caregiver who was fully trained in the science and art of birthing care. She spent a half hour or more with me each visit, instead of the typical five minutes I had gotten with previous providers.

Over the course of the pregnancy, she met my physical AND emotional needs. She told me the pros and cons of various tests and interventions and let us decide on many facets of our care. Her skills and attitude met my husband’s litmus test for safety: she knew all about normal birth and she knew when things were outside her scope.

Having had two previous c-sections did not, as most people assume, risk me out. I am healthy and have a normal pelvis. And as I learned and was soon to see for myself: babies come out! Even big babies, for Aaron, born October of 2000, was my biggest baby yet at 9 lb. 10 oz. My pelvis wasn’t too small after all!

He was born into my arms after four arduous hours of pushing and a lot of help from my midwife. Did I mention he was born in our bedroom? Yes, a vbac at home! “Weren’t you afraid?” many people asked. Never. I was confident in my body’s ability to do what it was designed to do and, for the first time, I had surrounded myself with others who were too.

My determination and choice of caregiver paid off. Sadly, it’s nearly impossible to find an insurer that will pay for this excellent care, even though studies show how good it is for moms and babies. Though it required saving and sacrifice, our care was well worth the out-of-pocket expense.

So when my husband and I learned we were expecting our fourth child sometime in late summer 2004, we started putting money aside for our next homebirth.

Our children (Bailey, 9; Jacob, 6 and Aaron, 3) enjoyed watching me grow and feeling their baby brother or sister move. We chose not to have an ultrasound and did not know the gender. They patiently waited for this child to be born. I reveled in the joy of it all, treasuring this as most probably my last pregnancy.

Preparations were in place, my birth kit ready and midwife on alert. We had begun our home school year in late August knowing we would be pleasantly interrupted at any time. The anticipation was so exciting…any moment the birthday party would begin!

The morning of September 9 started like most weekdays: my best friend Suzi and I went for our one-mile walk at 5:30 a.m. Though I had been slowing down, I kept up pretty good that day. When I returned, my husband Scott was getting ready to leave for work.

As I had been saying for two weeks now, “Today might be the day!” I did add: “Don’t be surprised if I call you to come home.” Little did he know the surprise that would await him upon arriving home later that day.

After he left, I went downstairs to do some e-mail. As I sat there, I felt labor begin. I heard Jacob’s feet shuffling around upstairs looking for me. We went back to my bed and cuddled for 45 minutes until I heard Aaron wake up, “I want Mommy!”

I had been having regular contractions—definitely active labor now because it was getting harder to lie still during them. “Please go tell Bailey to get Aaron,” I asked Jacob. “Mommy can’t…the baby is going to come today.”

Jacob ran excitedly to his sister who quickly roused when she realized that something big was happening. All three came into my room to find me pacing.

Around 7:50 a.m., I called Scott and Bridgett, the midwife. I also called Suzi and my cousin Debbie who planned to be at the birth. They were all on the way.

Ten minutes later I realized how fast everything was going—waves every two to three minutes—and I began to get shaky. I called Bridgett again, “I want to see your face soon,” I told her.

At 8:15, on my knees with my head hanging over the sink, I had an unmistakable urge to push. I then moved directly to the bed onto my hands and knees, opening my legs wide. The next contraction came and a power within surged, causing me to bear down automatically.

Bailey became aware that I was pushing the baby out. Upset, she asked, “Mom, can’t you wait for Daddy?!”

“No, Bailey. I can’t stop this,” I answered.

“But I’m afraid,” she replied.

Hanging my head as I rested between pushes I answered, “Honey, you can leave the room if you want to, I’ll understand.” But she stayed. Later she told me she prayed for God to help her. She got towels to put under me and reassured me that I was far enough on the bed for baby to land safely.

“Thank you for being here Bailey,” I confided.

The boys were waiting outside for their Dad to arrive. Aaron paced the deck outside our bedroom and Jacob waited at the end of the driveway.

As the baby began to crown Bailey described, “It doesn’t look like a head, it’s kind of green.” I guessed the baby had passed meconium, a bowel movement, which can be a sign of fetal distress. My brain was on autopilot—it did not allow thoughts or fears to interfere with the work at hand.

Two more pushes and as the head began to emerge Bailey called to her brothers to come see. Aaron yelled to his brother--and the whole neighborhood, “The head’s out Jake!”

Jacob ran into the bedroom, joining his siblings. He reached out and touched what he now describes as a “bald, wet and soft” head about to be born. Because I was on my hands and knees, the baby was facing up, looking at them.

The urge to push was so powerful, but not overwhelming. I felt the baby fill me and move through me. As the head and then the shoulders came out, I felt what many moms describe as “the burn”. It was amazing. I could feel my body stretch to accommodate this life about to be born.

One more push and I felt a wet body slither out of me. “Bloop,” is how Bailey described it as her hands cushioned the baby’s descent to the bed. She immediately cried, “Momma, it’s a girl! I have a sister.” Her dream come true!

I turned around and she handed the baby to me. We swaddled her on my chest with a towel and I wiped the meconium from the corner of her lips. I lay back on some pillows and beheld her. Serenity. Peace. Her quiet eyes opened and we gazed. Love. As birth anthropologist Sheila Kitzinger poetically describes, “it’s as if all the reeling planets come to a sudden stop.” Our star had arrived.

As Scott pulled in the driveway, the boys met him exclaiming, “The baby’s here!” He thought they were teasing, until Bailey ran around the corner with tears streaming down her face, “Daddy, it’s a girl. I have a sister!” He knew this was no joke.

Scott walked in to find me with our daughter Isabella Marie, five minutes new to the world. “Wow,” pretty much sums up his response as he gawked in disbelief. He joined us on the bed in time to help deliver the placenta five minutes later, after Bella began to nurse.

Aaron came running into the bedroom with our kitchen utility scissors. “Time to cut the cord!” he exclaimed. We laughed and told him we’d wait for Bridgett to bring the sterile ones. She arrived to find that she wasn’t the only one who missed the birth due to morning rush hour traffic.

This event generated quite a lot of attention after my mother-in-law called the local media the same morning. Between newspaper, television and radio reports we all got a fair share of our “15 minutes of fame”, but Bailey attracted the most inquiries as the eldest birth attendant.

When asked, “What were you thinking?” she paused and answered that she was glad there was no one there to boss her around and tell her what to do. Immediately, I could relate with that sentiment.

Not that my husband or midwife would have been “bossy”, but that the presence of adults would have changed the chemistry of this birth—literally and figuratively. It’s not hard to imagine how a sterile room full of strangers (residents, nurses, housekeeping) might affect a labor; I now see how it did with my first two births.

How did this labor last less than two hours when the previous ones were 24, 18 and 12 hours respectively?! I figured on at least six hours of labor this time. Obviously, Bella had a different timetable. Completely uninhibited, she and my body did what they were designed to without impediment.

Birth is such a primal instinct, etched into the memory of a woman’s body since the beginning of time. Bella’s birth has made me consider the impact that the presence of others has on a woman’s ability to birth.

At one time, women labored alone or just with other women to attend. But as society became more “advanced” women have come under the influence of “experts”, machines (monitors, etc.) and drugs? My experience of birthing with only a young girl to attend me has profoundly changed how I think about birth.

Certainly, many might say, “You were lucky…but what if something went wrong?” But nothing did. Why is it, I wonder, that something did go “wrong” during my previous births when I was surrounded by people? It’s likely that things go awry more often when people are standing around “just in case” they do.

My heart cries out to the millions of women that have been and will be bossed, rushed, intimidated, humiliated and mistreated during what should be the most special and spectacular moment of their lives. How different birth would be if women really trusted that it is safe because it is, not because someone else makes it so.

I didn’t plan to have an unassisted birth. It just happened that way. God definitely answered our prayers for a safe and swift delivery. The whole family will remember this miraculous birth, but Bailey, Bella and I will share a special bond, greater than anything we could have asked for or ever imagined.

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