Reflections on Birth and Society
Written before the birth
Why do we have so much trouble giving birth these days? The rate of c-section, induction, and other medical interventions is surreally high. I desperately did not want to become one of those statistics. When I got pregnant I learned about natural birth, and felt empowered. I wanted my body and my experience to prove something to myself and to everyone I knew: that our bodies “are not lemons,” as Ina May Gaskin writes; that birth can be a smooth natural process if only you let it, if you believe in it.
I thought that taking certain steps would ensure my desired outcome: deciding on a home birth, coming to trust my body and the process of pregnancy, vanishing the fear of labor from my soul, responding to my pregnancy challenges with diet, acupuncture, chiropractics, walking, swimming, yoga, herbs, patience, and trust.
Perhaps all is not lost. Even though I have chosen not to go down the natural path, I take comfort in knowing that my body could theoretically have represented what I dreamed it would if I had been able to give it more time. Or, sometimes nature just needs a little help. Perhaps I am unfortunately just one of those “sometimes.” If induction happens 23% of the time and should truly happen 10% of the time, perhaps I’m one of the 10% and not one of the 23%. If c-sections should only happen 3% of the time as opposed to 30%, perhaps I’m one of the unlucky 3%.
In the end all we can do is accept and move forward. As Amy Tuteur says, “Love your birth as it is.” Love your birth as it is, I repeat to myself, if it goes how I planned, if it doesn’t go how I planned, or if it ends up somewhere in between.
What I shouldn’t do is use my body to prove, or disprove, some sweeping ideal.
Perhaps gestating beyond 42 weeks is still natural. It’s likely that if I turned down induction and just waited, the baby would come, and the baby would be healthy. Perhaps now it is precisely my choice to get induced that is placing me as just the kind of statistic I was trying to avoid becoming. Perhaps by making this choice to go to the hospital I am relinquishing my last opportunity to realize my goal. Up until now I’ve done everything in my control. And this is one last choice I do have control over. But I will never know, because if I kept waiting, perhaps my baby wouldn’t be born healthy. Perhaps he would become the stillbirth statistic they hold over your head about babies who gestate beyond 42 weeks, a rare occurrence that does happen in nature, that we now have the technology to avoid. And all for what? To try to prove a point.
That’s a risk no mother is willing to take.
I guess by becoming a statistic myself, I am ensuring that my baby not: the maternal sacrifice that is made over and over and over, in countless different forms and contexts countless times by countless mothers.
I vow to stop judging birth and using it to represent some point. Pregnancy and birth, and all human physical and psychological function, is complex and nuanced. Judgement is not helpful to anyone. I vow never to feel envious of smooth births, but rather to see them as hope. And even further, perhaps to not let them symbolize anything, to let them simply represent that particular birthing woman’s personal experience and that woman’s experience ONLY.
My High-Tech Birth;
and You, My Mystery Miracle
Written after your birth
“What does that mean, anyway,” my mom said, forever the protector of her daughter’s psyche. “A ‘natural’ birth,” as if yours was ‘unnatural.’” “Yeah, I chime in, instead we can call it...high-tech! There are low-tech births and high-tech births!”
Two months ago I was oohing and ahhing over natural birth stories and preparing a box of supplies for my low-tech home birth. If someone had told me that in the wee hours of September 10, 2017 (19 days past my due date), I would find myself, after a 54-hour induction attempt at Kaiser, immobile in a hospital bed, flat on my side, diagnosed with an infection and preeclampsia, inhaling from an oxygen mask to help your periodically dropping heart rate, hooked up to saline, pitocin, an epidural, a catheter, antibiotics, magnesium sulfate, a fetal heart rate monitor, an intrauterine contraction monitor, a heart rate monitor under the skin of your head, and asking for a c-section, I would have been absolutely crushed. On the spectrum of birth technology, I had planned on placing my family on the far left. We ended up landing on the far right. In fact though, and this is what made it palatable, instead of landing out of thin air like an airplane, we gradually crawled like inch worms, making our way along the branches of the decision tree. First I didn’t go into labor by 42 weeks, at which point, after having tried everything under the sun that we could do at home and in the offices of my acupuncturist and chiropractor, I was legally forced to say goodbye to my home birth. Then I went to the hospital for an induction (should I have waited longer?). We started with misoprostol (should we have started with a foley balloon?)...etc...etc… until I ended up as described above, beyond doubt and with full confidence requesting a c-section. I suddenly realized that I was no longer giving birth. I was no longer in a place to push you through my pelvis and out of my vagina. Ellah, our midwife, estimated your weight at nine pounds when I was 40 weeks pregnant, so I knew that at 42 weeks and five days, you could easily be ten pounds. And we knew you weren’t dropping. I didn’t trust the hospital doctors with a tricky vaginal birth. I would have trusted Ellah with the birth of a ten-pound, five-ounce baby through small me. The midwives know all the tricks (many of them not even possible for me in my current state had I wanted to attempt them on my own in the hospital). Instead, visions of forceps and episiotomies and broken bones (yours or mine) and emergency c-sections danced in the back of my mind and finally, everyone’s refrain about the most important thing being a healthy baby sunk deep into my heart. I had a strong gut feeling that you and I would be safest with a c-section, and my mother always taught me to trust my intuition.
Birth is ultimately still a mystery. Why do some women and their babies have one-and-a-half-hour births while others have 54-hour births? Why do some women feel no pain in labor while others beg for relief amidst tears and vomit? Why do some women hardly notice they are pregnant, while others are fraught with nausea, placenta previa, preeclampsia, repeated miscarriage? Why do some couples conceive after one month, some after one year, some only with high-tech treatments, and some never?
Experts have hypotheses and theories to answer these questions, but there are individual exceptions in all cases. No explanation applies to everyone. This is why I, a firm atheist and scientific-minded liberal, call you my Mystery Miracle.
In a purely “natural” world, before medical technology existed, I would be living in a small Russian village and would have copulated with a small Russian Jew, about the height of my Jewish father, grandfather. Instead, I live in America and got hitched to a tall, well built part Scandinavian part Irishman. Could this “unnatural, cross-breeding” phenomenon have created a baby too large for me to birth? (Yet many small women can birth big babies. And yet again, not always.) In that small Russian village I would have been eating a traditional diet of grass-fed animal fat and protein, fermented or soaked grains, foods and drinks rich in probiotics, no processed foods, nor white sugar, nor empty calories. According to Dr. Weston Price, this diet would have allowed me to grow a strong, wide pelvis, leading to an easier birth. (Yet many women who grow up on junk food can birth their babies vaginally. And yet again, not always.)
It’s true what they say, that you forget. As one wise family friend told me, a fog descends over the birth memory. Julian, I’ll probably never forget how hard it was, physically and emotionally, to bring you into the world; or how dramatically different it was from what I had wished for us. But with every day that I get to know you better, with every day that I bond further with you, with every day that I fall deeper and deeper into a love that is so deep it’s almost unrecognizable, the memory fades. Or rather, the importance of the memory fades. You are the important thing now. You are more important to me than anything. You are frighteningly precious. It’s a dark thought, but I realize that I now have someone for whom I wouldn’t hesitate to give my own life.
When you were three days old I was still getting to know you. I was still trying to figure things out. I woke up that morning and thought, “Oh! Right! I have a baby! Oh geez, another day of struggle, of crying and nursing, crying and nursing, not knowing how to soothe you, not knowing what your cries mean, wet diaper after wet diaper. Fatigue, no time to write emails, answer texts, do laundry, clean up the kitchen, take a shower. Will it feel like this, will I feel like this, every morning? Now you are three weeks old and I greet you with glee every morning. Julian!
My Mystery Miracle! How beautiful you are. Your sounds and cries pull on my heart strings. Come soothe yourself on my breast, come nourish yourself from my body as I stare lovingly at you, your adorable face and little body wrapped like a burrito in a special grey and yellow blanket. When you’re done nursing you suddenly unlatch from my breast, toss your head back, and fall fast asleep, with the most serene look on your beautiful newborn face. At two weeks old, you sleep through the night, my little Miracle.
Ellah said that she loves how you take your time with things and sleep deeply. You came into the world 19 days after your due date. Your umbilical cord finally fell off weeks after most. Sometimes you nurse for 45 minutes, drifting off to sleep then waking up and sucking with a renewed eagerness, your small, perfect feet hanging off my lap, your little hands slowly wiggling into spontaneous, uncalculated positions.
Ellah also said disappointment is easier to deal with than regret. How right she was. You have guided me easily and peacefully past my disappointment. It has melted away, like a sand castle washed away by the waves. The sand still exists in the world, but it is no longer recognizable as a formidable castle. You are the waves Julian, washing over me day in and day out, the strength of your pull creating a love in me and an instinct to protect so powerful it knocks me off my feet. The part of the birth that I regret--allowing the doctor to sweep my membranes, causing more discomfort than my strongestcontraction as well as the premature breaking of your amniotic sac, which felt devastating for several reasons--is the only piece that still haunts me. It’s the last bit, hanging from a thread. It will take more to cut it loose than it did to get past my disappointment. But I know you will do it. I didn’t expect this but you are healing me. I think that’s what people meant when they said the baby makes it all worth it. Resilience, reflection, time, and support from my midwife, doula, family, friends, and your father, each play an important role, but mostly I’m healed by the power of you.