"I'm just trying to birth a baby here!"
That's what the OB said as he threw his hands up in the air and stormed out of my labor room. I was already upset at being told I wasn’t “allowed” to go home (because I was three days overdue but I really wasn’t) despite still being in VERY early labor, and being told that I wasn’t “allowed” to have intermittent monitoring because being “overdue” made me high risk, and then not being able to move from one position (laying on my side in bed) because every position I tried caused the baby to move and that was the easiest position for the nurse to find the heart beat. For a woman who had been told her pregnancy was so low-risk that it was boring, who had been told her birth plan was totally doable (by my OB, not this one), this sudden change to “high risk” and a shredded birth plan was defeating.
Labor had started and I was excited, ready to go-let’s do this! That balloon was instantly popped walking out of triage. Then when the OB on shift came in to tell me his plan, and we finally put our foot down and chose to NOT have the Pitocin he offered (to speed up my perfectly normal/boring labor) that was the reaction we received. He was going to birth the baby, not me, my job was to shut up and color. If I wasn’t defeated already, I certainly was at that point. I laid in that bed, in one position, barely coping with the contractions that I couldn’t move through, for another 7 hours (on top of the 7hrs I’d already labored through), feeling absolutely miserable for myself. Then they sent in the Resident OB, excellent bedside manner, he kindly laid out all the reasons why I “had” to have Pitocin. After 14 hours of labor, hearing that your body isn’t doing its job and that your labor needs help or bad things will happen-that’s scary! Of course we agreed to Pitocin at that point. Yet this wasn’t right, this wasn’t what I wanted, this wasn’t what I prepared for. What made it worse was that I knew there was no medical reason why I couldn’t have what I wanted, but being deathly afraid of confrontation I was too timid and too exhausted to put up a fight….and of course the doctors know best, right?....right?
This is the problem with maternity care in America nowadays. My story is just one of many where women are not being allowed to be the decision makers in their birth experiences, not without a fight anyways. Birth is a beautiful time where women are simultaneously at their most powerful state and their most vulnerable. She needs to be encouraged, empowered, respected, and protected. Pregnancy is not an illness, nor should it be treated as such. As much as we joke about “Prego Brain,” that doesn’t justify treating a pregnant woman as if she’s lost all ability to think like an intelligent, rational, and capable adult.
Saying that, I do not mean to discount modern medicine, by all means use the technology when necessary-it is life saving! The OB in my story happened to be one of the best in the state and even saved the life of one of my friends and her baby, he was very capable but not compassionate. Low-risk, natural, intervention free birth was boring to him. Yet what is routine to him (and many other providers like him), is life changing for that woman. What might be his 3rd birth of the day may be that mom’s only birth-EVER.
When we forget that, when we reduce birth to a series of procedures, when doctors deliver babies instead of allow mothers to birth babies, we might save them physically but what damage is done emotionally? If the goal is a healthy mom and a healthy baby, should we also not include mental health in that outcome?
I do not plan to focus this blog on my personal experiences, but I wanted to share this story because this experience is what launched me into a career of childbirth education and labor support. I don’t want other women to feel as powerless, disrespected, and unheard as I felt for those miserable hours. In the end, I got the pain-med free vaginal delivery that I’d wanted- healthy mom and healthy baby, but the sentiment that followed me into my first days as a new mother was “you can’t do this, you’re not qualified, we need to do this for you.” That is what we are doing when we don’t educate our women properly about childbirth, when we don’t provide them with enough information to give informed consent, or when we disrespect the choices they do make. We tell them “We need to deliver your baby, because you can’t birth your baby!” But like the T-shirt says, “Pizzas get Delivered, Babies are Born.” YOU will birth your baby, and YOU will do great!
You CAN birth your baby, you can birth your baby YOUR way, because it is your birth-not mine, not theirs…yours.