Tuesday, February 23, 2010

My Beliefs on Birthing Choices

I got some interesting responses when I posted my sister's story. Some I expected ("Those are familiar feelings!") and some not so much. They are all valid points though, so I wanted to take a couple of minutes to share why I shared her story here, and also to respond to my commenters.
First of all, I had pre-scheduled both her post and my response last weekend, and then my computer crashed for a couple of days (whole other story) anyway, I did not see any of the comments until this morning, otherwise I would have responded sooner.

The natural birthing community often spreads stories of 'painless birth' and even 'orgasmic birth.' They tout birth as a beautiful thing. I do believe that the entry of a child into the world is a beautiful event, but I know that not every woman experiences it as beautiful. I've shared my own stories so you probably know that my take is that "birthing is hard work, although it's totally manageable." My sister doesn't fall into either of those categories though--she has given birth in loving, supportive environments, and done everything 'right' as per being able to have peaceful gentle birth (hypno-classes, good support people, etc), and yet she describes her births with words like "difficult" "suffer" and "excruciating."
I shared her story here because I think it is important to share both sides of the natural birth coin--there are people who seem to glide through it, and others who struggle but still choose it because they deeply believe that it is a healthier, safer, better choice.

Now I want to respond to my commenters.
Liz spoke of being a survivor of childhood sexual abuse and rape. She--after careful thought and consultation with her provider--decided that the intensity of birthing sensations in the vaginal area would probably trigger all kinds of horrific emotions for her. She chose epidurals for her births, and I think that sounds like a very wise choice in her situation. I believe in something which BFW refers to as "the compassionate use of epidural" which is essentially that it's not healthy to make medication the default choice, but it's also not healthy to rule it out entirely, because there is a time and a place for it. I think Liz's situation is certainly an appropriate place for the compassionate use of an epidural.
I know a young woman whose first baby died in utero just a few days before her due date. She had planned to birth naturally, but once they learned of the baby's death she then was coping with the intensity of grief on top of the intensity of birthing. She also chose an epidural. I think this was another appropriate and compassionate use of epidural.
Another woman I know has twice tried to birth naturally, and both times had a very long, very painful labor with minimal dilation, and both times has ended up having to transfer to the hospital for a c-section. She is now expecting her third child, and has decided that this time she is going to try laboring with an epidural, to see if the reduction of pain will allow her to relax enough to dilate and give birth vaginally. Again, I see an appropriate use of an epidural.
Where I have a problem with epidurals is when the woman doesn't take the time to consider all the options. When she isn't willing to consider trying. When the intervention becomes the default and no one stops to question it. Liz concluded her comment with this thought: "I shouldn't ever have to justify my reasons for choosing to have an epidural. But I share the reason for my decision because it's a different point of view and might shed some light on the deeply personal experience that is birthing." and she's right. She should not have to justify her reasons to anyone except herself. But there again that is the key--she does have reasons for her choice, it was not just going with the flow or doing what everyone does, it was a carefully-thought-out choice. It's true that it is a deeply personal decision, but I (we) share our stories not so much to condemn as to stimulate critical thought. Because "Birth is not merely a means to an end, it is an event that [is] imprinted on a woman's life forever. The memories of their children's births are among the most vivid memories a woman will ever have."  So these choices should not be made lightly.

I also want to respond to Nicole. As usual, she has some perceptive thoughts to share. Thoughts that may be hard to hear, but which are valid all the same. She thought that the post seemed self-righteous, judgmental, and unkind. "This is exactly the attitude that bothers me about some women who choose to give birth naturally," she wrote. "I've given birth both ways, and I respect other women for whatever they choose to do. My ego or sense of self-worth is simply not based on how I chose to birth my babies." Her comment is a good reminder that no matter how strongly we may feel on a given topic, no matter how confident we are in our own views of the issue, the way we express our message is going to influence people at least as much as the message itself. Yes, I do genuinely believe that it is better to birth without medication. I don't see it as a choice between two equals (just as I feel about breastfeeding vs formula feeding). I do believe that there are valid exceptions to the rule, but that they are few and far between. But we must also remember that, as they say, "presentation is everything."


Eternal Lizdom said...

You know... I don't feel the need to justify but boy do I appreciate your reasoning and reassurance. I'm tearing up. And I love the quote about our birth memories. I am very pleased that mine are very positive and that birthing my children was a life defining experience for me and that those moments when I first saw my babies are forever etched very deeply in my mind, soul, and heart.

ChristinaB said...

I appreciate your post. I too think that the truly important thing is being informed and making the choice that is best for you. I have had two wonderful medicated births and two wonderful natural births and I wouldnt change any of them =0}

Thomasin said...

"Presentation is everything." Indeed. And when you feel emotions when discussing your choices it can be an added difficulty to present your thoughts in a manner that appears acceptable to those of different emotions/viewpoints/beliefs.

When talking about birth, I do wish I had heard words other than "Well, at least it all worked out" and "At least everything was handled okay" when it was shared that, rather than the unmedicated home birth I'd planned I was (essentially forced) into a c-section when my baby turned breech late term. Yes, I was happy to have a healthy baby. But I couldn't find many sympathetic to the fact that I'd had a surgery I didn't believe I'd needed. I believe my body would have worked and pushed my dear frank breech baby out safely. I didn't even get the opportunity to try.

But my disappointment at not being able to use my body in the way I believe it was designed to work--no proof to the contrary, anyway--has received few "I understands," even in the natural birthing world (I've heard many a "Why didn't you just free-birth like I did"s and "Why didn't you drive the several hours north and paid for a new midwife if it was so important to you"s) but especially/definitely not from those who are more familiar with the hospital and comfortable with medical interventions during birth. I feel a separation from both groups, as though I made bad choices/held foolish notions either way you look at it.

I don't want to make anyone feel badly about their position on birth. But I would also like to be understood when I say it was disappointing, having my c-section. Not tramatic, not horrific, but disappointing.

I suppose we always have time to learn from each other and figure out how to discuss our feelings. But yes, it's a struggle when you're discussing birth.

See... it's a struggle now! I'm rambling... Sorry. ;-)

Becky said...

I think you said it all when you said that a choice should have a good reason behind it. Everyone has their own reasons; as long as a woman has carefully considered everything (or more simply, just used her brain a little!) she probably made a good choice for her.

I've done it both ways - my first with an epidural because I kept getting told that childbirth was "uncomfortable." So when the labor pains started, I totally freaked out. Hence the epidural. With Millie, though, I went natural until the point where physical pain trumped mental power. Of course by then it was too late, so I went natural. I felt great afterward, though!

nicole said...

Mommybee, thanks for validating my thoughts, and not blowing me off completely. I definitely admire women who choose to birth naturally, because I personally agree that this is the best choice under most circumstances. But I just feel strongly that we should never look down on, or feel superior to a woman who chooses differently. Just like I feel that breastfeeding is CLEARLY the best option for bonding with and nourishing a baby, there are so many cases where women either haven't had the opportunity to be educated like I have, or who have different circumstances than me, and so I have no right to look down on them or condemn them for their choice, no matter how strong our convictions are.

My mom has always been a great example to me of love and charity... when I was younger, and would be judgemental of someone, my mom would always say, "Nicole... JUST LOVE THEM." Those three words still pop in my head when I feel the urge to judge or look down on someone else. We just simply don't understand the experiences of other people, and are simply not capable of condemning another person. Only Heavenly Father knows the thoughts and intents of their heart. So anyway, I know you know all this. :) I'm rambling too now... but I just feel passionately about this issue. Thanks for bringing up this interesting topic!!

s'me said...

I had an epidural with the Adorable Child (I must get to his story again) and it was suggested by the midwife as I had been in hard and established labour for 10 hours by this point. He was eventually Ventoused out of me 7 hours later, after 3 hours of pushing.

I think I was amazed at my own body, for what it wouldn't do. I had read the birth books, practiced optimal positioning, knew what I wanted to do, and yet, I hit into labour and I sat cross legged on the bed, refusing to move. REFUSING!

My body just wasn't having it.

Is it enough to say that there was a happy ending? I don't know. tbh. My partner died 7 months ago, so there is unlikely to be another opportunity to find out if I can do it the way I wanted to. But thankyou for your posts.

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