Friday, August 27, 2010

My Daughter's Birth Story Part VI: You know where you can put your full experience?

You may recall that part I of this series was parenthetically titled "why intervention is fine with me." What does that mean? That I don't subscribe to the idea that introducing medicine or medical intervention into the birthing process results in a less authentic experience.

This is one of the many mommy-war battlefields out there - and one of the many that's largely trumped up by media and the echo chamber of blogs and media generally. It's a war of natural childbirth vs. whatever the opposite is: unnatural? Medicated? Industrialized. Evil. whatever.

Of course, it's a perceived war that may not bear out in real life between actual moms, save a few. Like nursing in public, where the anecdotes of public shaming have yet to prove out in my experience, there may not be as much judgmental opposition to medicine in births as you might think.

But there are some loud voices that make women feel bad and less whole for certain decisions in the birthing process and even if they are presented in a "can you believe this" fashion, the message is insidious and sneaks into a worried mom's thoughts. And, as I think I mentioned before, this is the firstyist of first world problems - where and how to deliver a baby. Everyone should be so lucky as to have options.

But here's an example of "can you believe this" that helps make my point.
An article from last year profiled a high profile Manhattan midwife made famous in Ricki Lake's movie The Business of Being Born. Disclosure: I have not seen it yet, but will get around to it eventually.

In it, the writer partially draws from his wife's own pregnancy story:
I could tell that Robin was lapping up the home-birth pitch: no drugs to cloud baby’s or mother’s mind, no separation from baby, no cutting, and the promise of an unparalleled sense of accomplishment and an indescribable hormonal rush. Like many women, Robin recognized her opportunity to experience—to feel—one of the few truly primal experiences life still offers. “You will go into an altered state of consciousness,” says medical anthropologist Robbie Davis-Floyd in BOBB. “And you cannot have the bliss without the pain.”
You cannot have the bliss without the pain? Did no moms go through the DARE program? What are these people pitching? Euphoria? Beyond any high you've had before? That's an addicts pitch, y'all. And the notion that a medicated birth elimiates the chances of a trip, well, no. Sometime during the THIRD HOUR OF PUSHING I began to hover above my body, the room vibrated, warm moist air wrapped around me, and I tripped big time. With an epidural.

Birth is birth and even if you get shot up with drugs, you'll still feel plenty, I promise you. I felt pain. I felt pressure. I definitely felt contractions and the need to push. It was all real, I was present for it, and I shudder to think what I'd have felt like without the epidural.

But fine, maybe there's a higher high if you go med free. The thought of that was certainly enticing. Not being much of a drug experimenter myself, catching a high off something legal and seemingly morally superior was pretty attractive to me. But here's where the wheels fall off the wagon for me:
But even more essential than promised nirvana or perfect aesthetics is the implication that messing with the birthing process can affect the bonding between mother and child. In BOBB, French obstetrician and natural-birth pioneer Michel Odent contends that a “complex cocktail of love hormones … create a state of dependency, addiction” between mother and child. Interrupting that natural flow with drugs or a Cesarean, he posits, invites dire consequences. “It’s simple,” he says. “If monkeys give birth by Cesarean section, the mother is not interested in her baby … So you wonder, what about … the future of humanity?”
To quote Seth and Amy: really? Really. Really!

You can't love your child if you're medicated or end up with a c-section? F u, penguin, I don't buy it. I hardly even know how to address this fully. Maybe I won't even try until I have the words. And there's going to be a post here soon enough on bonding so maybe I'll just save this. Suffice to say, it made my eyes cross.

Wait, I'll say this - you know what intereferes with bonding? Your baby dying or you dying.

The featured midwife thinks you should take it like a [wo]man though:

“How long is too long for a woman to be in labor?” Wise demanded to know when Muhlhahn finally returned to the apartment that night. “Never,” Muhlhahn replied flatly. Her philosophy was simple: Trust the wisdom of the body to send the baby out when it’s ready. But she agreed to examine Garcia again. If she hadn’t progressed significantly, they’d go to St. Vincent’s. The results were startling: two centimeters. She had hardly progressed at all.
Except, sometimes the body can't or doesn't send the baby out. Have women been birthing babies since, well, since forever? Yes. Did they also used to die a lot more frequently? Yup!

The author and his wife ultimately decided against a home birth and end up with all sorts of interventions and, ultimately, a c-section.
Henry was born at 2:30 a.m., ten hours after Robin had gone into labor. In retrospect, I have no idea whether he was ever in real danger. Maybe she could have pushed him out. Maybe if we’d never seen those fetal-monitor strips, we would have assumed he was all right, and in all likelihood he would have been. But in Robin’s telling of the story, Henry was in real danger. There wasn’t even a question of what to do.
That's kind of my story too. There didn't turn out to be an abruption, but if there had been, that would've been some serious, life-threatening shit and we just didn't know. In the heat of it, the difference between real danger in fact and the real potential for danger is meaningless. My doctor acted to save me and my baby and I didn't need a transfusion. But there was no question about what needed to be done.

Was my daughter's birth less of a birth for all that medication and that surgery? No. Was it worth it to labor so long and push so long? Frankly, no, except that now I know from whence I speak. With a crystal ball, I'd have jumped straight to c-section and frankly might advocate that to anyone facing induced labor because it's no picnic.

The bottom line is this: if pain is what makes birth an experience - you'll get plenty of it with an epidural, just, I hope, not all of it. I salute women who birth without medicine, who do it quickly and (relatively) easily. That wasn't me and I didn't even want it to be me (epidurally-speaking).

And shame to those out there - especially the women - who imply that birth with epidural or via c-section is somewhat less-than. Even for someone like me, someone for whom there was no medical alternative, those suggestions bore in and reside in the depths of our souls in places that should be reserved for the joy our children bring. How dare you try to weasel in there.

1 comment:

  1. You can't feel the bliss without the pain? That's absurd! First of all, all births hurt, despite the BS spewed by Giselle Bundchen. Second, having given birth without an epidural, I can't attest to any super blissful moment. Yes, it felt awesome to push him out and yes I was fascinated to meet my baby, but doesn't everyone feel that?

    The main reason I went epidural-free is because I wanted to see if I could do it. I have a bit of a complex about having never been athletic or especially tough and I wanted to prove something to myself. I was lucky to get to do that (no back-labor or marathon labor to keep me from getting there). Yet, I wouldn't necessarily do it that way next time. I'm not convinced I got much more out of my birth because I was sans epidural. And even if I had, whose to say I couldn't have had an equally fascinating experience with one?

    Message to the people of the world: stop telling women how best to give birth! Give them a little space (and a lot less guilt) and they will figure it out themselves!