Sheridan at the Enjoy Birth blog wrote a wonderful post, starting with:

Imagine the year is 2035.  People rarely cook at home anymore for a few different reasons.  They have gotten too busy and because of subsidies from the food industry eating at a restaurant is less expensive.  They actually pay more out of pocket to eat at home.  Many people look back and remember, “People actually prepared meals AT HOME!  It is amazing that they were willing to go through all that time and energy and that so many survived.”

It is an excellent analogy to the current “birth wars” that Jennifer Block wrote about here, discussing home birth versus hospital birth.

Both articles are must-reads!

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One thing that has been on my mind lately, is the fear of childbirth (technical name, tocophobia).

Sometimes women are afraid of childbirth prior to having any children, and this is not really surprising — after all, the average woman will have seen few actual births, but only those portrayed in movies and on soap operas. Of course, those are all not just dramatized (fake) but are typically dramatic — water breaks and the woman has to get in the hospital this instant or the world will come to an end!! Or she’s stuck in the backside of nowhere in labor with just her husband (yes, I still remember when Jennifer had Abby on Days of Our Lives, and Jack was the only other person in the cabin, with serious snow outside), and everybody is panicking. Or labor is portrayed as the worst and most awful thing that it is possible to endure, until the magic epidural comes and makes everything all right. The other thing that is now available on TV, that I didn’t have as a child, are shows like “A Baby Story” which do portray actual births, but I notice that an inordinantly high number of those end in a C-section, or are otherwise highly interventive; and I’m not surprised that this leads to a fear of birth prior to the woman’s actually giving birth the first time. And this doesn’t even begin to touch on all the labor and birth horror stories that mothers for some reason feel so imperative to scare first-time pregnant women with.

Other women, however, have given birth before, and this experience has made them scared to have any more. Some women may choose never to have any more children at all (this happened to a friend of mine; her daughter is now about 8-9 years old). Or they may choose a C-section because they can accept pain from surgery and the attendant post-op pain (which may be manageable by narcotics), but they fear the lengthy but intermittent pain from labor. But there are other options.

After her first very painful birth, this woman was terrified to give birth again, but she chose to overcome her fears by using hypnosis to relax during labor. If you watch the video on that link, you’ll notice that they show a few clips from an online video of a woman using hypnosis during labor. That woman in the video was Independent Childbirth Educator Sheridan from EnjoyBirth blog whose painless childbirth using hypnosis (Hypnobabies) was what this Georgia mom saw that gave her the courage to try to give birth again. [I’ll clarify that although the news story referred to hypnosis during birth as “HypnoBirth,” that is a name for a particular type of childbirth hypnosis, and Hypnobabies is another, and it was this type that Sheridan used during birth, and what she teaches.]

The fear of childbirth is very real. And it’s understandable, considering all the negative images surrounding birth that we are bombarded by almost from our own births — and considering that most of us were born in less-than-ideal circumstances ourselves (my mom was under general anesthesia and given an episiotomy, and I assume I was dragged out of her womb by my head), perhaps it might be not too big of a stretch to say that we are surrounded with negative birth images from the time of our birth. But all too often, doctors are just willing to tell women who are afraid of childbirth, “Oh, don’t worry about a thing — if you don’t want to give birth, we can give you a C-section.” While I can accept that women should have the right to choose to give birth as they wish, I wish that doctors (and others) would give a little extra time to ask a woman why she’s afraid, and see if they can work through her fears, rather than just cutting her open unnecessarily. If her fear is irrational yet she holds onto it, fine, give her a C-section; but if she has a rational but misguided fear (for example, I heard recently of women who want a C-section because of a fear of their “vaginas exploding”), then get to the root of the fear! Instead of treating her like a little child who is afraid of getting her dress mussed by going outside, treat her like the rational woman she is, and give her true information to combat the

F-alse

E-ducation

A-ppearing

R-eal.

Preconceived notions are… interesting. I’m in the middle of watching the wonderful A&E version of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice and the theme is, of course, Darcy’s and Elizabeth’s mistaken first impressions about each other, and working through the negative prejudice each had about the other, to get to the truth about themselves and each other. Sometimes first impressions can be very accurate; but sometimes they can be completely wrong.

When it comes to choosing a care provider, it is important not to blindly accept anyone’s recommendation, nor to follow merely a “first impression,” but to closely examine the person who is to be caring for you during pregnancy, labor, and birth. Just as Elizabeth learned that Wickham was not the kind, honest, and honorable person he appeared to be at first, so you may find that your midwife or obstetrician may not be exactly what she appears to be.

A friend recently mentioned that she was going to be trying a “natural” induction method (castor oil), and I didn’t say anything about the negative observations I had just recently heard about it; and I’m afraid it may have negatively affected the baby. At one point, it was “touch and go” for the baby. I said, “never again” — regardless of how much I think the mother may resist my input.

A fellow childbirth educator had an experience some years ago when a friend of hers mentioned that she hadn’t felt her baby move much lately. Not wanting to make her unnecessarily worried, she did not suggest that she go get checked out, although she herself had had a necessary preterm C-section for just the same thing. The friend’s baby was stillborn a few days later. “Never again.”

You read here about a birth educator who attended a vaginal twin birth as a doula, and both she and the pregnant woman were so glad to find a doctor willing to allow a vaginal birth, instead of insisting on a C-section, that neither one questioned whether the doctor had the experience necessary to attend a twin birth. As happens with some frequency, the second-born baby was breech, and the birth of the baby was quite traumatic, with the doctor showing his or her inexperience, and ultimately, fear. But the doctor told the mother afterwards — and perhaps the doctor believed it as well — that the trauma the baby endured was better than being brain damaged or dead; so the mother believed that the doctor ultimately saved the baby, and is content with what happened, although it was very unnecessary. “Never again.”

We do hear from time to time that we, as natural childbirth advocates, are extreme.  We’ve heard many a commentary that compares natural childbirth to a throwback to living like a pioneer.  We’ve all had the experience of having women who know we are natural childbirth and birth rights advocates walk away from us quickly or politely (sometimes not) shut us down.

We wonder sometimes if it’s worth risking having people try to paint us in that radical light to keep doing what we do: quelling preventable mother and/or newborn injury ~ physically, mentally and emotionally ~ including death.

Never again.

In a recent discussion we have had on our independent childbirth educators email list, the topic turned to one of the basic differences between supporting a woman through labor, and medicating a woman through labor; between listening to a woman’s complaints, and “fixing” a woman’s complaints; between most home births and far too many hospital births.

One woman told of an experience in supporting a woman through her labor.  The mother turned to her doula and husband once and said, “This sucks!” The doula answered, “Yes, I know it hurts, but you can do it.”  The mother responded, “Yes, I know I can do it. I just wanted to let you know it sucks!”

How many nurses, husbands, or other birth-support people would have heard the woman say that, and offered her medication to “fix her problem”? She wasn’t needing anything fixed — she just wanted to communicate. Isn’t there a whole industry in attempting to help men and women communicate, especially in marriage and other personal relationships? Why should we think that doctors (who are typically trained in the all-male tradition of med school for generations) and the medical establishment will know how to communicate in the all-female world of birthing mothers?  Men tend to want to know the answer. Doctors are also trained in how to fix problems, medically. Mothers want to talk about it first.

So many women just want to be listened to. These basic differences will not just disappear because women are in labor. Some people — both men and women, although men tend to fall into this much more easily than do women — just want to know the answer and use it to fix problems, even if the “fix” is something unwanted by the person who is dealing with the situation.

When a woman’s birth-support team moves too quickly from listening and encouraging – and the other basic tenets of female relationships and female support – they may undermine a woman’s innate courage and strength.  This can happen regardless of the sex of those who surround her in birth.

What if, instead of telling her “you can do this,” the doula had responded, “would you like an epidural?”  The mother may have heard, “You’re not strong enough to handle labor without drugs, so just go ahead and get an epidural before it gets any worse.”  For my part, I’m very vulnerable to suggestion during labor.  A question like that — as innocent as it sounds — may have been enough to make me say “okay.”  Because, after all, if the people who are watching me labor think I need an epidural, then maybe I do!

Fortunately, nothing like that happened during either of my labors.  Instead, the midwives asked open-ended questions, like, “What do you want to do?”  Every time they asked a question or made a suggestion (like getting into or out of the labor tub) I obeyed it as much as if it were a command; questioning it no more than if they had asked me if I wanted some cake, or if I should breathe.

Sometimes, women just want acknowledgement of what they’re going through, rather than changing what they’re going through.  At times labor hurts, it’s intense, you just can’t get comfortable and there is no way in hell you would call what you’re doing relaxation.  It can suck.  It’s time to honor that too.  Don’t fix us.  We’re not broken.

This post was prompted by another blog I read several days ago, in which the blogger said that we were. Although I have no intention of linking to said blog, you can take my word for it that this woman is well-known to natural-birth circles as being among the meanest anti-homebirth people out there, so this coming from her made me laugh.

But it got me to thinking. Undoubtedly, there are some mean pro-natural or pro-homebirth people — those who would demean the choices of women who choose to give birth in the hospital or to have drugs. But there are very many people who demean the choices of women to give birth at home or who refuse drugs. As a natural-birth advocate and a home-birth advocate, I am acutely aware of this kind of person, having had to explain myself and my choices numerous times to people who severely disagree with me.

This antagonism is not good. For either side. And it tends to exacerbate the differences until they seem to be huge and insurmountable, and indeed to make women who agree about a great many things into some sort of enemies, and to become super-sensitive to statements, when they ought not be. An example — on my own blog, one of my readers took exception to something I said about “not understanding why” a woman would choose an unnecessary Cesarean. She took it to mean, somehow, that I was saying that women who chose a C-section when they didn’t have to were somehow bad mothers. I meant nothing of the sort, and was just talking about practical, concrete matters like having a recovery of several weeks as opposed to several days, etc. Absolutely nothing about “motherhood”… but she read that into it. After my explanation, she commented again, thanking me for explaining my position and said she was sensitive on the subject, because of some harsh criticism she had endured in the past for her choice.

I know some people find that every difference in opinion or action must mean that they’re doing something either better or worse than someone else. But thinking about this further, let me take this to a ridiculous extreme. I had chicken enchiladas last night, did you? I’m planning on making pizza tomorrow night, are you? Do you feel like you made a bad decision to have tacos or spaghetti, or to go out to eat last night, now that you know that I made chicken enchiladas? I sure hope not! Do you think that I would have done better to have made what you had for supper last night? If you do, I beg to differ! I hope you’re at least smiling now. The point is, just because somebody does something different, it doesn’t always mean that we think we’re the best and you’re the worst because we’ve done it differently.

In our group of Independent Childbirth Educators, we have a several commonalities among us, but that doesn’t mean we’re all cookie-cutters in everything. Take diapering as an example. (It doesn’t come up much, so I don’t know for sure how many people do total cloth vs. total disposables, or are like me and do some of each, but I do remember at least one woman saying that after her emergency C-section, her baby was brought to her “in a disposable diaper, of all things!”) Why do some people use cloth diapers for their babies? Cost for one. (Does that mean that you’re a horrid spendthrift if you use disposables? No! That simply may not be a factor for you, although it might be for others.) Environmental concerns is another reason. (But that doesn’t mean that we think you’re “raping our beautiful planet” by using disposables.) Cloth diapers may possibly healthier for the baby — in terms of diaper rash (my sister-in-law’s son was horribly allergic to all disposables), or the chemicals used in making disposables being right on their skin 24/7. (But that doesn’t mean that we think you’re a dangerous mother for putting your baby in disposables.)

The point is, “different” doesn’t mean “bad”, and saying why we’ve chosen different things doesn’t mean that we’re “mean.” For one thing, our reasons for choosing the things we did may not be reasons for you. For another thing, we might be wrong in our conclusions, though based on the best research we could find at the time. And finally, in these types of choices, in the final analysis, it often just comes down to pure opinion. Just because you’ve chosen differently from me (and believe me, there are a lot of differences among the women of this group), it doesn’t mean that I think you’re a horrible person. And although I have reasons why I do the things I do, just because your conclusion is different, doesn’t mean your reasoning is faulty or your decision is wrong. Just different. And that’s okay.

Independent Childbirth is sponsoring Orgasmic Birth screenings across the country. One mother shared a copy of a VBAC Consent Form she was asked to sign.  Many hospitals ban VBAC altogether either legally because their insurance carriers will not protect them or with a “de facto” (in practice) ban.   Some hospitals do still allow them, and this form does a fair job of pointing out the risks and benefits of both a repeat C-section and a VBAC. However, it does not point out that women have up to a 3.6x higher risk of death if they have a C-section versus a vaginal birth. Here is a more complete and detailed list of the risks and benefits of both an attempted VBAC and a repeat C-section, based on the available research. Nowhere on the list does it list the risks of cesarean to the unborn baby. Did you know that your future babies’ health in utero is at risk when a cesarean is performed? This is because the growth of scar tissue cannot be controlled. We know of babies born prematurely as their placentas could not adhere at the scar tissue site from mom’s previous c-section. No, we don’t provide this information to scare you out of having a cesarean. If it’s necessary, it’s necessary. Please, the decision to have a cesarean is a serious one. You deserve to know all of the risks and you deserve to know what care practices can lead to unnecessary cesareans, repeat, unnecessary cesareans.

Many doctors state they don’t want to scare women about the risks of the procedures they use for birth care. Doctor, you need practice in communication skills. Women can handle hearing the truth! The risk of death to their baby is nearly 3 times that of vaginal birth. (This is for low-risk women!) Or, what about these risks now or in the future?

Here is a slightly different VBAC informed consent form, and the preface reads like this, in part:

Although the risks of a uterine rupture with a prior low-transverse uterine scar are not higher than the unanticipated risks of other complications that may arise during childbirth, in some communities, women who wish to try for a VBAC rather than schedule an elective repeat cesarean are often expected to assume responsibility for any or all negative outcomes.

To lower the risk of liability, some malpractice insurance companies in the United States have developed VBAC consent forms that physicians are required to discuss with patients who wish to labor after one or more cesareans. Some of these consent forms overstate the risks for laboring for a VBAC or minimize the risks for planning an elective repeat cesarean.

But some “informed consent” forms just ignore the risks of a C-section altogether! This webpage is just such an example, but it has been annotated by someone who is obviously very pro-VBAC to discuss more of the risk-benefit ratio of the two procedures.

The greatest obstacle to women’s health today is lack of public dialogue. Get yourself to an independent childbirth class where we want to hear YOU. We can provide answers outright and answers that help you discover for yourself what you want from your birth.

This movie, Orgasmic Birth, focuses on the women giving birth, and that’s something the public has been waiting for a long time!! Every woman you’ve ever shared birth with is in this film. There is the mother who believes you trust doctors for everything and she ends up with an induction, epidural and baby finally born after two vacuum attempts … and she believes the doc saved her. You see the mom who also believes the same, is induced, and has a cesarean. However, the movie starts and ends with the mothers who have believed in the birth process, their bodies and that how they birth matters to their babies. You hear from fathers who love that their babies were born surrounded by their home and loved ones…their natural environment to begin life in.

Instead of the black/white contrast of The Business of Being Born, you have a sophisticated segue in the sense that the commentator’s information is presented around the story told so the dots are connected fully because these women tell their own story and the commentator fills in the ‘real’ story. It’s not told fear based, it’s told from a know natural birth perspective. No rant. It just is.

We believe that it is also the intent to interview everyone in a home or home-like atmosphere, with the exception of hospital footage for those two moms with routine medicalized birth … and that’s a smooth, thinking contrast. Every person is speaking softly even when venting on medical birth. Love the moment that Dr. Northrup tells us with medical intervention we “screw it up” — “it” being normal birth.

It is also one of the first films presented to the public to show a wonderful birth class outside of the hospital. We don’t know if it is the producer’s intent but perhaps the film is trying to turn Lamaze around and portray Lamaze in the Institute for Normal Birth light. We say this because the producers limited themselves to Lamaze. They did also keep footage of someone mentioning a Lamaze in-hospital class that they didn’t like.

We wish more had been done to represent other independent birth ed options as independent childbirth educators are among the most deeply anchored normal birth supporters in America and have always known that hospital preferred birth classes are a disservice to women, hindering their access to unbiased information and, many argue, used only for props to keep women birthing in hospitals. Around the world, normal birth education may not be done in the traditional setting that we in America are accustomed to but it is still independent of medical fear and bias, with knowledge transfer occurring rather as a woman to woman knowledge share with midwives as the informational conduit.

We do wish the film included reflection on mothers who are second or even third generation homebirthers as well. These women kept normal birth in America from completely fading away. There really needs to be a film as a tribute to these women pioneers. In other words, it is important that nations, especially America, fully recognize that home birth, normal birth is not something new; that women have believed in and enjoyed their normal births before 2008.

The births shown are wonderful. One of the best births is the mom who talks about childbirth as a mother’s sacrifice. You might cringe because you start thinking here we go… “Birth is painful. Birth is a sacrifice. Birth is about a medal.” However, to our delight, this mother delivers within a pretty normal window for active labor, 26 hours, she’s birthing at home and the midwife says outright in a hospital she would have been given pitocin and c-sectioned by now. The great thing is the mom talking afterwards about enjoying that birth for its own challenge for her if not for any great spiritual or relaxing birth story.

This is a great contrast to the mom who I mentioned above with the vacuum baby who says not until closer to her due date and hiring a doula did she hear anyone talk about embracing contractions. Until then everyone talked about labor as a difficult thing. You really do get the full connection of the contrast between the two women’s births… some of the responsibility lies with women doing the work to face and/or overcome fears… some of the responsibility lies with careproviders’ attitudes about birth and their inability to provide humanized birth. It’s not only about medical vs. normal birth. It’s also about what women are told, have been told and how it’s still quite accidental for women to hear about birth as an enjoyable event in their lives.

The abuse survivor’s birth and another homebirth will make you cry. The very personalized births will leave you smiling and swaying with the moms. Very cool.

We can’t wait to share it with you and we hope to see you at our screenings!! Just check our “Birth Events Near You” page on this blog.