Whose Birth Is It?
Last night, during a private lesson I was teaching, the pregnant mother continually referred to “Baby Boom” her source of knowledge on everything about birth. For those who don’t know, “Baby Boom” is a reality show that follows couples through their classic pregnancy through birth experiences. As the lesson went on I realized the strength of this show has been in instilling sources of misunderstanding and disinformation about the birthing process in Israel. Again and again, my student, the mom, responded to any suggestion of anything nonconventional with the question “Will that be allowed?” And as I am prone to do as a teacher, I answered the question with a question: “Whose birth is it?”
Indeed I ask. Whose birth is it? The midwife’s? Or the doctor’s whose job it is to enforce hospital protocol? Or is it the birth of the hospital management who came up with the protocol under the supervision of the insurance company who hold the management hostage? Or is it the the tv show’s editor who decided what to show us as viewers?
Eventually we came up with an answer…The birth is ours, our baby’s, and we as parents must protect our baby’s right to a gentle birth.
That might sound scary or threatening to someone who watched “Baby Boom” and thinks that he or she will have to rebel against the system in order to have the birth they want. But honestly, what I have found over the years is that “the system” is quite flexible. The caregivers will do whatever they can to help parents feel satisfied.
But how will the caregivers know how to help if we don’t tell them? It is all a matter of communication, speaking one’s wishes aloud (and having a written birthing preferences list).
I am reminded of a family whose 3 births I was a part of as educator and doula. The first birth was amazing. It flowed so well for a first birth, active labor came quickly and Maya was deep within herself (using the HypnoBirthing techniques of inner focus on breath, release of muscle tension and relaxation) when her husband Dan and I realized that we needed to move from the house to car to hospital if we didn’t want an unplanned home birth. We made it to hospital and to the natural birthing centre in hospital. All was progressing well, but as the natural expulsive reflex took over the midwife convinced Maya to lay on her back. This was against Maya’s wishes, but the midwife insisted it was the only way she could guard Maya’s perineum. [Actually by being in a position that is counterintuitive to mom, there is much more stress on the perineum because the muscles are constricted from fear.] And after all was said and done, baby was born, and stitches were needed to repair the damage.
When preparing for the second birth, Maya told me “there is no way I will lay on my back”. I told her: “No worries, I am there to support your choice, listen to your body, you’ll know what to do.” Again this birth progressed quickly and once Maya was deep within her HypnoBirthing relaxation, we got moved to the natural centre and met the midwife. Maya came out of her meditative state to tell the midwife: “When I start pushing, I will choose my position, and it won’t be on my back. Don’t talk to me then, the only one who can talk to me at that stage is Paula.” Uh-oh, I thought to myself with an embarrassed inner smile, I wonder how the midwife will feel about working with me in the future? And oh how I love the clarity of a woman in labor! And then —there it was— a fantastic birth! Maya was on all fours on a mattress on the floor, all was quiet, I was by her ear in case she needed guidance, the midwife received the baby. Maya was thrilled to have the birth she wanted and her perineum was intact. The midwife and I remained on good terms, after all who can hold a grudge after such a beautiful birth?
Travel in time to the third pregnancy. We meet up and I’m thinking the third birth should be a snap, the only challenge might be getting to hospital on time. But a new issue came up, the natural birthing centre was closed that year. The best options for a safe birth were homebirth or a regular room in that same hospital. Mama didn’t feel comfortable birthing at home, she preferred to let the older kids stay home with the grandparents babysitting. “But how can I have the birth I want in a regular room?” Maya asked me with a tone of distress. Well, I said, you just have to be clear about your wishes.” “But will they let me birth on all fours, because there is no way that I’ll lay on my back?” “Whose birth is it?” I responded. By now she knew the answer.
On the birthing day, as with her previous births, Maya was deep within herself. As Dan and I saw the birth progressing, we were clear about when to leave home. So there we were in the cubicle in triage and the midwife says to Maya: “Lay down so I can put you on the monitor.” And Maya came out of her birth bubble to respond very simply and clearly, “I cannot lay down, you can put the monitor on like this”, and she nimbly hopped onto the bed on all fours.
With a bit of grumbling, the midwife succeeded in getting a good monitor reading. Shortly after that, the midwife said “It seems like things are really progressing, lay down so I can check dilation.” And Maya again said, “I cannot lay down, you can check me like this.” Despite her surprise, with a bit more grumbling, the midwife realized that she was able to check the cervix with Maya on all fours, and no kidding the birth was progressing! So the midwife said, “The baby is right here, we’ve got to get you upstairs to a birthing room, lay down so we can take you on the bed.” And Maya replied very clearly, “I can’t lay down, I want to give birth like this.” And so the midwife, who was now feeling creative, covered Maya’s bottom half with a sheet and we all rolled the bed with Maya crouched on it on all fours, through the hallways, into the elevator, up to the third floor, past the nurses station, to a birthing room.
Now we met the birthing-room midwife who said “I understand you are fully dilated and you don’t want to lay down, but I see that there is meconium in the amniotic fluid and I’ll only deliver this baby if you lay down.” Maya said again “I can’t lay down.” That midwife left the room grumbling. I was a bit taken aback by a midwife walking out when the baby was so close. But I whispered in Maya’s ear, “Everything is ok, keep listening to your body and baby, we are here for you.” And then a moment later, a replacement midwife came in, like a sweet angel, and she said “I understand you want to birth on all fours. That’s fine with me, I have plenty of experience delivering babies in all positions, but listen, do me a favour and birth quickly. The rest of the staff is breathing down my neck.”
And so shortly after that Maya and Dan’s third baby was born, gently and easily. Maya was ecstatic!
“Thank you, thank you, thank you for letting me birth on all fours” she exclaimed to all. And all the midwives laughed out loud, “We let you? No, we didn’t do anything, you birthed the way you chose.”
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