With all the news lately about “women’s issues” and women’s rights, there is an important point that is severely lacking attention and leaving me feeling frustrate, saddened and even angry.
I strongly believe in a woman’s right to choose but I’m not talking about abortion or contraception (though I do have my opinions on those too), the right I am talking about is the right to BIRTH. I find it appalling that with everything in the news lately about “women’s rights,” you have to dig into the dark depths of the internet to find anyone talking about birth. I fully support a woman’s right to have access to avoid pregnancy, but what about those of us women who WANT to have kids? I strongly believe that women’s rights to have their babies, when, where and in whatever way is safest and most satisfying for each individual woman should be protected and at least discussed a heck of a lot more often.
I’m a mommy of three wonderful children. And since they were all healthy at birth, little attention is paid to HOW they were born. I had relatively easy and uncomplicated pregnancies (with the exception of my third which was riddled with placenta previa and Symphysis Pubis Dysfunction).
I also had three “normal” deliveries which is astounding on its own seeing as the national c-section rate is somewhere around 33%. In 2012 my state (Florida) had one of the highest national rates at 37% and in 2008 (when my first child was born) the c-section rate in my county was an astonishingly high 43%!
Statistically one (or more) of my children should have been born via c-section but my “healthy” natural births were no accident. I had read books, done research, took a hybnobirthing class, and searched within my soul to decide what I believed and wanted for my births. It wasn’t just that one day I decided I wanted to have my babies naturally and then lucked out when I achieved it.
My first birth was far from ideal. After declining numerous amniocentesis for a suspected chromosomal defect and switching practitioners at 35 weeks because I didn’t feel comfortable with the hospital where my OB delivered because it was big on interventions (the entire tour focused on everything that would be done during your labor from IV fluids to required oxygen during pushing) I still ended up being induced because I was “late” (scheduled when I was 40 weeks, 6 days for 4 days later).
That first labor was by far the worst, fraught with interventions I didn’t want and staff that was completely uninterested in my requests for low-intervention (despite the lowest c-section rate in the county). My daughter was born happy and healthy but spent the next few days sleepy and lethargic due to the narcotic pain relievers that I had during my labor (you can read her full birth story here).
Luckily my second and third births were everything I wanted. But again it was because I did more research, knew what I wanted and worked to get it. My second was born in a birthing tub at the same hospital as my first (her full story here) and my son in my bathtub at home in a planned homebirth (his full story here).
I consider myself lucky because even though I was prepared and educated, at any point during my long labors (14 hours, 21 hours and 13 hours respectively) a doctor could have decided it was taking too long or I wasn’t “progressing” fast enough or that my baby was in distress or I was at risk from infection (my first two labor started after my water broke; I don’t know when my water broke with my third). At any time I could have been “sectioned”.
Would I have fought it? Of course. But just like with my induction, it’s hard to fight the system and continuing to believe in what you know when an “expert” is telling you something different. Our society puts special trust in the “all-knowing” knowledge of doctors and we are trained not to doubt them. However, when armed with our own knowledge, why are we not encouraged to stand up for ourselves?
I've continued to educate myself and now every time I hear a friend delivered by c-section I can’t help but wonder “was it really necessary? Did she really need it?” and I feel sad for every mother that has to endure that trauma because I can only imagine what it must be like (and I’m sure it’s even worse). And even when I hear of a baby and mommy doing "well" there are often complications (either immediately after of later) for baby or mommy directly related to the c-section that aren't usually talked about.
So the question is: how did we get here?
The mark of a successful birth in American obstetrics is that of a “healthy baby and healthy mommy”. Many people justify the high c-section rate by saying the outcomes are better, but it’s not true. Did you know I am twice as likely to die in childbirth as my mother was when she had me? (And that’s a statistic for the good ol’ USA, not worldwide). There are only 2 countries (Zimbabwe and Botswana) that had larger maternal mortality increases between 1990 and 2008 (according to the World Health Organization stats.) And it’s now been proven that women in the US are somewhere in the range of four times more likely to die after a cesarean birth than after a vaginal birth.
Many practitioners do “routine” interventions in order to leave a paper trail, to prove (if needed in court) they did everything they could to provide for a positive outcome. I understand these concerns and in our sue-happy society everyone has to watch everything they do. I also understand medical practitioners carry malpractice insurance sometimes with sky-high premiums and these insurers often dictate practices by limiting what is covered by the insurance.
Hospitals all over the country have banned VBACs, vaginal breech delivery and vaginal twin deliveries and finding a doctor that is willing to attend these births becomes trickier every day. However, there is plenty of research out there to show that a vaginal birth (in the absence of other risk factors) is safer than surgery in all of these cases. Women are being forced into major surgery for no medical reason and women who resist or refuse are ridiculed, demonized and in some situations even criminalized.
No wonder so many women are opting for home births if available or risking an unassisted birth if home births are not available: many women feel they have been left with no other choice, the system has failed us. What was created to protect all parties involved is now harming freedom of choice. There are many organizations out there supporting “women’s right to choose” in the context of abortion but the organizations fighting for women’s right to choose in the context of labor and birth are not being heard.
In the 1970s women took a stand and demanded change: they wanted their husbands present, they wanted to be awake and aware, and they wanted to have their babies with them after birth. I believe that the unconscious births of the 1950s, instead of being rethought to better suits mothers and what they want, have simply been reformatted without giving mothers any more authority in the process.
Women are now awake and have their support teams with them but the choices in how they labor and give birth are still not theirs. Instead of being knocked out cold, they’re awake but still strapped to a bed. Instead of babies being forced out of a mother’s body by forceps and fundal pressure, babies are being forced out by pitocin and commands to “PUSH, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, AGAIN!”
In a book I once read (in an ideal world if I had the time and no screaming baby, I’d go find it to properly cite, but…) it was suggested by a male doctor that eventually all women in America will probably deliver by c-section. This doctor claims it will be safer, quicker and easier for everyone. What a scary world that would be and as a mommy of two gorgeous little girls who will (most likely) have babies in this proposed future, I feel obligated to do something, to protect their right to at least choose as I have if not have even more freedom and choice when it comes to birthing.
Every mother deserves to hold, cuddle and nurse her sweet, slimy newborn after birth, not be forced to simply kiss their swaddled, capped, eye-gooped newborn on the forehead before the baby is taken away so mom can “recover”.
We, as mothers and women, need to take back our bodies and our freedom to choose and demand that we be given an opinion in the care of ourselves and our children. No one woman can make a change alone, but together we can get back what should have been ours all along: the birth process.
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