Friday, February 09, 2007

Thoughts on childbirth

I read the birth story recently of an acqaintance, call her L., who had a successful VBAC (vaginal birth after caesarean). The birth of her first child went somewhat similarly to my experience with Charlotte, in that her water broke early, and she was asked to labor in a bed instead of being able to walk and move freely. From this, the baby's head got to a bad position, and at some point they decided that she would need a C-section. Apparently the hours after delivery were more stressful for her than mine were--including a lenghty separation from her son after birth (a couple of hours, from what I read). I, on the other hand, was in the same room with my daughter while they finished with me (and she was mostly being held by my husband and mother, who were there with me). I held her in my own arms as we were wheeled to the recovery room, and I was able to attempt to nurse her as soon as we arrived there (maybe 1-1.5 hours after she was born? Maybe more--I was a little drugged and tired at that point to remember the time). L. and I gave birth at different hospitals, which may well account for some of the differences in our experiences.

I think the bigger way that our first childbirth experiences differed was in how we recovered from the birth--emotionally, not necessarily physically. At a LLL meeting, another mom gave me information about a group called ICAN (or ICANN)--"international caesarean awareness something or other", but when I looked at the group's website, I was immediately turned off. Though there was some information there about recovery, implications for future births, tips for attempting VBAC's, etc, mostly what I found was anger and distrust--distrust of the medical profession, hospitals, etc. Many of the women who contributed to what I read sounded like abuse victims who had been forcibly robbed of something important. In one short conversation I had with L after congratulating her on her second pregancy, she mentioned that she had found this same group, which apparently clicked with her. Early on, she was already planning a home birth with child #2, complete with birthing tub--determined to avoid a second C-section. It sounds as though she mostly succeeded--she got the VBAC, but ended up driving to the hospital at the last minute in hopes of an epidural for the pain that she had trouble dealing with (she was too late for the epidural as it turns out).

Somehow, I did not end up with the same hang-ups about having a C-section. It was painful, and the recovery was long--I couldn't sleep on my stomach for 3 months after the birth, and it took longer than that before I was comfortable enough to attempt much abdominal strengthening again. But my daughter and I emerged from the hospital alive and well, and my body did heal. I don't think I ever really felt like a failure, and I found pride in the beautiful baby that my body was able to grow (and continue to sustain after birth with milk). I also realized that had I had a similar labor 100 years ago, one of us (or both of us) may not have survived--women used to die in childbirth. A lot more often than they do now. Maybe today's interventions (the epidural that keeps you from feeling your feet, keeping the mother from walking much after the water is broken to prevent cord prolapse, etc) are adding to the number of C-sections that are performed. And maybe some number of those C-sections would have been still births or brain-damaged babies otherwise. Personally, I'll take the intervention and good outcome over the gamble of the alternative.

Some women have a fantasy built up in their mind of the ultimate, blissful childbirth experience, starring themselves as powerful Earth Mother types whose bodies magically produce perfect children. I don't think they prepare for the pain that will come, because they are sure that everything will be perfect and the pain will be tolerable. They don't prepare mentally for the recovery, which for some women is less than pleasant (as any experience that can cause incontinence is going to be less than pleasant). Childbirth is messy, painful, and frought with problems. While I do believe that Mother Nature provides us with everything possible to help childbirth go smoothly, we sometimes forget that part of our source of empowerment comes from the fact that humans are social creatures. We are meant to live together in family and society groups, and we must rely on our fellow humans for help during our most vulnerable times. And childbirth is definitely one of our most vulnerable times. I am not advocating that women are somehow helpless and must submit to anything the all-knowing Medical Profession dictates to us. I am saying that we have to listen to our bodies, and trust what they're saying--especially when they're calling for help--and that it is not a sign of weakness to accept help from the doctors and nurses (who are real people with minds and hearts who generally care quite a bit for their patient's wellbeing).

I, too, am hoping for a VBAC with my second child. I remember the pain from Charlotte's birth, and remember how I was able to deal with it (and not--I did need an epidural when the back labor was at its worst). I also know that I may need help, or my baby may need help, and I may not get the birth experience that I would prefer. I remember the pain and recovery time from my C-section, and I know that I may be facing that a second time, if things don't go exactly according to plan. But, I know that I will have help around me during and after the birth, and that time heals many things. I should trust my body to know it's job, and trust those around me that they know thiers.


Tanya said...
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Tanya said...

I was robbed of something important with my surgery. Sadly, the medical model of care set me up for the loss of a normal birth with my first child. So, yes that makes me angry at the system. But it's a healthy anger. It drove me to have two subsequent vaginal births, the last of which was at home. So I took back what was taken from me, but I'll never be able to change the first experience.