One thing we loved about the documentary Orgasmic Birth, is how it complements Business of Being Born’s consumerism awareness and vice versa because the woman herself was the focus. Her power. Her ability to birth. No focus on who is catching the baby. AND…the births take place in America in the mother’s own time and her space. A Disney film attempted to show waterbirth with dolphins and took place in scenery meant to be exotic and far away, but took a toll on both the dolphins and the women and families birthing in the name of cinematography in the process instead. Disney, we don’t need to sell birth in an infomercial, but birth is of global interest.
Practitioners are selling fear of birth. The truth is birth is simple and we do more harm just by using words to put a fear of the unknown in place rather than the empowerment of experiencing the new. Birth is not an unknown UNLESS you throw interventions into the mix. Then you’re on a whole ‘nother flowchart.
I think we, natural childbirth educators and advocates, are accused of “selling” natural childbirth by careproviders annoyed that they’ve lost another customer.
When birth is allowed to just happen it is not only an experience of wonderment for all in its presence it is also an experience in appreciation for a woman to be “a” woman, one not one of many. For a baby to be the individual human welcomed, not one of many.
I loved “Kerstin’s Birth Story” which is the birth story of our own Olivia Sporinsky now living in Texas with her husband and family on his military base. Olivia tells us of her birth experience in Germany where the careproviders believed something definite about American women. Still, they were open to allowing Olivia to birth her way even though it differed from what they believed to be true about American women and how they birthed.
I recalled Henci Goer during the NIH conference on elective cesarean. The panel was quick to say “more research is needed”, the typical wishy-washy answer so as not raise the ire of an industry that has a heavy interest in the public perception of cesareans. However, Henci, in her usual to the point manner, asked, “What are careproviders telling women about labor, birth?” Her viewpoint being if we only look at “elective” cesarean as a “whatever you’d like” versus talking to women about labor as a healthy and safe process; VBAC labor as one where we support natural labor as the healthiest route even more so; talking to women about how normal it is to have trepidation about natural birth and recommend resources for them to learn more about the birth process, well then, of course you breed more fear of birth. Careproviders themselves are actually talking themselves into being afraid of the laboring woman as pure risk.
Here’s to you Olivia and Kerstin. May the international birth community and women around the world know that technology is good to have but do not attach technology as a necessity for American women, for any woman. America’s maternity care has misplaced faith in technology and other countries need not follow. There are American women who are not afraid of birth and every day these women are a hands-on lesson for society and practitioners every day. Humble and wiser is the practitioner who gives the mother her due for a most satisfying labor only she can do.
In January 2005 I found out that I was expecting my 3rd child. Being stationed in Germany with my husband I was excited about giving birth outside of the US. I was assigned a German OB and also sought out a midwife. Home birth was finally an option with my insurance. The funny thing was that the insurance insisted that I continue to see the OB even though I was seeing a midwife. I eventually stopped seeing the OB because it was a waste of my time to go to 2 appointments for the exact same thing.
In my 8th month the midwife informed me that due to some legal technicalities she could not attend my birth on the Army base. It is considered US soil, and there was some question about whether she could lose her license if she attended a birth there. I would have been the first home birth on the base. I then returned to the OB who sent me to register at my choice of hospitals. I chose St Hildegardis-Krankenhaus I would be attended by midwives at the hospital and an OB would only be called in if there were a problem.
On September 8th I drove a friend home, about 20 minutes from my home. On the way back I had a strong contraction. I thought to myself, “if I have many more like this before I get home I won’t be able to drive”. I returned home, climbed the 3 flights to my apartment and sat down on the couch. A couple minutes later I had another contraction that made me jump off of the couch. I said to my husband that that was the 2nd strong contraction like that I had had. It was now about 9:45 in the evening. He asked if we should call the neighbor to come take our other 2 for the night and I said no, it will probably be a while yet. The first 2 contractions were about 20 minutes apart and the next few were strong, not painful and about 10 minutes apart. I spent my time sitting on the toilet, the most comfortable position for me, but also a good position since it opened the pelvis. I prayed that this labor, which felt so different from my 2 previous, would go quickly. God granted my prayer request. Around 10:20 or so I said he needed to call the neighbors and let them know he would be bringing the kids over. When he asked for the number, and wanted me to call, I couldn’t form a complete thought. I pointed him to the list of emergency numbers to call. After he carried our second child over, I realized I could not wait for him to come back upstairs to get me. I gathered my bag, his wallet and the keys and was waiting in the parking lot for him. He looked at me as if I’d lost my mind, but I knew we needed to leave then. The normally 26 minute drive took 45 minutes that night, and the car ride through the country to the “big city” was painful. Every bump in the road hurt.
We arrived at the hospital, around 11:20, and he dropped me at the door and then went to park the car. I rang the bell for the night watchman (not all German hospitals have “emergency” rooms, we went to a private hospital that handled scheduled procedures and birth), told him in my very broken German that I was in labor. As he went to get a wheelchair I waved him off and said I couldn’t sit anymore. We made our way slowly upstairs, pausing every 2 minutes or so for a contraction. When we arrived in the labor area, I rang the bell and told the midwife I was American. She returned with an English speaking midwife who watched me through one contraction and said we needed to be in the birth room. The next words she said shocked me. She said, “we should call the anesthesiologist, yes?” I responded with “No, please don’t” She then said, “you are American, yes?”. I said that I was but I really preferred to do this without any drugs. It wasn’t until later that I realized the full implication of what she had asked me. She asked if they could check to see how far I was dilated, and I agreed, again, curiosity getting the better of me. I think I was 6 or 7. I requested that they break my waters, my other 2 had come so quickly after the release. She grudgingly agreed and did it the German way–no amniohook, just pinched the bag during a contraction and popped it–never again will I request that! They wanted to get a good read on the baby, so I allowed them to hook up the EFM. The room (at the hospital) was wonderful. I had all the tools at my fingertips that I needed. The midwives then left me to labor quietly, peacefully. I spent most of my time swaying, doing the belly dance, and chanting “baby out, baby out”. My husband wonderful as he is, is not a great labor companion. He kept saying that he wished he could get the baby out. I didn’t want him to do anything, I just needed to say it. Suddenly there was a flurry of activity in the room and I realized that they were pulling out the internal monitor. I couldn’t verbalize that I knew where the baby was, that all was ok with her/him. There was no way that I was letting them screw that electrode into my baby’s head. I knew it meant that my 4 hour recovery stay would turn into 24. All I could say was that I would have 1 more contraction and push. I climbed on the bed on all fours, had one contraction, rolled over and in a half-sitting position pushed before the midwife knew what was happening. My husband was frantically ringing for the other midwife to come in. She ran in just as my baby’s head was born. They all stood there and stared at me. After a short time, 2 minutes, she that I needed to push again to birth the body. I’m not sure if she was concerned that the shoulders were stuck, or what, but when I felt the urge, I birthed the body. They allowed me to reach down and pick up the baby, who was a girl. She was born at 12:28 am. They nestled us skin to skin and covered us with warm blankets. Then came the next crazy (in my opinion) question: “did you remember to bring your own formula?” I pointed at my breasts and said “I have 2 of these and they work great!” The lights were turned up a bit when they took baby Kerstin across the room to weigh her and do her exams. They dressed her and brought her back where she happily nursed away. They continued to bring us warm blankets until about 5:30 when they took me to my room, holding the baby in my bed. I then had the option to take her to the nursery while I showered. I shared a room with 2 other women, neither of whom had her baby in the room and both were sleeping. I showered, got my baby, and ate breakfast. While I waited for my husband to come pick us up, I noticed that there were several nurses who kept pausing at our door. I started listening to their conversations (oh, the joy of understanding a foreign language) and realized they were all talking about me–the American who didn’t have drugs and was breastfeeding. I also insisted on leaving that morning, 9 hours after her birth, we left for home. The Germans typically stay for a week until the birth certificate is ready, they leave rested, and prepared to care for a baby.
I finally understood understood why the midwives were so surprised that I refused the drugs. Most of the American spouses who deliver there demand drugs, the German women don’t. I started asking all the Germans I knew, they all had home births, or non-medicated hospital births. It also made me so sad that American women are seen as weak, not able to handle labor. The Germans don’t see it as painful, just a necessary process to have a baby. So what if it hurts a little? They accomplished it. I’ve often said if I were to have another baby I would hop a flight across the Atlantic if I could not have a home birth.