By Emily Cherkin, originally published on StartEmpathy.org, reprinted with permission from Ashoka.
This morning, it snowed in Seattle. And it reminded me of the night Max was born, almost exactly five years ago, when it was sunny and rainy and windy and then, in the middle of the night, when we were upside down about time and date, we looked out the window and saw snow swirling around. I don’t remember much about those early days and hours, but I do remember the snow.
Five years ago, newly pregnant, my husband and I were full of expectation and wonder at how much our lives were about to change. Like many mothers-to-be, I was fixated on the labor and delivery part of this journey. I felt somewhat confident the newborn challenges would be manageable, but I knew the labor and birth were all on me. I diligently took the birth classes, read the books, talked to our midwife and hired a doula.
The one piece of information from our birth class I recalled in the middle of a long and arduous labor was the phrase: “Transition is usually the shortest and most intense phase of labor, lasting about 30 minutes on average.” When I arrived at the hospital birthing center, 24 hours into labor with Max and nearly fully dilated, I heard the nurses’ whispers: “Transition; she’s in transition.” Five hours later, I was still “in transition” and nothing I had learned in class seemed applicable anymore. It would be another seven hours before Max would make his appearance in the world. Continue reading Tomorrow is the Last Day He is Four→
How do you heal from a traumatic birth experience? How do you put it behind you and find the inner strength to not only move on but to decide to do it all again? Could I and should I risk another traumatic birth? I asked myself these questions so many times. After watching the mothers at the mall with their new babies and toddlers running around, mommyhood the second time around seemed like the most wonderful and amazing next step to take in my life. I pushed the memories of my son’s difficult posterior birth to the back of my mind and decided it was time.
I became pregnant in November 2008 and happily began our second pregnancy. My husband Drew used chiropractic and craniosacral therapy with me to help balance my body and keep any pains to a minimum. I also saw massage therapist and craniosacral therapist Maureen Murray to assist with healing my tailbone injury from Nathan’s birth. Carrying a big belly on my small, barely five-foot-tall frame was not easy. I had forgotten how hard it was to function with a pregnant belly! As the months went on, I became increasingly excited and anxious about the eventual birth of our second child, a daughter we would name Gabriella Faye. We prepared her room, prepared our son for the addition of another child in our lives, and happily bought up all the pink and lavender booties and onesies we wanted. Continue reading Healing Birth, The Second Time Around→
After learning about modern medical birth in a college course, I knew for sure that I would one day attend a birth center for a drug-free, midwife-attended natural birth. Over the years, I held numerous other certainties about my future, only to find repeatedly that the universe had different plans for me. My future perfect birth was no exception.
No Birth Centers in Ireland
For starters, my husband and I live in Ireland, and when I became pregnant and began planning for the birth, I found that there are no birth centers here. Although I wholeheartedly support homebirth, I did not feel ready for it myself, not for my first birth, so far away from home and everything familiar. I settled on a local maternity hospital, certain that I would have to fight “the system” for the birth I desired.
Though I started with a big chip on my shoulder, my opinion slowly began to change over time. My doctor was patient, providing thoughtful rationale when we disagreed and willing to honor my wishes when they were not strictly against policy. I think she recognized my need to feel in control of the unknown. On top of that, the hospital was simply more encouraging of natural birth and breastfeeding than I anticipated.
I soon decided to stop creating problems where they might not exist and focus instead on enjoying the rest of my pregnancy, taking a natural birthing workshop with my husband, listening to Hypnobirthing CDs, reading inspirational birth stories, and visualizing my own peaceful birth experience.
Induction at 17 Days Overdue
I had not factored induced labor into my plan, but I was resigned to the idea by the time I was 17 days overdue and showing no signs of impending delivery. A few hours into the induction process, I was happily wandering the hospital corridors, chatting to my husband and having very mild sensations, which I naively believed to be genuine contractions. When my doctor saw the smile on my face, she immediately administered more medication. Within 30 minutes, I could not talk through contractions; 30 minutes after that, I was nearly out of my mind with excruciating pain.
Nothing could have prepared me for the intensity of induced labor. Everything I had learned about breathing, visualizing, and relaxing was useless as my entire body stiffened like iron with contractions coming less than a minute apart. The longest hours of my life slowly ticked by as I collapsed and sobbed on my husband’s chest between surges, desperate for labor to end.
My doctor broke my water late in the day, which seemed to stimulate my body’s natural labor process. The sensations started changing, becoming more like waves than spasms, and my panic began to dissipate.
When I arrived in the delivery room, I felt slightly more in control but so absolutely exhausted that I asked for an epidural.
It felt like heaven when the epidural took effect. Though my body shook uncontrollably with fatigue, I felt relaxed. Despite the medication, I could sense the urge to push once I reached full dilation. I had once thought a roomful of people shouting at me to push might be intrusive and distracting. In reality, the forced encouragement helped tremendously. After an hour, just as I was reaching my limit, the nurse smiled and told me to reach down and feel the baby’s head. This inspired the final surge of strength I needed to push him free.
A Day to Celebrate, Not to Grieve
My first few moments with Colin must have been like those of so many women throughout time — the surreal feeling of meeting a new and yet very familiar being, a sense of “Oh, it’s you!” As we quietly gazed at each other, none of the events leading up to the birth entered my consciousness; my full awareness was on the tiny miracle I joyfully held in my arms.
Although Colin’s birth was replete with medical interventions and very far from my original vision, I do not feel angry or bitter. Maybe labor would have been tolerable if hospital policy allowed a doula to be present or maybe I could have avoided induced labor if I had taken the route of homebirth with a midwife. Perhaps the upcoming delivery of my second son will be the natural birth I have hoped for.
We deserve something better than our modern medical birth paradigm, and we should continue to work for changes that honor women and babies and reflect trust in the birthing process. However, rather than focusing on what I wish had happened and what went wrong with my own experience, I am grateful for everything that went right on that extraordinary day.
By Rita Brhel, managing editor and attachment parenting resource leader (API)
One in three women (31.8%) in America is now giving birth to their children via a Cesarean section. The highest rate in history for this nation, it is also much higher than the recommendation by the World Health Organization of 5% to 10% — not to mention that the rate of Cesarean sections in the U.S. has increased by 50% since 1996.
The U.S. began at 4.5% in 1965, the first year Cesarean section rates were measured here. At 15% or higher, Cesarean section rates indicate that this procedure is being done unnecessarily, according to a study highlighted by the article “Why the National U.S. C-Section Rate Keeps Rising” on www.childbirthconnection.org.
The article outlines several reasons for the increasing rate of this procedure. But, first, there are two widespread myths about the rise in Cesarean sections to counter:
The number of women asking for an elective Cesarean section, without a medical reason, is NOT increasing; and
The number of women who genuinely need a Cesarean section is NOT increasing.
In a 2005 survey by Childbirth Connection, it was found that only one in 1,600 respondents in the U.S. reported she had a planned Cesarean section with no medical reason, at her own request. The article cited a study that revealed this rate to be comparable with other countries.
Reasons given for the higher rates include women waiting to give birth when they’re older and more prone to developing medical complications, and more women giving birth to multiples. But the article reported that researchers show that the rate of Cesarean sections is going up for all women regardless of their age, health problems, race/ethnicity, or number of babies they are having.
What this means is that the reason behind the increasing rate of Cesarean sections is not on the part of the woman but rather lies with changing standards in the medical community. According to the Childbirth Connection survey, one in four respondents who had a Cesarean section said they received pressure from a medical professional to have the procedure.
According to the Childbirth Connection, here are the true reasons behind the increasing rates of Cesarean sections in the U.S.:
Lower priority is being given to non-surgical methods of correcting potential birthing complications, such as turning a breech baby or encouraging labor progress through positioning and movement and comfort measures.
Higher rates of labor intervention methods that make Cesarean sections more likely, including induction, getting an epidural early or without a high dose of oxytocin, and use of continuous electronic fetal monitoring.
Fewer hospitals and/or medical doctors are willing to deliver a Vaginal Birth After Cesarean section, or VBAC. In fact, only one out of ten women who have had a previous Cesarean section has access to medical facilities and/or doctors who would allow a VBAC.
The overall attitude toward Cesarean sections is that this procedure is no longer considered the major surgery that it is.
Lower awareness of the increased risks associated with Cesarean sections over vaginal births, such as infection, surgical injury, blood clots, emergency hysterectomy, and intense and longer-lasting pain in recovery in mothers in the short term. In the long term, mothers are more likely to have ongoing pelvic pain, bowel blockage, infertility, and injury during future surgeries. Future pregnancies are more likely to be ectopic, result in uterine rupture, or have problems with placenta previa, accretia, and abruption. Babies born by Cesarean section are more likely to have surgical cuts, breathing problems, difficulty with breastfeeding, and childhood asthma.
More doctors fear malpractice claims and lawsuits.
More doctors are receiving incentives to practice more efficiently. Planned Cesarean sections can organize hospital work, office work, and the medical personnel’s personal lives. In addition, average hospital charges are much greater for Cesarean sections than for vaginal births, which mean more profit is gained by the Cesarean section.
About Childbirth Connection Childbirth Connection is a national U.S. not-for-profit organization founded as the Maternity Center Association in 1918. Its mission is to improve the quality of maternity care through research, education, advocacy, and policy by promoting safe and effective, evidence-based maternity care and providing a voice for childbearing families. For more information, go to www.childbirthconnection.org.
Connecting with our children for a more compassionate world.