Though I haven’t had an operating-room birth or an unassisted road-side birth, I have given birth in just about every other location with just about every type of birth attendant. For those who may want to know how my births compared, I thought I’d give my pros and cons for each scenario. Before I do, however, I’d like to emphasize that I don’t think birth location is as important as who you choose for birth attendants. I believe most women can have a positive birth experience in any location as long as the people they are surrounded by are kind, supportive, and capable. See my post on this topic here. Keep in mind that these were my personal experiences, and I do not intend to imply that my experiences would be expected to occur in every hospital, birth center, or home birth.
About a week ago, I saw a TED Talk video that I haven’t been able to stop thinking about. In this 20-minute video, Amy Cuddy shares a “free, no-tech life hack.” Her research on body language demonstrates that we can infuse ourselves with greater confidence and serenity in the face of a challenging situation simply by changing body positions. She calls them “power poses.” Here’s the video, if you’re interested. Totally worth your time.
I wish every laboring woman could have a doula’s support. Here are four great reasons why…
1) Doulas are nothing new.
A lot of people, when they first hear about doulas, think… oh, that’s new. But it’s not at all. For thousands and thousands of years women have been supported by other women during childbirth. We watched an awesome film at our doula training called “The Timeless Way” which showed the history of childbirth starting with ancient artifacts and moving to more modern depictions. I was struck how the very same image was represented through sculpture, wall carvings, pottery, and art over and over and over again. It is the “classic birth triad”—an upright laboring woman supported from behind by another woman, with a midwife in front ready to catch the baby. It has only been in the last century that this “classic birth triad” has all but disappeared. Doulas are not new. Modern obstetric practice is what has strayed (very far, I might add) from the time-tested norm.
This morning, a friend posted on my facebook page wall:
“Do you have a full list of things you recommend to bring for people who choose to have a hospital birth? I would love to pass a list on to my sister and friends who are pregnant, if you have one.”
I told her I didn’t have one, but she had given me an idea for a great blogpost. I should preface this by saying that I didn’t bring any of these things to my hospital births. But if I could go back in time, I would! Ten years of studying childbirth have taught me a lot!
Aside from the usual change of clothes, toiletries, and baby gear, here’s what I’d recommend you pack in your bag to ease your hospital birth and postpartum experience.
A week or two ago I had a little epiphany. Ever since, I’ve had that song stuck in my head… “I wear my sunglasses at night…” I’m a child of the 80’s. Actually, that’s the only line of the song I really know, so I’ve just had that one line repeating over and over in my head. Ha. What is that song even about?
Seriously though, if we’re going to wear sunglasses, we really should be wearing them at night (unless we’re driving, of course). And because of all of this pondering about light and sunglasses, I’m becoming convinced that every woman transferring in labor to a hospital should wear amber (blue-light blocking) eyeglasses. At least until she gets situated and comfortable and labor is continuing to progress.
Let me explain…
It might help if you read these posts first:
When I was a young girl, I went with my grandmother to visit a woman who lived in a tiny white house behind our family fruit orchard. She had added another newborn to her growing flock of little ones. We peeked at the baby, sleeping calmly amid the hubbub of the other children. This experience would likely have receded into the annals of forgotten experiences if it were not for one detail that blazed it into my memory. This woman had delivered her baby at home, on purpose. I don’t remember how old I was at the time, but I was old enough to know that babies were supposed to be born at the hospital. And, besides, why would anyone want to experience that pain?
Not long after I got married, I had a brief conversation with a young woman we knew. She was pregnant with her first child and carrying a stack of birth-related books from the library. The books prompted our conversation, and she mentioned that she was planning to give birth without drugs. I responded, in shock, “I didn’t know people still did that?!” She answered me with two sentences that changed my life forever: “My mom had all her babies that way. There are actually a lot of benefits.” In sincere curiosity and ignorance, I spent a few minutes drilling her about the benefits of natural childbirth. I’m pretty sure she mentioned the Bradley method and midwives in there somewhere. And then the conversation ended. I have since forgotten her name, but I will be forever grateful to this young woman for opening my mind to a path I never would have found or chosen on my own.
We must not, in trying to think about how we can make a big difference, ignore the small daily differences we can make which, over time, add up to big differences that we often cannot foresee. -Marian Wright Edelman
Back in January of 2010, I got a surprising email from a local friend. I discovered:
1) She was pregnant with her first baby.
2) She had been following my birth blog.
3) She had chosen a practice of fantastic nurse-midwives.
She also said, “I’ve loved reading about your home birth… I just am not ‘courageous’ enough to go that route on a first (maybe our next?).”
All of these discoveries made me giddy with excitement.
Then at the end of April, she and her husband attended my “Birth Coach Boot Camp” where I shared what I believed were the best ways husbands can help their wives in childbirth. Her due date was right around the corner, so I sent her home with my birth ball and my copy of The Birth Partner, by Penny Simkin. And then we waited.
Saturday was my birthday, and I was given a wonderful gift at the end of the day. I received an email from one of my readers, sharing how my essay “Unity with Providers of Care” (in the Unity chapter of our book) had a positive impact on her. She also shared a beautiful spiritual experience she had after reading my essay. With her permission, I share it today. -Lani/Busca
I’ve been reading your blog for a while now, and have been making my way through The Gift of Giving Life, and I wanted to tell you how much your book has helped me.
Long story short, I was very unhappy with the hospital care I received with my 3rd child. While I like the Ob/Gyn I normally see, they have about twenty doctors that rotate at the hospital. With my 3rd child, I played Russian roulette with this system and ended up with two very horrid doctors who threatened and yelled at me for giving birth the way I wanted to. So I have been hoping to find—and not have to pay for—a better option for my 4th child.
Yesterday I had a very important meeting with the head OB for the insurance provider we have to discuss whether or not I could get a referral to a birthing center. I’d been waiting for a month for this appointment and was very keyed up about the whole thing, so I went to bed the night before knowing that I probably wouldn’t be sleeping well…
Read the rest of the post HERE.
My sister emailed me a link to an article about electronic fetal monitoring this morning: “Unnecessary C-sections performed due to fetal heart rate system” from KSL.com. The article explains: “Maternal-fetal medicine specialists believe fetal heart rate patterns may not be a good indicator of a baby’s health, and may lead to . . . unnecessary interventions and higher health care costs.”
I’ve heard this many times before in my own research, so I was glad to see it getting more attention in the mainstream media. While it’s definitely important to ensure our babies are weathering labor well, the current system of monitoring and interpreting eletronic fetal monitor tracings has proven itself unreliable. I blogged about this issue in July of 2009 on my old blog. Here’s a re-post:
[Trigger warning: This post contains loss.]
Almost five years ago, four friends went fishing in a small motorboat on a cool November morning. Kimball and Steven were brothers. Steven brought his wife, Catheryn. The other was a friend. At first, the lake water was like a sheet of glass, calm and serene. After a few hours, however, the wind picked up and so did the waves. The fish started biting like crazy. One after another, they brought fish in, not realizing that the waves were slowly filling the boat. Suddenly, just as they noticed the too-deep pool of frigid water in the bottom of the boat, it sunk out from under them.
Based on the low temperature of the water and the distance to the lake shore, none of them should have survived. All of them were praying their hearts out. First they swam together toward the marina, crying out for help as loudly as they could. Then Kimball realized that they were swimming against the current and needed to turn around and swim the other way. He swam ahead to tell Steven, who said, “You think?” Steven swam ahead to where Catheryn was.
Kimball thought that he was telling her the change of plans and that they would quickly follow. He turned in the direction of the current with his friend, looking back repeatedly as the current carried him further and further from where his brother had been, unable to see them any longer, wondering whether they might have chosen to keep heading toward the marina to look for help in that direction. As he swam, he heard these words over and over in his head: “Just keep swimming… just keep swimming… just keep swimming, swimming, swimming…”
Half of them made it miraculously to shore and survived, half of them moved on to the world of spirits.
Regardless of what type of disaster may strike or how severe it is, there will always be pregnant women in need of special assistance. Pregnant women are among those most at risk in disaster situations, in part because severe stress can trigger premature labor, but also because so many women are forced to give birth under precarious circumstances. When hospitals may be over-flowing with sick and injured survivors, roads or transportation inaccessible, and electricity likely unavailable, women who would otherwise have given birth at the hospital will have to seek alternatives. It is also a possibility that hospitals will only have resources for the most high-risk pregnant women, leaving low-risk mothers to give birth with little or no assistance from staff. Even in the absence of a large-scale disaster, on just an ordinary day-to-day basis, sometimes a birth happens too quickly to make it to the planned location or before a qualified birth attendant can be present.
Robbie Prepas, a certified nurse-midwife, saw many such births first-hand during the Hurricane Katrina disaster. She delivered five babies in the New Orleans airport, twins in an ambulance, and provided impromptu care to hundreds of pregnant and postpartum women, checking fetal heart tones, etc. She explains, “There were no policies or procedures in place to care for pregnant women or mothers and their babies after Katrina. We even lacked such basics as diapers, formula, baby bottles and clean clothes” (“Disaster Preparedness for Mothers & Babies: Getting Prepared”). Midwife Mary Callahan, CNM, MS, also assisted in the Hurricane Katrina relief effort, providing midwifery services to displaced women in a large shelter and assembling emergency birth and prenatal kits for use in other area shelters (“Chicago Midwives Travel to Baton Rouge”). While we may be fortunate to cross paths with a doctor, midwife, or paramedic with birth supplies in an emergency childbirth situation, we can’t be certain of such luck. Given all of the possibilities, the best course is to have plans and supplies in place so that we can meet our specific needs in emergency situations.
[Re-post from the old blog. Originally published in April of 2007.]
When I gave birth for the first time, I didn’t know what a doula was, but I recently realized that the care and support of a “doula” is what actually carried me through that birth.
Her name was Eve. She was the labor and delivery nurse assigned to me when I entered the hospital for my oldest daughter’s birth. She was gentle, unassuming, and kind. When I told her that I was hoping to “go natural,” she mentioned that she could offer positions to try and techniques to cope with the pain of labor. She said she had given birth without drugs before, and knowing she was supportive and experienced gave me courage.
As labor progressed, Eve showed my husband how to provide counter-pressure to ease the discomfort of contractions. She pulled out the rarely-used, water-proof telemetry monitor so my husband could spray my back with hot water in the shower. When I got out of the shower, she brought in a birth ball and helped me to sit and rock on it. Later, she coached me to keep my vocalizing low, deep, and relaxed instead of high-pitched and tense. When I doubted myself and contemplated drugs as I struggled through the hardest contractions, she said, “Why don’t I check you first—you might be almost fully dilated.” Sure enough, I was only a couple of centimeters from the end. She told me that, in her experience, it felt good once you could push (and she was right). She rubbed my feet and sat by my side through those last intense contractions, encouraging me with her reassuring words. Although her shift ended before the pushing started, she chose to stay with me until after the birth. Ultimately, I did it! Giving birth for the first time without complications or drugs was one of the most empowering experiences of my life.
In February of last year, I heard about a study that reaffirms what our mammal cousins have known instinctively for thousands of years… birth should happen in a dark, comfortable place. It also helps explain why most women go into labor in the middle of the night. And why so many labors slow down or stall in a hospital setting.
Ever since a conversation last night with my brother and sister-in-law, I’ve had this phrase going through my mind: “It’s not where you are, it’s who you’re with.” It seems to me that traumatic births often prompt couples to choose an alternative path for subsequent births. For those who experience that trauma in the hospital, home birth often provides the healing they seek. Because of the trauma my brother and his wife suffered following their home birth (and I do think my brother has some valid and genuine post-traumatic stress), they will likely have all of their subsequent children in hospitals [<—actually, 2015 update, they had another home birth]. I think it’s just human nature to associate those intense frightening emotions with the place where they occurred regardless of whether the place contributed to their occurrence.