Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Moving Forward: My First Birth Story

My goal in writing this blog is to offer support for other women who have had the experience of going past 42 weeks in their pregnancy and are planning a homebirth in a state that is very strict with licensed midwives after this "magic" date. I want to share my experience as background to my current opinion on the topic, as well as some excellent resources I've found since. I pray this helps you!


It's been about two and half years since the birth of my son. Right now he is playing with wooden blocks in our living room and I can't imagine that there was ever a time he didn't exist. His presence in my life has been the greatest spiritual practice I could have ever asked for.

His birth was a happy event because it delivered us to each other. His birth was a sad event because it was unnecessarily traumatic for both of us.

I am grateful for his birth because it gave me the wisdom to make better choices for the baby currently growing inside me... eventually. For a long time, I was just upset, sad, and confused about the whole thing. That's where this blog came from. I don't agree with most of what I wrote there anymore though.


:: NOT SO HELPFUL (NOR HOLISTIC) TIPS ::

My husband and I at our baby shower 
At around 40 and a half weeks into my pregnancy my midwife started giving me "helpful" hints about what I could do to gently coerce the start of my labor. At this early date I think they included having sex and nipple stimulation. About a week later, the suggestions were growing: acupuncture, a disgusting-sounding castor oil drink, and this next one...

At our last appointment before the birth she offered to "strip my membranes." I'm not the sharpest biology student I suppose, but I had no idea what that meant. And I did not ask. Because she seemed genuinely concerned about my body and my ability to birth on time, she managed to convince me that there was obviously a problem to be fixed (we'll get back to that), I was open to any solution she could find. Thankfully (Waheguru! Waheguru!) this was unsuccessful because my son wasn't ready to be born for another 5 days or so.

{As an aside, stripping the membranes means that a practitioner tries to forcibly break the bag of water that your baby is living in with a sharp instrument. It is not only painful, it opens a woman up to the possibility of serious infection. Even scarier, an open bag of water does not necessarily lead to labor. Even if labor does begin, if it doesn't produce a baby within a certain amount of hours, a woman is either on her own, or she is going to be transferred to a hospital where they will medically induce her and/or put her in line for an emergency c-section.} 


:: DO WE HAVE A PROBLEM HERE? :: 

All of this makes you wonder: What exactly is the problem you are trying to solve here? 

As it turns out, the problem wasn't mine. It was my midwife's. After 42 weeks her license would expire. She had two options at that point: 1) to transfer my care to a doctor, or 2) to give me the option to stay with her.

That seemed like a no-brainer to me, but here's what she didn't tell me: If I stayed with her and went through with my homebirth, she would consider me a ticking time bomb that could malfunction at any moment. She was prepared to call 911 for reasons she would not even consider with a woman who was comfortably within her dates.


:: TROUBLESHOOTING THE ABSURD ::

In this time period, my midwife had urged me to have an ultrasound non-stress test every 3 days until the baby arrived. They showed the baby was fine, and had plenty of amniotic fluid to thrive within. (Thanks to the failed membrane stripping incident). I took these tests to my appointments, along with glowing reports about my health and my baby's constant movement inside me. Nothing seemed to change her gloomy mood about this situation though.

{With what I know about ultra-sound now, I am so sorry I subjected my son to this! Read: Gentle Birth, Gentle Mothering by Dr. Sarah Buckley for more information about that.}

Looking back, this proves to me that my health and the baby's health took the way way backseat to state rules and regulations and how she was going to have to troubleshoot them.


:: THE BIRTH ::

Recovering with my little guy
My son's birth began the morning of February 11, 2013. We called our midwife immediately. We were so excited. Because, by this point, I was truly convinced my body was defective and wouldn't go into labor at all. (This is a most ridiculous thought, but it goes to show the power of stress in pregnancy).

I was listening to the soundtrack of my birth—Singh Kaur's "Guru Ram Das" when my midwife arrived.

One of the first things she had me do was change the music I was listening to. She claimed it might put me to sleep. {I think she said this because she had the misguided notion that a relaxed woman will birth more slowly, and we had no time to waste in her opinion.} This was really heartbreaking for me and I shouldn't have listened to her. Again, I had almost blind faith in her because the events of the past two weeks had so utterly worn down my confidence in my own ability to birth and make intuitive decisions for myself.

The uterine surges lasted all day, growing in intensity. My husband filled up the birth pool in the middle of our living room. What a difference! I felt so good in there.

My midwife decided to leave us alone for most of the day. In retrospect, this is probably one of the best decisions she made that day, even though I actually didn't like that she left at the time. It gave my husband and I some much-needed privacy.

When she returned it was right before what they call "transition." I started saying the prototypical things women say before they are about to meet their baby like "I don't think I can do this anymore..." So the midwife suggested I might need to pee. Sitting on the toilet, she came with her doppler and declared that the baby's heart was decelerating during the surges. She had her assistant call an ambulance and she brought in an (empty, oops!) oxygen tank for me.

She told me we couldn't wait any longer and I couldn't labor any more in the tub. I had to go lie down on the bed.

Suddenly we were in emergency mode. And everything else seems like a fast-forward version of the hours that preceded it. I remember her yelling at me "come on, come on" as she had me forcibly push, even though I felt no desire to. She said the baby was almost crowning.

And now her doppler said that his heart rate was fine. Oops again!?

That's when four HUGE men showed up in my bedroom like a monstrous medical wall surrounding and looking down on me. My husband understood better what was happening (he wasn't laboring after all!) and asked the paramedics if we had to go with them.

They said we didn't.

He whispered so sweetly in my ear that I could do this and I didn't have to go to the hospital.

By this time however, here is what was going through my head: I have a body that doesn't birth on time, my midwife seems to think my baby is in danger (is he sick? could he die? what is going on?), and she also doesn't seem to have much confidence in my ability to push him out. 

So... I should probably go with these men because the doctors will know what to do. And what if there really is something wrong with my baby. I'd want to be near a NICU.

To summarize, because there was absolutely nothing wrong with our baby, we were ushered to labor and delivery rather than having to give birth in the ER. The baby was perfect. I won't recite the myriad of unnecessary things done at this venue.


:: "FAILED HOMEBIRTH" ::

The point was this: instead of feeling like I had given birth, I felt like birth had been done to me.

Looking back, there was so much unnecessary stress that it's almost funny. Yet, it's wasn't.

I totally lost touch with myself and the baby in deferring my faith in a care provider who didn't have my best interests at heart.

What really saddens me to this day is the lack of reasonable decision making in those last few moment at my house. There is no way that it was safer for me to get into an ambulance to go to a hospital 15 minutes away while my baby was stuck in my birth canal than to stay on that bed and continue the business I had begun. My husband knew that, but I put more trust in my midwife (who had other concerns... we'll get to that) than in him or in myself.

The "failure" of my homebirth was not in the fact that it ended up at a hospital. It happened when I gave up my agency to someone outside myself.


:: FROM MY MIDWIFE'S PERSPECTIVE ::

The layers of this story just keep revealing themselves like an infinite onion...

I recently learned just what was at stake for my midwife if say, there had been a truly tragic outcome to my birth (such as a death). Whereas an OB would have to contend with a possible law suit, a midwife could face charges of manslaughter!

In other words, because her license had expired when I reached 42 weeks, she was facing some pretty life-altering consequences should something go awry. When she called the ambulance during my transition, she could at least say she did her due diligence by the state. And when the paramedics asked me if I wanted to leave, I could have said no and she might have been relieved. She would have had witnesses that could vouch for it being my choice to stay at home, not her malpractice.

I wish I had been aware of all this craziness before my birth, so I could have prepared my answers. She probably didn't want to burden me, but I didn't know to ask.


THE THINGS WE DIDN'T TALK ABOUT UPFRONT ::

My misunderstanding that I was a defective pregnant lady made the last two weeks of my pregnancy (and the birth itself) highly stressful, which is the last thing you want before you enter the sacred space of birthing.

It does seem like a strange way to have to do business—taking midwifery clients and just crossing your fingers that you can actually assist them at the time of birth.

The same sort of issue arises when a woman's baby is presenting breech, or she is expecting twins. A midwife's hands are tied. Days before you are about to give birth isn't the best time to form another birth plan or a relationship with any other care provider who might be legally allowed to help you.

In retrospect, I would add these question to the list I was asking on my midwife interviews early on in my pregnancy:
  1. What care will you provide if I go over 42 weeks? 
  2. ... if I discover I'm having twins?
  3. ... if my baby is presenting breech?
If they are licensed by the state, I can imagine the answer to all of these. Sadly, it would likely be "nothing" unless they were willing to break the law. 

It seems almost absurd to hire someone to do a job that they can't guarantee they will be legally allowed to perform when you want them most. Would you want to schedule a surgery with a surgeon who only had jurisdiction over certain parts of your body and it was as yet uncertain which were going to be involved in the surgery... even if you had good reason to believe this surgeon would be the best for your situation?

Our childbirth system has become so convoluted and medically focused that it seems to have forgotten that a women's body knows how to birth a baby (I know, shocking!).

The rules and regulations preventing midwifes from doing certain pretty basic things (like say, allowing a woman's body to go through its own process unhindered), are not making childbirth any safer in my opinion. Because it creates more stress. And more stress equals more danger.

That's how a woman's body has always worked. If one of our ancestors were in danger during her labor, all her blood supply would go to her arms and legs so she could get the heck out of there until a safe space was found to birth in. All mammals have this instinct.

What modern medicine has termed "failure to progress" is a woman's body telling her something: she is being watched, prodded, measured... she is not safe, and she is fearful. Naturally, this kind of environment would halt labor. Hence one of the main reasons women choose to birth at home. 


:: OTHER OPTIONS ::

Here are some things I did not know then. And I am so grateful to know now:
  1. No one knows more about a woman's body and her baby than she does. Care providers can be a  help or a hindrance do the degree that they understand and respect this fact.
  2. Rules and regulations are not the be all and end all of our birthing options. There are care providers who do not answer to the state they are in who are very wise and knowledgeable who will attend your birth. Better to meet them early on so you can develop a relationship.
  3. Even if you love how a midwife acts in your appointments, it's so difficult to say how she will be at your actual birth. Will she have confidence in your abilities and allow your body to work its magic? Or will she impose a sense of superiority because she is the one with the credentials?
  4. Everyone at a birth brings their own baggage. You want to be sure that everyone you invite (if anyone) is 100% confident in YOU. 
  5. Having a midwife/doctor/medical person at your birth is potentially more of a hindrance than a help. Looking back, most of the issues that arose at the birth of my son were a result of having a midwife there, which she then had to help "solve." Similarly, in hospitals doctors and nurses cause most of the problems they are expert at solving. Something to ponder. 
  6. Women birth alone (or with family and friends) very well. When a cat knows it is her time to birth she will find a dark and quiet space and birth her kittens. There is no one there testing her and making sure she is OK. In accordance with the preference of our fellow mammals, there are many women across the globe who give birth on their own and report having a great experience. 
  7. If you do choose to use a midwife, know that she has limits. She is not your best friend, and cannot always act in your best interest (even if she'd like to). As mentioned above, there are just some situations that aren't worth facing a charge of manslaughter. Understandly.
  8. So my next point is that we need to advocate for midwives to be able to do their jobs. Tell people about your positive homebirth experiences (if you have one), vote for representatives in your state who support woman's right to choose their own birth. Women make up more than half of the human population. Surely we can make a difference in this arena if we work together. 
My main resource for helping me to understand birth and my own power as a woman have been Maryn Green's podcasts entitled "Taking Back Birth", found on iTunes. They opened my eyes to a world of possibilities at a time I know I did not want to repeat history.

At the time of writing this blog she and her business partner Margo do free consultations on Mondays. Check out: indiebirth.com

I also enjoyed perusing Gentle Birth, Gentle Mothering because it is always good to see actual scientific evidence that birth works better unhindered by onlookers.

Lastly, I enjoyed reading the birth stories in Laura Shanley's Unassisted Childbirth.

I hope you have found this helpful. If you have any questions please leave them in the feedback.

Many blessings,
Sirgun














Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Birthing the Invisible



Sometimes there is a message too strong to ignore
It will burrow the ground to reveal my core

And rustle the leaves that were sleepy and staid
Shaking off raindrops that would have happily stayed

unconscious
unnoticed

and possibly lost
to sunny days of evaporation
or from a sudden frost

Easy is easier
and cozy and sweet
until a conviction forces me to meet

a Truth that my soul will persistently voice
to foreshadow a victory in which I will rejoice 

And all that it takes is a step or a turn 
Habitual patterns I get to unlearn

in a direction the wind has never blown yet
at a time at which no clock has yet to be set

I shall know when I see it
and call it a friend

And now that I've made it
it exits 
and can again.


Radio Interview with Ramdesh Kaur on Unity.fm

Click here to listen.

Or you can read the "recap" on the Spirit Voyage Blog.

We talk about my newest meditation album Reclaim Your Happiness, postpartum depression, fear of dying, the importance of intuition, and lots more "stuff."

Love,
Sirgun


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