My Thoughts on Birth

I've been thinking a lot about birth lately -- about my own experiences and about birth in general. It seems like the "Mommy Wars" begin before children even appear...women argue, judge, and debate over natural vs. medicated, vaginal vs. c-section, spontaneous vs. induced, and pretty much every other choice that one can make regarding labor and delivery. Personally, I think it's ridiculous. I am of the opinion that there is no "RIGHT" way to give birth. There is no cookie cutter scenario into which birth experiences must fit in order to be considered a "success." In my opinion, any labor and delivery experience that results in a healthy infant and mother is a success. Unfortunately, that doesn't stop women from feeling like "failures" when their birth experiences don't go exactly as they expected or even planned.

This is why I haven't made any sort of "plans" for either of my children's births. I didn't take any classes, I didn't read a substantial amount of literature...I based my decisions solely on what felt right to me -- I let the Lord inspire me. With Kyle, it was induction at 41 weeks with an epidural. With Lucas, it was induction 2 days before my due date with no pain medication. Both births were in hospitals, attended by medical personnel. Even though my two experiences were quite different, I don't feel like one was better or "more right" than the other. Because I didn't make any formal "plans" I wasn't let down if things didn't go exactly according to my plan.

I've had a lot of people ask me if I took classes or read books or did any sort or preparing to have an unmedicated birth, and they've all been surprised when I answer "no." The fact is, I feel like I was able to have Lucas without pain medication because I didn't do any of those things. I didn't study Lamaze breathing techniques. I didn't take any classes on the Bradley method or on hypobirthing. I didn't have a birth plan. Avoiding these things was what guaranteed my success, in my mind.

Personally, I feel that birth plans are ridiculous. A statement by Taffy Brodesser-Akner in a recent SELF magazine article on birth sums up exactly how I feel on this subject: "They [birth plans] are rarely made up of crazy requests, but in my opinion, the very act of creating such a contract was to ignore what labor is: something unpredictable that you are in no way qualified to dictate." I can see the merit in having "birth suggestions" or "birth preferences" -- things like, "I want the lights to be kept low," or "I want to listen to music during labor." Those are things you can control. I feel like women who outline how they want their labor to proceed and what procedures they do and don't want performed and other things that are totally out of their control are just setting themselves up for disappointment. Maybe that's pessimistic of me, but there it is. I think birth plans narrow a the scope of a woman's vision because she has her mind set on a specific scenario and won't allow herself any alternative, potentially making an already difficult task nearly impossible. During my labor with Kyle, the pitocin drip kicked me immediately into near-transition-strength contractions, and it was all I could do to get through each one. I was exhausted after only a couple of hours, and I knew there was no way I'd be able to push if my energy was totally spent. Getting an epidural allowed me to rest and prepare myself. But what if I had had my heart set on an unmedicated birth? I would have resisted pain medication as long as possible, if not altogether, and I'm positive my labor would have been prolonged and more difficult on both Kyle and me.

I feel the same way about taking childbirth classes. To me, it just seems ridiculous to pay any amount of money to learn how to have a baby according to someone else's expectations. What happens if I paid money to learn the Bradley method and ended up having an emergency c-section because my baby's heart rate plummeted during labor? Would I feel like my money was wasted? Would I feel like a failure? I think I would. I think most women would. But why? Ms. Brodesser-Akner summed it up beautifully: "Perhaps part of the problem is that our generation of women is so ambitious, so driven, that we don't know how to do anything without quantifying it as a success or failure." I'm already hard enough on myself; I don't need any more reason to feel like a failure. Besides, no amount of money can give a stranger the ability to tell me the best way for ME to have a baby. (You will note that this logic can also apply to medical personnel. I see no reason to pay money to a doctor or midwife that tries to force women into his/her cookie cutter birthing scenario.)

I realize that I am very fortunate. Both of my birthing experiences have gone smoothly and have left me with no regrets or bad feelings. However, I do feel like that is partially due to my following my own inspiration and going with the flow during labor. I wanted very much to have Lucas without pain medication, but I know that if that desire changed during the throes of labor I would have been just as happy with the end result if I had gotten an epidural. 25 years down the road, I don't think it will matter to me whether or not I had pain medication or whether or not I was induced or that I was in a hospital. The most important thing is that I brought beautiful, healthy little lives into this world safely, which is a miracle no matter how it's done.


Mikah said...

Jessica, I love this post.I agree with you. There are so many people that try to persuade everyone else around them in doing what they think is "best." I found this true not only with birth, but even things like breastfeeding.It's stressful, frustrating, and does make one feel guilty, anxious, and, yes, sometimes even a failure before you've even begun. Your thoughts are uplifting and perfectly worded! Thanks for sharing!

Brittany said...

I've never made it to the point of actually giving birth, but I know what failure feels like. Birth is very personal subject because though most women know what it's like to go through birth nobody can really understand what birth is like for the other party. Yes they felt the pain and yes they understand the process, but they don't understand what's going through the other party's head and they don't know what their limits are because everyones are different. Some need the birthing classes to calm them down and get and idea of what to expect and some women don't need much help at all. But the point is you delivered two beautiful children and you did it the way YOU thought was best which is the success! <3 B

Katie said...

Word. I agree that there is no right or better way to give birth. As a medical personnel myself, my only qualms about the way the medical community approaches birth is that too often hasty and unneccessary intervention leads to increased risk for both mother and baby. But I agree in that an outcome of a healthy mother and baby is a success, and that any woman who gives birth in any way is s champ!! Ahhh I could talk about birth all day. Haha. I hope you're surviving the first whirlwind weeks! :)

Devri said...

When I read your blog, I'm reminded of why I like you so much. I needed this.
I have been bombarded with mothers and future-mothers who believe so strongly in natural births that they often seem to look down on me for having had a doctor deliver my baby instead of a midwife, and for having an epidural instead of having him naturally. I've heard so many of them strongly disapprove of c-sections and inductions. I have been so frustrated by the "the natural way is the only way" attitude. For me, I don't think that I could handle that. I'm a big believer in modern medicine, and it makes me feel comfortable. I would feel very UNCOMFORTABLE if I had a baby in a birthing center or a hospital without a NICU, especially after my baby spent the first four hours of his life in the NICU. I felt good about how things went down with Michael's birth, and I've felt perturbed when others seemed to judge me for my not making up my mind about getting an epidural beforehand (many saying, "well, since you haven't made a decision beforehand, that means that you'll get one."), and then now that I had one, I often feel like I have to justify myself for getting an epidural. You've given me a vote of confidence, and I really appreciate it.

Let us all cut each other some slack. If you want to go natural, all power to you. If I want to trust in modern medicine because I have more peace of mind in that, respect that and don't make me feel that it's wrong or uninformed.

Again, you rock! We need to hang out soon!

Kim said...

Scott showed me your blog and I loved this post. I planned to have my baby vaginally and it didn't work out for me. We ended up with a semi-scary c-section instead. One which my husband would have missed if my ob hadn't told someone to go get him as he was cutting me open. Afterwards I was only able to breastfeed for a couple of months before we needed to switch to formula. I hate to admit it, but I felt like a little bit of a failure. I think everyone needs to make their own decisions with each baby about how to give birth.

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