Sunday, August 12, 2007

“Myth is an attempt to narrate a whole human experience...of which the purpose is too deep for mental explanation or description." - DH Lawrence


Pushed: The Painful Truth about Motherhood and Modern Maternity Care by Jennifer Block was NOT a book I couldn’t put down. In fact, I put it down several times, rather forcefully, and the only thing that kept me from flinging it across the room at least once was the fact that it is a library book. When I realized that Block was not only making me feel like a horrible mother for wanting crazy things like pain relief and reliable medical care for my baby, but also like I was somehow betraying motherhood in general, and my maternal instincts in particular, I put the book down for good. Aren’t pregnancy, childbirth, and babycare hard enough without strewing the already hazardous way with more doubt and expectation?

Yes, yes, wouldn’t it be lovely if we could all just crouch down in the backyard and pop out our babies without medication and having to be hooked up to machines? Wouldn’t it be lovely if we were all confident enough to have a breech birth in a wading pool in our living rooms? Wouldn’t it be even nicer if, when you decided that you are perfectly ok with giving birth in a hospital and would like some relief from those vomit-inducing, screechworthy labor pains, that you could do so without feeling like you are subverting nature?

I am all for natural childbirth. I tried it with Primo. But apparently my first sin was having my water break before I had dilated at all. Then my second sin was calling my doctor who, because it was my first baby and we’d had some touch-and-go moments earlier in the pregnancy, asked me to come in so she could keep an eye on me. Apparently my third grievous sin was then proceeding to shake uncontrollably and vomit copiously, causing some worry about fever and infection, at which point my doctor asked me – ASKED, not demanded or assumed – if I would care to be induced. (Would I LIKE to have a root canal? No. Is it possible that one is indicated and therefore it might be a good idea? Better question.) As it turns out, I WOULD care to be induced, if only to make the dreadful gutheaving STOP sometime in the next two days. I mean, yeah, it would produce my baby, but oh my god, I wasn’t even really in yet and already I was dying for labor to be over. My fourth sin – oh why keep counting, apparently I broke every rule in the book. But I came home relatively unscathed – my doctor tries very hard to avoid episiotomies and was successful – and with a healthy, howling baby. You know what? In MY book, that equals a successful birth experience.

As someone once pointed out to me, you could have dental work done without Novacaine, but WHY? I’ll tell you why NOT – there’s no great dental governing body out there declaring that root canals are perfectly natural and if we could just let go of all our medically-demanded and socially-pressured expectations, we could just BREATHE through our root canal and go home and cook up a steak and eat it that same night.

Do I sound pissed? Because I am.

I see both sides. I have a friend who had a dreadful labor experience in a hospital, contracting and pushing for close to forty-eight hours before she finally agreed to a c-section. I also know a couple who wanted to have a homebirth with a midwife and did so, but the baby (a breech) got stuck in the birth canal, the midwife and mother did not call 911 soon enough, the baby suffocated, and the mother nearly bled to death. Both moms went on to have another healthy, successful pregnancy, and are wonderful mothers to their children. Both of those mothers chose to deliver their second babies, respectively, in a hospital again, and in her living room again. This time all went well. As long as you can live with the consequences of your choice, without giving in to expectation or deluded ideas of what is “right” and/or “natural,” then you should do what feels right for you and your child, and what works for you.

Here is what I am for:
Any birth experience that works for you and gives you peace of mind, and that results in a healthy baby and a healthy mother.

If what works for you is having your baby in a paddling pool in your family room and cutting the cord yourself, then I say go for it. More power to you.

If what works for you is having your baby under a doctor’s care in a hospital, then do it.

Heck, while I don’t personally get it, if what works for you is scheduling a c-section so you can get back to work in time for the big client presentation, well, I kinda feel sorry for you and your kid, but what the heck, it’s your birth experience.

Why does everyone feel as if they have the right to dictate women’s bodies and what those bodies do? What man in his right mind would pay the slightest attention to anyone telling him that, for example, kidney stones are perfectly natural and he should just grit his teeth, relax into his pain, and pee blood until the damn stone sees fit to pass?

Should midwives be certified, and a legal, viable option for a pregnant woman? Absolutely.
Should you be able to pick a hospital or a birthing center or the comfort of your own home? Absolutely.
Should you have pain relief? Absolutely, if you want it.

Should you be free to give birth how you want to? ABSOLUTELY.

But Block’s book just perpetuates the “REAL women give birth without intervention” myth.

If you want to read a more interesting and much more levelheaded view of childbirth, and how the choices made by mothers and doctors affect maternal and neonatal mortality rates (which is where the real story is), read Jessica Mitford’s The American Way of Birth. I am not arguing that there are not doctors out there who only want to pop out your baby in time to make the second round of golf that afternoon; I am certainly not arguing that sometimes mothers are pressured into medical procedures they’re not comfortable with and don’t want (I should write a post about my numerous run-ins with the genetics counselor). I am merely arguing that these “exposes” of the maternity system in America always seem to fail to take into account that some mothers are happy to give birth in a hospital rather than their backyard, and that for some of us, epidurals are God’s gift to moms. And we are not lesser women or worse mothers because of it.


Badger said...

Back before women gave birth in hospitals, women like me (with my myriad cardiac weirdnesses) died in childbirth, and their babies with them.

End of story, as far as I'm concerned.

MsCellania said...

You should cut and paste this entire post and do a review of this book on Amazon and any other place you see fit to comment. Books like these are negative impacts on women - once again, negating choices and going so far as to stating 'you are BAD if you don't do it my way'!
Gosh, being a woman is hard enough sometimes without a pack of bitches ripping chunks out of the limited choices we do have.
I assisted in a natural childbirth and I was the one begging for sedatives - for me! I thought we were finally done when the baby finally came, then I yelped "Holy Shit - Here comes her LIVER!" Who knew a placenta was another delivery?! I have never worked so hard in my life helping that woman deliver that baby.

Joke said...

As a libertarian, I am of the opinion that, howsoever someone wants to give birth, that's her call.

Want to go all Pearl Buck? Be my guest. Want to make fajitas with the placenta? Damned if I stop you.

However, I reserve the right -- and will defend it to the death -- to think those choices as completely deranged.

Had we opted for that whole Gaia Birthing Thing, NOS would be have been dead for ten years now. So I have very little sympathy for this viewpoint.

That someone's tax dollars paid for that book makes me want to find a convenient harbor prominently featuring ship laden with a handy consignment of tea, to dump the latter into the former.

I hereby declare bullshit.


TLB said...

I'm not even a member of the Mommy Club, and I agree wholeheartedly. This grit-your-teeth-and-bear-it stuff is the female equivalent of playing football with broken fingers or having your leg amputated without anesthesia: You COULD do it, but WHY? Our grandmothers must think we are insane for passing up perfectly good pain relief or the chance to give birth in a hospital under good insurance coverage when we're lucky enough to have a choice.

If I ever am graced with a pregnancy that sticks, I'm going to take no chances in delivering a healthy baby.

Don't even get me started on the breastfeeding mafia either. More than one mother I know has been driven nearly insane with guilt by listening too closely to that bunch.

pussreboots said...

I agree that it sounds like a crap book but don't judge C-sections until you've had to have one.

My first child was an emergency c-section and I had to be put under because I hadn't needed any painkillers up to the point of the emergency. To avoid those sorts of complications with the second one and because I was in excruciating pain from sciatica with the second, she was born as an elective C-section.

Sure, it wasn't how I'd imagined either child being born but at least I was AWAKE and able to participate in her birth unlike my son's. And best of all, I have my health and two healthy children.

BabelBabe said...

Yes! That is EXACTLY my point. and who is anyone to tell you otherwise? I would not judge - I never know, I might need one with this next baby, you just never know what circumstances demand. and i agree 100% - what's important is you have a healthy baby and you are healthy.

BabelBabe said...

and TLB - around here we call them lactation Nazis : ) and I say that as a woman who has breastfed three babies for a grand total of almost four years combined.

Caro said...

I'm still mad that the dr didn't show up in time for me to have my pain meds with the last one. It was an even worse experience than giving birth to the first one.

I am a firm believer in medical intervention and at least three shots of novacaine for one cavity. Can you tell I'm a wimp?

It is silly the way women attack each other. You should see some of the circumcision threads on message boards. SCARY!

lazy cow said...

Having had a planned C-section for a breech baby first time round (I was not happy about this, but my obstetrician insisted, and it worked out great - excellent recovery, bonded with baby, blah blah), my second birth (with different obstetrician) was a VBAC. He TOLD me that a lot of obs don't perform them as they don't want to be hanging around, monitoring the birth, that basically they're too lazy! Anyway, it was 'natural' in that my son came out of my vagina but I was induced, had gas, pethidine and an epidural, followed by a forceps delivery (HUGE headed baby). It took me much longer to recover and basically was not a pleasant experience at all. THankfully I still bonded with the boy immediately.
If I had a third (highly unlikely) I have NO IDEA what I'd decide.
I think women need to be very well-informed of all the options and just take things as they come. Have you read Naomi Wolf's Misconceptions? Boy, for a Feminist, she had barely a clue.

Sarah Louise said...

I had to classify "Pushed" (find the correct Dewey # for it) and even the cover is scary, all gray and stuff, with the black and white picture of a woman's belly.

I could spit this stuff makes me so mad. I was 30 before I had a friend who delivered a non-emergency non-premie baby. We all need help, that's why it's called modern medicine. (Well, maybe not me in particular, but if presented with choices, I'm going to love having CHOICES.)

Which is to say I agree with every word you said, Babs.

Gina said...

It's interesting the way these two Mythology posts are linked by things that are supposedly all about sisterhood, yet these are things that women insist in tearing each other apart over.

Why is it that we STILL just all can't get along?

Velma said...

Yes, yes, YES! The guilt and shaming that some people like to throw around really makes me crazy. apersonally, I'm just grateful for all the options that made my untimely death during childbirth unlikely.

Sarah Louise said...

And I just noticed the Pt 1 Greek, Pt 2 Creation. Babs, you are such a smarty! (I mean that in a good way, you know...)

Anonymous said...

I'm a little late, but better late than never...This stuff makes me nuts. I can't stand when someone tells me I should feel all guilty for having my babies in a hospital. I went no drugs both times, but not because I CHOSE that and was adamant about it, the first time it was because I was an idiot and didn't know they could give me anything so didn't think to ask, and the second time because it happened so fast the window of opportunity was gone before it opened, so to speak. But had things been different? HECK yeah, no "oh no this is a natural experience so I want to EXPERIENCE every twinge of pain so I can be victorious over it" crap...Oh don't get me started, it just makes me crazy. Long story short, AMEN SISTA!

Anonymous said...

Interesting juxtaposition here. Mythology...childbirth. You claim both and yet put your head in the sand.

And what about judge not lest ye be judged? You say that women should be allowed to choose the way they birth yet diminish childbirth to the status of a mere root canal? And those of us who have discovered regret along our paths of cesarean recovery do not deserve the same respect as you all? Hooey!

Cesarean birth hosts its own nasty risks. (Do some research.) Am I happy to be alive? Yes. Am I happy my child survived childbirth? Yes. Does that mean I should be happy and accepting of my childbirth experience. No.

You can't claim mother earth and then turn your back on her.

BabelBabe said...

AGAIN, missing my point. (i would have emailed you but you have no profile)

I KNOW C-sections have risk, I'm well aware, I HAVE done my research, I don't ned some author to do it for me. I am also aware of the risks of natural childbirth, and childbirth in general. MY POINT: you should do what works for you. *Nothing* makes you less of a woman or amother, regardless of what happened, with or w/o your control. Which doesn't mean I diminish your regrets or grief. Exactly the opposite - *I* give you the leeway to work thru it and discover what could work. WITHOUT JUDGING. Did you even read the post???
NO ONE has the right to criticize your choices, your feelings, your regrets and celebrations.

and c'mon - childbirth isn't that big a deal. seriosuly. I'd rather give birth than have a root canal. but i'm funny that way.

nutmeg said...

Having read all the way to the end I really can't find any of what you wrote problematic. A moderate voice of compassion and inclusion. Each to her own. Healthy baby and mother is the NUMBER ONE priority.

Life is far, far too short to obsess over what was and then waste it on fear and anger.

Anonymous said...

Sorry Badger – you need to do your research. Maternal and fetal death went up – way up – when birth began taking place in hospitals. The only thing that brought the hospital death rates down was antibiotics.

The Pattern Slave said...

Thank you for saying what I feel afraid to say on the ICAN lists. I've had a horrible induction that ended in a c/s that probably could have been avoided; I've also had a rpt c/s out of fear or another awful labor. I'm trying for VBA2C this time and frankly feel judged when I tell folks that I fully intend to take advantage of pain relief measures and have an ob attend the birth. Whatever happened to feminism meaning women having choices?

Anonymous said...

After reading the review and all the comments following these are my thoughts. As someone said earlier, the important thing is that the end result is a healthy baby and a healthy mother. I think the point though of the natural childbirth writers is that women need to trust their instincts when it comes to childbirth. We've had doctors in control of the entire birthing process for too many generations in the US and more and more women are beginning to wake up and realize that birth is a natural process that their bodies are designed for and can instinctively cope with. (As long as she isn't forced to birth on her back and can find her own position, the one that is best for her body and the baby's position in the birth canal. And as long as she is in a non-threatening environment where she can relax.) Of course this doesn't apply to ALL women in ALL situalions, but it does apply to MOST women in MOST situations. I'm always surprised at the number of women who can endure 9 months of pregnancy and during that time not spend any of it researching the birthing process. Being able to make informed decisions is essential. Also I have to say that whoever thinks making a comparison between having a root canal (not a natural procedure)and childbirth (a natural procedure) is a viable argument for why women need pain meds is a bloomin' idiot. Is that the best argument you can come up with? Pathetic.

BabelBabe said...

I am closing comments on this post.

If you are not brave enough to establish identity and make yourself known before calling peple idiots and pathetic, then you don't deserve to have a voice here.

I have given birth to three children; I have also had a root canal. Maybe not natural but necessary. Pain level MUCH worse on root canal, btw.

Cheers, all. Come back and visit when you aren't afraid to tell me who you are.