I spend a lot of time in this job reading and writing about the beautiful experience of giving birth at home. Each time I see photos from these births, I get a tiny twinge of disappointment in my heart, and then I get mad at myself for such an irrational reaction. I had never even considered having a home birth, so what am I upset about? The thing is, we have inadvertently set up a value system that sets these natural methods as the ideal, and every added level of method of intervention — especially the dreaded C-section — as a lesser way to become a mother.
No one meant for this to happen, I know. The people who advocate for home birth are the least judgmental humans I’ve ever encountered.
But then they say things like, “Birth is not a medical procedure.” That’s not exactly a fair thing to say to anyone who had to have major surgery to save their child’s life. That was definitely a medical procedure, so what you’re implying is that I did not give birth.
Oh, did I try! Because that’s what first-time pregnant people do — we try so hard to control this alien process going on in our bodies. I took the birth classes (though, by the way, of all six couples who took my class, all six of us had C-sections!). I had a very healthy pregnancy and was just under “advanced” maternal age at 34. I read all the books and took all the vitamins and went on all the walks and did all the prenatal yoga.
Even when my little guy presented as breech, I still thought I was in control. My doctor sent me to the hospital at 37 weeks to see THE expert on external cephalic version, the very painful procedure in which the guy (and his RESIDENT!) put their hands all over my belly and twisted and turned my baby until his head was pointed down. If you get the opportunity to experience this, think about how much you might enjoy having a grown man kick you in the gut first, and then proceed accordingly. (Just kidding, ask your doctor.)
The version was successful, though, so I held onto this illusion of control. Even as my due date came and went. On the very morning before my doctor had scheduled me for induction, labor started. It was big-time back labor. After being turned on his head, this kid remembered how much he liked to move and decided to twist around and face forward, sunny-side up. Any thoughts I had about getting a walking epidural or laboring for a while at home were absolutely shattered by the feeling that my spine was actually about to shatter. We got that needle in right quick. Still, I thought all was fine for the next several hours. Even as my water had to be broken manually and the doctor ever so gradually introduced new interventions. We’re still controlling this process, right? Even though the bottom half of my body has disappeared? We’re still on our way to giving birth the “right” way?
Then the doctors changed shifts, and the new one came in and frowned at the heart rate readouts. “I don’t like this,” she said. Wait, what? The baby’s heart rate was decelerating with every contraction. What if I turn to my side? Didn’t work. What if I think about it really hard? Ha.
In an hour, we were in the OR, and I was giving birth the “wrong” way. I got the postpartum shakes so hard, I had to wait another hour before I could hold him. But then I did, and then I was very much, no doubt about it, the mother of this person who came out of my body.
If you know anything about C-sections, you know the typical downsides of them: It’s hard to go to the bathroom right after; your milk can be slow to come in following the trauma of surgery; your recovery is slower; you might have to make adjustments to your bikini modeling career; sometimes, even 7 years later, you are aware of scar tissue existing on your body.
Let me tell you about everything I gained: 1) A very healthy baby boy, who had been wiggling around inside me so much the umbilical cord was wrapped around his neck three times. If it had been one time around, a vaginal birth would probably have been fine, but three times comes with a significant risk of death or brain damage. 2) An extra few days in the hospital; which I think can be quite nice because, hello, nurses to watch and change the kid while you sleep! 3) An extra four weeks of maternity leave (sigh, this country) to be with him.
Here’s what did not happen: He’s never been an unhealthy kid (though C-section babies start out with different gut microbiomes, that turns out not to matter much); I did not feel like I somehow missed out on an essential rite of passage.
There are serious health risks to the surgery, and I’m not joking about those. It’s maddening to think that doctors might be pushing unnecessary C-sections on women just to make their birth faster or to reduce the doctors’ risk of getting sued for malpractice. That’s got to stop NOW.
What I’m saying is, proceed with just a little bit of caution and thoughtfulness for others the next time you start talking about one birth procedure being better than another. The ones that result in living, breathing, mothers and children are the best.
If you’re as fascinated by this subject as we are, enjoy these birth photos that don’t spare a single detail of this miracle.
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