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Something that is uniquely female

What is it about childbirth that raises women’s hackles and brings out the momma bird in us all?

A recent post on Motherlode brought up a debate on another website between homebirthers (not to be confused with the Obama-0pposed birthers) and those that believe the hospital is the ideal place to birth (can we call them hospiters? ok maybe not).

This was in addition to a recent CNN article about a woman who chose to give birth at home with a midwife after having three (3!) cesarean sections.

I have a lot of my own thoughts on this, being that I found myself with my own childbirth approach that was surprisingly quite different from how I perceived my general philosophy on life.

Those who knew me as a teenager and college student, wouldn’t say that I was the “crunchy, granola-y” type. In fact, most people would maintain that I was quite the opposite.  I had some friends in college who would literally always follow my name with “Lawng Island” as if my origin clearly conveyed my personality.  The insinuation was that being from Long Island meant high maintenance with a hefty dose of materialism.  And I guess I kinda played that for what it was worth – using it to excuse my extreme phobia of bugs and my general wariness of any outdoorsy type activities.

I mocked those who hugged trees and those that only ate organic.  That just wasn’t me.

Then, I got pregnant with Munchkin #1.  And while I wasn’t running to go camping (much to the dismay of my very outdoorsy husband), I started thinking about childbirth and realized that I was more “granola-y” than I thought.  For some reason, my vision of childbirth hearkened back to the days of ole, where a woman bravely endures the trials of labor, surrounded by women of similar strength and fortitude.

Ok ok… so the tad bit of Long Island in me wouldn’t allow myself to really, sincerely, entertain the idea of giving birth at home, or without the assistance of an OB/GYN (i mean, hey, I went to Harvard. Those degrees mean something to me…!)  But I really wanted to have my baby, as they say, “naturally.”

I went all out – the books, the videos… I practiced squatting (every book says that squatting is the ideal way to birth  your baby, even though i have YET to meet someone who actually delivered that way.), I did my breathing exercises, i even roped my husband into breathing with me. (it worked until i started laughing hysterically, ruining my oh-so-perfect rhythm.

I hired a doula (check out dona.org if you have never heard of a doula) and made it very clear to my dr – NO PAIN MEDS.  I am superwoman.  no epidural. no narcotics. I shall birth my baby using inner strength alone, relying on the fact that surely G-d will spare me the excruciating pain others seem to describe.

Right.  If ever a bubble was popped, it was this one.

In what, looking back, I believe to be a very mismanaged birth there was barely anything natural about it. Things started to go wrong from the beginning.  My doctor was on vacation, the doula we hired came straight from her husband’s birthday party (at a bar), we went in right after Shabbos on no sleep and having not eaten, oh and I never actually went into labor – they broke my water because I was 10 days overdue and then let me labor all night long.

To make a long story short, I was 8.5 cm dilated, they told me to push and I ended up having a c-section after 3 hours of pushing and absolutely no progress.  Official diagnosis: Cephalopelvic Disproportion (CPD). Translation: my baby was too big for my pelvis.

Excuse me??? Have they seen my hips? I have said for years that my extra wide hips were perfect for childbirth. but oh did they fail me.  This was far from the natural, primal, pain breeds endurance labor I was hoping for. I was pretty devastated. And I kept wondering – maybe I just wasn’t strong enough to handle the pain. Maybe if I pushed for another hour I would have had the birth I dreamed about…

Second time around, I prepared like never before.  I read Ina May Gaskin like she was the Federalist Papers and I was in my Sophomore Seminar.   I read Jennifer Block’s Pushed, about the medical take over of childbirth and the horrific consequences.  I was armed with knowledge, informed, ready to negotiate my next birth experience.

But as much as I talked to people and thought that an epidural or a narcotic like nubane would help me relax and ease the whole process, I kept feeling the undeniable pull towards doing the whole thing naturally. It was like a craving, or an instinctual  desire.

Why? Why did I feel like that? I still wonder!

Meanwhile, my second birth experience was a dream come true.  If you discount the fact that the doctor on call when I went in on Friday morning told me I must be continuously monitored because attempting a VBAC puts me at a higher risk for uterine rupture and the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) recommends continuous monitoring. (Meanwhile, I had talked about this extensively with MY doctor who said I could be monitored every hour, no problem.) AND THEN, this doctor asked me why I had a c-section the last time. I gave her the whole shpiel and ended with, I’m pretty sure that they told me to push too early.

Oh no… she said. This sounds like a clear case of CPD.  Well fast forward to the end: Munchkin #2 was the EXACT same size as Munchkin #1 (ok, .5 oz bigger!) and same length and same head circumference!  Lady, your CPD theory is totally disproved.  See? I told you my hips were childbearing hips.

(Aside: I wanted to call this doctor afterwards to tell her about my proof that for sure it was not CPD the first time around, but my husband told me I couldn’t, it would be too mean.  But every once in a while, I still want to tell her!)

Anyway, back to my dream birth.  My labor stopped Friday night and every single doctor and nurse I saw refused to induce me back into labor overnight – so I slept!  it was great!  Then 7:30 a.m. MY doctor arrived at the hospital on her day off (this was Saturday remember) to break my water, which put me right back into labor in just a few hours.  I labored beautifully, had a substitute doula with me who had a 100% VBAC rate and was a dream of an expert, and handled the pain great.

At 8 cm, it was getting kind of rough and I was pretty terrified of another c-section.  I decided to go with the first defense, the nubane, a narcotic – whoo was that interesting!  I walked around, entered transition and started talking about an epidural.

At this point, I knew I wanted to do it without pain meds, but at the same time, I kept thinking, in the moment, if they have something that can take my pain away, why shouldn’t I take advantage of it?

So, I did.

At 9 cm I got my epidural, much to the amazement of the anesthesiologist who could not believe I was at nine centimeters.  And then i slept for an hour.  That’s right – I slept!  it was amazing. My doctor by the way had come back to the hospital with her kids (because she couldn’t find a babysitter) to deliver me because that’s how fantastic she is.

My epidural was fantastic, I was able to feel the “urge to push” everyone always talks about (never felt that the first time by the way) and even squatted to deliver!  That’s right, I ended up with a walking epidural (which many say could never be done).  Munchkin #2 was born completely peacefully and didn’t even cry he was so content.  (Finally the nurse nudged him enough that he did cry, but what a beautiful way to enter the world!)

I was truly amazed at the wonder of birth and extremely pleased with the entire experience.  Yet, it wasn’t exactly what I had envisioned.  I had medical intervention and really liked it!  So what is the disconnect between what I wanted and how satisfied I was with what I got?

I came to the conclusion that it’s the doctor.  These stories that make medicine out to be the bad guy, don’t have a doctor like I do who embraces the natural side of birth (and yes, she’s a board-certified ACOG member too!).  Too often, birth is either all or nothing.  Medicated or primal.  But I think the glory of it all is somewhere in between.

And more than anything, it’s the core of what a woman is; every woman being different, so is every birth.


Categories: Me
  1. Meredith
    January 11, 2011 at 10:29 pm

    With any doctor-patient relationship where important decisions are being made, I find that it’s critical to a good outcome for me (as a patient) to feel informed and respected. Similarly, I find I need to respect and trust the judgment of the doctor. Without these elements in place, it seems that it would be very difficult to accept a less than near perfect result. That may be part of why you feel the way you do about the doctor who managed your first delivery. I also had a dream of an unmedicated vaginal delivery. The nature of the pregnancy ultimately didn’t allow that. I did not feel disappointment in changing from that course, though, partly because I was so involved in the decision not to take that course of action. I think that background knowledge is important, but being informed and collaborating in the decision-making process as it occurs is critical.

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