Monday, August 26, 2013

Why I don't tell hospital birthers to "go in pushing"

IMGP1260 (Photo credit: Nico Nelson)
Yes, you should try to labor at home as long as possible before going to the hospital. But before trying to use that as your technique to have an intervention free birth (especially for those facing opposition to a VBAC), you need to recognize the inherent variability of the birth process and how hospitals may respond to it.

Good luck calculating exactly when you will be ready to push your baby into the world. If you can do that, be sure to account for traffic, unless you would rather enjoy the first stage of labor in the hospital parking lot. For a fair share of women, the second stage of labor, where they are actually pushing, doesn't last as long as a drive to the hospital. Yes, a fair number of women do get to the hospital just as they are ready to push, but it's not fair to count yourself among them except in hindsight.

Going to the hospital early in labor is just part of our natural instinct to get settled and feel safe before labor is too advanced to move. It's natural to want support and reassurance that the baby is doing well. The problem is when the hospital isn't willing to just let you wait it out. Unfortunately it doesn't matter when you arrive, you can be subject to unwanted and unnecessary intervention without informed consent, up to and including surgery.

The better option is to plan for the birth you want as early in your pregnancy as possible (or even before), and if you meet with hostility change care providers and/or birth location. Keep trying to find what you want and it's never too late to change your mind. You do not need full blown arguments during any part of your labor. In that situation, the person who's not in labor has the upper hand. No matter how it turns out, having to do battle while trying to birth a baby will color the experience. Yes, women who are actively and successfully pushing out a healthy baby can still get wheeled into the operating room against their wishes.
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Monday, August 19, 2013

What not to say to a traumatized mom

Dear friend/family member,

If you're reading this, it means you are an amazing human being who cares. You want the special mom in your life to feel better. It's painful for you to see her reliving her trauma, and like her you just wish it would stop. You've either tried to say something comforting, not known what to say, or both. I wish I could tell you the magic words, but there aren't any. However, I can tell you the two things not to say.

1. "At least you had a healthy baby."

It is wonderful to see your children grow despite a traumatic birth experience or whatever else happened along the way. I wish that was enough to keep all moms from doubting themselves. All moms who had traumatic births wonder at some point if something they did could cause even minor issues. For me, it was first when I had to fill out papers for speech therapy for my younger children and it actually asked if there were birth complications including labor over 24 hours. It comes into mind at nearly every stressed out mom moment.

A mom who was traumatized often wonders if her birth experience irreparably damaged the parent/child relationship. She almost certainly struggled to survive her child's first few weeks/months. Maybe her child did come out unscathed, but she didn't. She is dealing with mental and often physical scars as well.

Is it entirely unreasonable for her to expect to have been treated better during such a life-altering event? A healthy baby isn't all that matters. If there was not evidence based care, she was put at needless risk of complications, including death. Childbirth should not be like a war zone with mom practically needing a real gun to enforce her right to say what others can and cannot do to her body. It's way too common for moms to experience symptoms like those who have experienced war and gunfire because birth is treated like a battle and the mother is a lowly soldier expected to take orders (even if those orders violate her instincts or deeply held personal beliefs). In truth, birth is a natural process meant to leave the mother physically and mentally strong enough to care for her child and possibly have more in the future.   

Birth is a deeply emotional and even spiritual experience, not just a physical event. When well meaning people remind the traumatized mom to notice her healthy child, all she hears is "Your experience doesn't matter." Acknowledge that her experience obviously matters if it's still affecting her.

Traumatized moms are already very angry at themselves for not being able to deal with it alone. Talking to you about their trauma isn't any easier for them than it is for you. They aren't trying to dump on you nor are they asking you to solve anything. It is a process that they're trying to find their way through. Lack of support contributed to their trauma so every time someone isn't supportive they relive the trauma of going through something as difficult and life changing as childbirth thinking nobody cares. Even if you can't listen at that moment, remind them that you do care.

2. "Some women have more tolerance for pain." (or any other variation of the idea that some women just can't give birth in whatever way allows them to feel good about themselves)

Short of laughing and saying "I knew you couldn't handle it." (Yes, someone actually did that to me after the birth of my first child.) there is nothing worse to say to a traumatized mom. What you're probably trying to say is that everyone is different and we shouldn't all be held to the same standard, but what the traumatized mom hears is "You're a failure at birthing your children. Your mind/body aren't as good as those moms who had a drug-free birth."

It is very true that experiences vary widely. Some women experience a short labor with little pain while others have a long labor with a lot of pain. It's not a crime to prefer medication during childbirth, nor is it a crime to want no interference in a completely natural birth. Many women experience trauma when they expected medical pain relief and didn't get it or it didn't work. Other women wanted to experience natural childbirth but received medications that they feel they should have done without. It's the experience of feeling that a choice was made without you, or the even worse feeling that you had made a firm choice and it wasn't respected or supported.

The issues surrounding birth trauma are complex. For many, it was a preventable c-section or vacuum extraction. For others, it was being stuck in bed and strapped to a monitor and IV line. For me, it was having my natural labor contractions be deemed not good enough and having my body chemically forced to work harder (it felt more like a violent poisoning than birthing a baby) without me being given the option to just wait it out.

Moms need to feel a sense of joy and pride after the birth of a child so that they can give their best to their family and to society. When a mom feels so beaten down by the experience that she wonders if she will ever get up, the whole world is just a little more broken. No one person can fix it, but a single kindness can put one person in the right direction for a moment. That's all that's needed. Other moments may come when that one needs you again, but if you just take this moment and find a way to let it pass without judgement or anger (and not reminding her that she really should just pull herself together because she already knows that and will do it as soon as possible).

 A traumatized mom has this unshakable thought that birth is a right of passage/test and she failed/flunked. Rationally, we all know it's not a contest. Rationally, we all know that our lives must go on after the birth of a child, and no matter how difficult the birth was it's over and we never have to go through that experience again (if we have another child it can be handled differently). Still, there is the shaky sensation, maybe within the very nerve fibers connecting our minds and bodies, that something is very very wrong. Somebody stole something, but it can't be seen so no one can see how valuable it is. We can't find it and take it back, except when we can. When our true stories are acknowledged and retold, we are taking that very special sacred story about how much kinder and gentler birth can be and giving it to the future. Maybe you feel like you aren't doing anything but hearing her angry words and watching the tears fall from her eyes, but really you are making the experience of birth more humane, not just for her, but for all humankind.
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Saturday, August 17, 2013

VBAC is a human right!

Excuse my language but the sh** happening to moms searching for birth options after they have had a c-section is an amazing landslide. Providers say everything from "we'll see" to flat out "no way." Hospitals have flat out bans that lead to moms being wheeled into surgery against their will. Even more disturbing is excess charges for VBAC, frequently an HOURLY fee (let the stressful ugliness of that scenerio sink in), not covered by insurance just so a doctor will actually stick around and wait out your labor at the hospital in case of emergency. How effective is that in discouraging VBAC?

 It has nothing to do with the actual risk of allowing a birth to occur vaginally with a previous uterine scar.  The risk of uterine rupture that is waved in these mom's faces is actually .5-1%.(See VBAC facts). In fact, c-sections carry greater risk, the most common being infection, blood loss, and blood clots in the mother and breathing difficulties in the newborn.Yet, moms are being refused the right to let nature dictate their birth and face forced needless intervention.

I feel your pain. It is your body and it should be your choice which risks to take, and you should be able to go to any hospital and have evidence-based care and that includes VBAC. Unfortunately, in today's climate you might need to consider a joyful and safe homebirth with a trained attendant even if that would be your last choice (It is possible, even if that trained attendant cannot yet attain legal status where you live). It once seemed crazy to me too, but I'm also a mom not eligible for a natural hospital birth due to misinformation and hospital protocols. Now, I'm becoming a midwife to give women out-of-hospital birth options.