When I got pregnant, it was the start of a rollercoaster of emotion and overflow of advice, whether sought after or not. I absorbed and respected every bit of wisdom passed down to me, recognizing that every woman’s experience is intended to help.
But every woman’s experience is so different, and soon I realized I needed to tap into my own intuition in order to have the experience that best suits me.
For me, this meant pursuing a natural childbirth with a certified-nurse midwife (CNM). Whereas doctors specialize in “high-risk” pregnancies and can perform emergency C-sections, midwives specialize in “normal” low-risk pregnancies and vaginal deliveries. Choosing a midwife does not mean that I won’t see a doctor should I need an emergency C-section, nor does it mean that I’m giving birth at home like many assume. It just means that I will experience more holistic care in which my midwife will offer a “high touch, low-intervention” approach to baby’s arrival.
Low-intervention was important to me and is what led me to wish for a natural, drug-free childbirth. But as I began sharing this, I noticed a very black and white reaction: those who were rooting me on for tapping into my own willpower, and those whose eyes widened and warned me that I was crazy – that I shouldn’t “feel the need to be a badass or hero.”
There is a stigma that people began attaching to me that I’m just doing this to “earn a trophy.” Yet, this is so far from the truth. I don’t view my birth plan as somehow superior; it is simply the route that makes me feel the most relaxed and confident.
But, this is hard for people to understand – why would I want to feel pain if I don’t have to? After all, we’re lucky to have access to modern medicine in America, so why would I second guess the folks with fancy degrees and white coats?
Well, for starters, women have been giving birth a hell of a lot longer than obstetricians, so having confidence in my own body before surrendering it to a surgeon really is not that far-fetched. And more importantly, it’s actually better for me and baby.
In the early 1900s, childbirth would change drastically as American medicine began taking over the common practice of midwifery. Moving out of home births and filling up hospital beds, women began turning to newly-trained surgeons instead of experienced midwives after a targeted campaign began spreading fear that hospitals and doctors were a necessary setting for all childbirths, whether high risk or not.(Ka-ching! The business of being born makes childbirth profitable).
In our country today, only 10 percent of hospital births are attended by midwives. With doctors in the lead, we have quite a bit of medical intervention going on. Our country’s C-section rates of about 30 percent are well above the World Health Organization’s recommended levels of 10-15 percent, and labor induction (or the artificial start of childbirth with drugs like pitocin) has more than doubled since 1990 to about one-quarter of U.S. births.
An unfortunate side effect of this is twofold: American women have lost confidence in their own ability to give birth, and doctors, while amazing at what they do, have “over intervened” in otherwise natural, low-risk deliveries, bringing on a ripple-effect of side effects, complications and tougher recoveries. Our tendency to intervene is argued to be among factors as to why we’re the only developed country in the world in which maternal deaths increased between 1990 and 2013.
This isn’t to say that modern medicine is bad, but there is an important distinction women deserve to know between using today’s medical interventions electively vs. medically for justified need. Sometimes the line gets blurred between the two, in which doctors are categorizing inductions as medically necessary, for example, when they may not be. The two most common gray areas: “Your baby is too big,” and “you’re past your due date.” Both sizing babies and predicting due dates is impossible for any doctor to accurately pinpoint.
Too often, women don’t feel like they have a say when their doctors recommend such interventions, but we absolutely do! In other countries, obstetricians won’t even accept a patient unless her delivery is flagged as high risk. Instead, women with low-risk, healthy pregnancies still see midwives. And what does the data say of this norm? Better outcomes. Lower intervention equates to lower C-section rates, fewer inductions, and ultimately, healthier mothers and babies.
Personally, I am more fearful of the side effects that come with overriding my body too quickly than I am of feeling the pain of contractions. I am more anxious at the thought of lying flat on a hospital bed being continuously monitored for all that could go wrong than I am at the thought of letting nature do its thing. I am less empowered when I outsource my care entirely to someone who only sees through a surgical lens.
Understanding that my childbirth is not by default a medical emergency, but something that my body created and that my body was built to handle, is what led me to choose this birth plan. It has absolutely nothing to do with earning some sort of trophy.
I believe that however a woman gives birth – whether vaginally, induced, or via C-section – is beautiful, and all experiences require immense courage, endurance and strength.
I hope, in time, when a woman shares her hopes and plans for a natural childbirth as I have, it will not be met with shock, fear or rolling eyes, but will simply be respected as the normal process that it has always been.