Women need to stop feeling as if they’ve failed when they don’t experience their ideal birth. This is a point on which we can probably all agree – but we need to recognise that there are many reasons why women may feel like they have "failed" when they don’t have the birth they’ve imagined.
It's not just about the way we speak of one birth experience over another – it’s about the actual information that is offered to pregnant women. The medical information that the natural birthing community gives pregnant women is completely different than the information that those who believe in surgical or hospital birth espouse. This leaves a woman in the unique and unqualified position of trying to decipher which is “right.” It’s a pretty unsettling place to be.
Before the birth of my first child, I guess you could say I was obsessed with experiencing a natural labour. Having never been through childbirth, I was acutely unaware of how many factors contributed to having your 'ideal' birth.
We spent so long trying to conceive, when it finally happened I was consumed with every detail of the birthing process. The Business of Being Born became the manual by which I crafted a birthing plan that I was certain I could execute. I didn’t want to be one of those ladies in hospital, crying, medicated and rushed. I was naïve to believe that all that was involved in succeeding with a natural childbirth was the desire to experience it.
I never went into labor with my first child. I was 41 weeks pregnant and at my weekly check-up when my midwife noticed an irregularity in my child’s heartbeat. It was alarming enough for her to recommend that I get to the hospital immediately. Once there, the cavalcade of interventions that the natural birthing community warned me would happen in hospital began. Months of studying natural birthing stories put me in a position of an innate distrust in a conventional medical establishment. I was certain all the doctors around me were simply hell-bent on executing what I was told was their go-to procedure for women in labour – a Caesarean section.
I refused the recommendation for induction. I refused all pain medications that were being offered. I was convinced I would be able to will my body into delivering. The sound of my child’s heart stopping finally changed my mind. I was wheeled into an operating room and what seemed like minutes later, my son was pulled from an incision across my abdomen. He was healthy and gorgeous. I was distraught. I remained that way for a good few months after his birth.
Recovering from a surgical birth is a uniquely lonely and troubling place for a woman who desires a natural one. All those around me who adamantly believed a woman’s body was 'made to birth' seemed wary of the interventions that led to my c-section. Those who didn’t understand my desire to birth naturally tried to comfort me with the expected, "all that matters is that you and your baby are healthy." Yes, that was certainly the most important point – but only served to make me feel even more isolated and selfish for not being thrilled with the way my child came into the world.
In the US, midwives and gynecologists seem to be split into very different camps. This became glaringly obvious to me when I moved in the 7th month of my second pregnancy and had to change insurance. I was in the unique position of seeing a midwife for my prenatal care, but needing to deliver in hospital with doctors who held a completely different set of beliefs than my midwife in regards to birth.
While trying to find gynecologist who would let me attempt a VBAC (vaginal birth after caesarean) in hospital, I was consistently schooled about how risky it was to attempt and how horrifying the outcome could be: Ms. Guido, your uterus can rupture. This can be life threatening for you and baby. If something goes wrong you may need a hysterectomy to stop the bleeding. Meanwhile, my midwives were telling me: complications are extremely rare. 75% of women succeed with a trial of labor after caesarean section. Don’t worry! In fact, we can do your VBAC at home.
Who is right? Is it a life-threatening procedure that even doctor’s backed by hospitals are apprehensive to perform, or is it so safe that I can trust a midwife to perform one in my home?
It wasn't just the information I received in regards to VBAC that was distinctly different – midwives and gynecologists seemed to disagree on just about every aspect of the labour process. The hospital advised me to come in as soon as my water broke. My midwife advised me to wait until I was in active labour regardless of whether my water broke or not. Midwives assure you that you can eat, drink and move around throughout the labor process. The hospital had me on ice chips and immediately wanted to restrict my movement. Midwives seem to have patience with the flow of labor progress. Hospitals are quick to respond to a stalled labor with drugs and other interventions.
With midwives working to avoid interventions, and hospitals seeming to recommend them at the drop of a hat – it’s no wonder that there is so much talk of 'failure' around birth. Women are made wary of the medical establishment and led to distrust intervention. When they are in a position where intervention is necessary, they can feel like helpless bystanders in their own labours. The only failures here in my opinion are the hospitals that jump to unnecessary interventions and the midwives so blinded by their beliefs that they refuse to prepare their patients for what may be necessary outcomes.