About two months before Kort and I found we were expecting sweet Rosemary, I stumbled upon The Business of Being Born on Netflix. I was hooked. I must have watched it three or four times, tearing up when the moms pushed their babies out, birthing in bathtubs and standing up. And I still think it must be one of the most amazing experiences! But there are plenty of things I've learned about pregnancy and birthing by my own experience that I wish I could have internalized before going through the process.
I now have a library of books about birthing without pain medication or intervention filled with stories of women who birthed by midwife, at home or in the hospital, with no epidural or problem. Their titles include Birthing from Within, Ina May's Guide to Natural Child Birth, The Bradley Method Workbook, etc. These are great, but statistics are slippery things and can be easily skewed. For instance, the statistic that women who get epidurals are at a 700% likelihood to experience incontinence from the Cath- um, maybe for a week after! But not permanently. And the French Doc on the documentary telling you that you'll screw up the love cocktail of hormones that help you love your baby if you get an epidural or pitocin (and gives the example of how animals who didn't birth their babies vaginally abandoned them) is a little confused about the hierarchy of mammals- humans were created differently! God gave us the ability even to adopt and love love love those babies, too. Guess what? I (who had an emergency c-section) am delightedly in love with my little daughter, even on days like today when she won't eat and screams bloody murder just to hear her new vocal range skills after going through a growth spurt. And I have a temper! It amazes me how gentle I can be when she's yelling at me! Did I hear you say, "Yeah, so far," under your breath? :)
There are things those books and the documentary portray that are true. For instance, growing and birthing a baby IS a woman's battle. Some cultures respect the mother as a warrior because she did just fight a battle physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually. And medicine is often unnecessarily administered during pregnancy and birth. Also, physicians often can't spend time nurturing a pregnant woman the way she needs, talking to her about her fears and the process, insuring she is mentally and emotionally healthy on the journey as well as physically. They probably do see a woman as more of a patient and as one box to check off during their busy day and less as a midwife would see a woman relationally, see the pregnancy as a right of passage for the mother.
BUT. All that talk about contractions being "waves" of muscle tightening that are empowering you and not something to villainize? Maybe. Like the waves off the coast of Hawaii that would drown you in a second if you aren't Michael Phelps. The talk about contractions not being pain but being signals to help you get into the right position to better prepare the baby to come out? Definitely. Just like having a heap of wasp stings tells you not to stick your hand in the nest (but the debilitating pain at the point of being stung so many times probably will prohibit you from moving without help just as the woman in labor isn't logically thinking, oh, yes, this pain tells me to move this way, which is why we want other women around to help direct us). The talk about epidurals being for women who don't know what's best for the baby or worse, know, but don't care because they're selfish? Yes, much like women who are selfish and want morphine for a limb amputation. OR the talk about women who are duped into some western way of medicine that brain washes them into thinking they can't birth their baby without pain relief? Maybe and sometimes, just like you're worse off for not having to walk two miles to and from school uphill both ways in the snow (and I am saying "maybe" without sarcasm here, because some of us would probably be better if we had to walk everywhere and sometimes it would be good if we didn't have modern conveniences like processed foods). The talk about c-sections being so negative, cold and unkind to the mother? Yes, much like having to get a shot is not a warm fuzzy experience but if you had to choose the pain of a shot or to contract tetanus, polio, or tuberculosis, the shot might suddenly look like a sweet, cuddly teddy bear, non? (Yes, some c-sections are elective and without good reason, just as sometimes people get a little hypochondriac-esque and get Rx's they don't need, but there is a backlash against c-sections to the point of defying logic. For instance, I'd rather have a c-section than 100 stitches down there and be out of commission for 9 months.)
My post-birth perspective is probably pretty obvious from the above statements. But just to be clear, I did have an emergency c-section after reading oodles of positive medicine free birth stories, writing a flexible but comprehensive no-intervention birth plan, taking birthing classes, hiring a doula, renting a birthing tub, and sitting on a birthing ball for hours on end before labor. Things just happen. And ten weeks later, (now that the birth and first horrible four weeks are a bit hazy), I can say that I'm ok with birthing by cesarian. I made it without intervention 'til basically 10 centimeters dilated. But I had horrid 'back labor" due to Rosemary's position. She wasn't dropping. And I really didn't want to push for three hours without relief, having been in labor for over 12 hours at that point already. Maybe she would have come out fast, maybe not. But I had been 10 centimeters dilated for good while and had no urge to push. Maybe there would have been complete relief from the pain during pushing but maybe not. Not all women experience that relief. I consider the anesthesiologist administering the epidural to me as an action of compassion to a suffering woman. Maybe I would have had to have the c-section regardless of epidural. Maybe the epidural caused me to have to have the c-section. We'll never know.
But I know I can be thankful I have a healthy baby and I am healthy. I know I can be thankful c-sections are possible and that Dr. Barnes was present, patiently watching me labor without intervention and stepping in when he saw Rosemary's vitals drop to a consistently low level, even during breaks from contractions. I know Rosemary must have been in distress because her APGAR score was a 2. And I now know having a c-section doesn't make me a weak sister or a lazy sister or a sister who hasn't done her homework about the process. Having a c-section to me means I am one providentially fortunate sister who didn't die on the wagon road from exhaustion at trying to birth a nearly 9lb baby.
If someone had shared this story on the Business of Being Born, I might have been a little more flexible and felt a little less like a failure for not birthing naturally.