Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Understanding childbirth = childbirth understanding

A couple of weeks ago at my husband’s company picnic at the zoo, 35 weeks pregnant

“And now it’s time for me to tell the story of my third birth. My pregnancy was wonderful, but I had an unusual episode of heavy bleeding at about 12 weeks.  I now believe this was correlated to the fact that I was unknowingly carrying twins and lost one of them. This is probably why I had excess amniotic fluid, so that my midwives thought my baby was several pounds larger than he actually was.  I took the matter of choosing midwives quite casually – after all, third births are supposed to be easy, right?  But my labor was far from that – it began with the release of my ample fluids, and my baby (smaller than my others) wedged down firmly in my pelvis in a posterior, deflexed, and asynclitic (cockeyed) position.  I dilated to 5 centimeters in just a few hours, but then got stuck at 6 centimeters.  Of course, I tried every position and trick I could think of.  Hours went by. I remember my feeling of despair when, in knees-chest position, I became aware that my midwives had my textbook open and were trying to figure out how to manually rotate my baby!

But he was too high to reach anyway.  As contractions continued, spasms began in my lower back, with pain on one side shooting all the way to my shoulder and down my leg – a sure sign that my baby was not putting uniform pressure on my cervix, which I knew would keep me from dilating further.  As the pain became constant and more and more overwhelming, even between contractions, I heard myself say, ‘I want to go to the hospital.’  I could barely believe I was saying this, but I knew the score.

When we got there, my blessed backup doctor, Charles Bookoff, came into the room, kneeled down to look into my eyes, and said, ‘Tell me what you want, I’ll do anything you want.’  I said, ‘I need Pitocin to bring my baby down…and I want a low-dose epidural, one-third dose.’  With that, I could still feel the contractions, but now it was just back labor like with my second birth at home – no more nerve pain.  I started moaning loudly with each contraction, and then I found my rhythm, found my spot, could feel my baby coming down, and realized that I was on my way. I dilated completely, and squatted and pushed my baby out.  His heartbeat slowed while I was doing this, but no one dared even suggest an episiotomy.  He needed light resuscitation, but soon he was in my arms, and I knew I had barely escaped a cesarean.

The hardest part was the aftermath, the fallout in my community.  I certainly learned who my friends were and were not.  I vividly remembered a phone call from one of my colleagues just days after the birth.  She told me she had heard all about it, and when I asked what she’d heard, she replied, ‘That you had back labor and went to the hospital for an epidural.’  I began to explain the complexity of what actually happened but then realized it was pointless.  People make judgments if they want to, and there was no use in being defensive.  Later, I wrote and article about my experience for Midwifery Today (‘Passing Judgment’) that addressed the unknowable aspects of birth and my growing understanding of it as a *Blood Mystery.”

* “In many indigenous cultures, the perinatal period is considered a rite of passage steeped in mystery and power…let’s begin by reframing birth as a key physiologic and spiritual milestone in women’s lives….” (Orgasmic Birth page 116)

Excerpt from Orgasmic Birth by Elizabeth Davis and Debra Pascali-Bonaro, 2010

More on this fantastic book to come, and exactly what the title means, but I just wanted to share one of the author’s birth stories, since so often women judge, disparage and humiliate one another for how and where they have given birth.  Maybe the medicalization behind birthing in America hasn’t only affected our physical bodies but our emotional and mental states, as well.  Very dissatisfied with both of my previous births, especially my second one, I definitely relate to this birth story and the author’s feelings about being stigmatized and misunderstood.  New knowledge has helped to prepare me for a vastly different experience this time around, but I also know that I’m not naïve and things can take different twists than we anticipate.  My prayer is that my birth experience this time is for my daughter and I, something healing and powerful, and I will never let it be anything that needs explanation or allow someone else to chip down the beautiful, God-ordained journey of birth.


  1. I love seeing how the Lord is changing your heart toward childbirth. You are going to enjoy this experience SO much Kelly! (maybe even to the point of wanting to do it a few more times...hehehe! We know Kelly can't REALLY ever say "never"...LOL) Diving deep into educating myself on childbirth has been one of the greatest things I've ever done!

  2. Kelly, we don't know each other, but I have very much enjoyed reading your blog over the years. I'm expecting my 8th baby (in Nov) and yes, can attest that each birth is completely different. I am so thankful that God protected you and your little one! Birth is a wonderful process, but can be scary at times. I admire you and look forward to seeing pics and more stories of your sweet family.

  3. This excerpt concerns me; if these women know so much about drugs /medicine/midwifery, why not give birth in a tree unaided?

    It is grossly irresponsible to even suggest that an episotomy is to be frowned upon. My duaghter is a UK midwife of some years standing and has skillfully repaired planned and unplanned perineal cuts/tears. She has related many instances of fourth degree tears involving the anal sphincter because women wanted to experience the "natural" route. Despite careful repair, these patients suffer faecal incontinence and even worse sex lives.

    Have a birth plan by all means, but take advice from professionals.Your rear end will thank you every time you visit the bathroom or cough/sneeze.

  4. Dear Anonymous,

    Thanks for your response. I think that's fantastic that your daughter is a midwife! Are you guys in the United States or the UK like your daughter is? The American maternity system is different than other countries with only 8% of births even being attended by midwives here. It's very medicalized and interventions for things that don't even warrant concern are routine here. Trust me, I know from two previous unsatisfactory birth experiences (both where I experienced horrific tearing due to my doctor being late and not arriving until at least 30 minutes after I crowned...each time). While even a natural route of childbirth can cause perineal injury, it's par for the course, and no one's birth is "perfect" or "flawless". My point in sharing an excerpt from this great book is to illustrate the new understandin that I now have - which I didn't allow myself to look into before out of fear - regarding our bodies' natural ability to give birth to our children. The natural part isn't the midwife, the lack of drugs or the home/birth center environment. The natural aspect of birth is understanding that it's normal - the pain, all of it - and it's been done for generations upon generations. Women need to trust their bodies and themselves above all else, which in my opinion includes the professionals taking care of them. That may sound controversial, but my former obstetrician never told me half of what I've since learned about childbirth, and I've only hit upon the tip of the iceburg.

  5. Mea culpa

    Please forgive me. I re-read my post and what a grouch!Yes we live in the UK, my daughter is the light of mty life as your girls are yours.

    I understand the USA has medicalised birth and I wish I could send my girl over to gently deliver your baby.UK midwifes are very highly qualified, autonomous practitioners who complete many tasks that doctors would do elsewhere in the world. The trend in the UK is for community midwives and midwife led units for normal births, whatever normal is!

    My daughter had an experience however, unecessary and unhelpful for your current state, which rattled her to the core and she nearly left the profession; hence our mini campaigns - well meaning but sometimes rash.

    You are what my daughter would call" petite, fold you up in her pocket" type of lady and need careful care.

    I wish you well and will pray for you,

    A contrite and grumpy Catholic mummy