Sunday, February 22, 2009

Changing Ideals for Birth

On discussion boards and surveys, the question has been posed, "What is your ideal birth?"

In preparing for another pregnancy, my ideal birth was something very close to this: I go into labor at home with my little boy. I do my typical thing until the contractions get closer together and more intense. I pray throughout to my Father in Heaven that all will be well. I either call or wake up my husband and he starts to fill the labor pool with water. I take walks with my husband and toddler. I eat a little and drink the special tea and laborade blends that I've prepared. I cuddle with my little boy and encourage him to nurse. Maybe my husband and I will have sex if my waters haven't broken. Maybe I ask him to give me a priesthood blessing. I labor in the pool submerged in water. Maybe I'll get out of the pool when I feel the urge to push, but maybe I will stay and the baby will be born with just me, my husband and my little boy present. I'll give the baby the opportunity to do the breast crawl to nurse for the first time and then baby and I will rest. Maybe husband and toddler will rest with us. When we wake up, we call the chiropractor who promised to come by and adjust me and new baby after birth, as well as grandparents, friends and the midwife to schedule a postpartum visit for the next day.

My plan has stayed pretty static for sometime, and my preparations during the pregnancy have been to support that end result. However what I consider my ideal for this birth has begun to change since I've started reading the book "Rediscovering Birth" by Sheila Kitzinger. She describes the history of birth through a cultural anthropology lense and describes how birth is viewed across cultures and history. If you were to analyze my ideal birth story above using her presentation of ideas, you would find that it has shades of contemporary American (no surprise there), tribal African, and medieval European birth practices.

I thought an unassisted birth a home with my family was what I really wanted. That it was even what I would choose in a perfect world where maternity care was appropriate and family and friends were nearby and culturally accepting of my choices. However reading Kitzinger's book I am realizing that my "perfect world" birth experience would be surrounded by women like in medieval Europe where it was a party atmosphere were the birthing woman's husband, mother, mother-in-law, sisters, aunts, cousins, friends, neighbors and young women of the community gathered together to support and comfort the mother, to celebrate the birth a baby with food, laughter and bustle.

I see the drawback of that setting: my husband would be terrified to have that many women around and can you imagine the offense taken if the birthing mother tells someone to leave? The largest reason why I do not feel I can in good conscience invite a group of women to support and surround me during birth is that almost every woman I know is strongly steeped in the American culture of birth. And the ones that aren't live very far away from me and I only know them through the internet. I know the women who could gather around me during would be fearful and concerned about not being in a hospital or not having a midwife or doctor present would permeate the atmosphere. They wouldn't have the experience of being present at many births except their own.

So I guess I basically am wishing that I was living in medieval Europe or that the entire way birth is viewed, engaged in and celebrated in the US dramatically changes before June. Of course its not going to happen but as a result, I am struggling to not feel that I am settling for what I believe is realistic given the circumstances and climate of birth.

I wish that women in our society were included in the birthing room for other women, without being paid as consultants or providers, but that their presence was the loving, benign presence of friends and family rejoicing in a typical life event. I wish that my daughters will not be strangers to birth when they birth their first babies, but will have been exposed to the gentle, natural birthing practices that take place at home surrounded by love, without fear and without unnecessary intervention.


Rixa said...

Aha, so you're really a social birther at heart! I love Rediscovering Birth; my copy is currently loaned out to some other pregnant women. I am still a private birther at heart...but who knows, maybe if all my best friends lived close by--all the ones who really "get" birth--I'd want the same thing as you dream of. Anyway I wish I could be there for you.

Jenne said...

I'm really not surprised to know that I'm a social birther, I'm a social person in general (one reason why I love online discussion boards so much!)

I wish you could be here too because you know you are one of the mamas on my list who I'd have there if I could.

Carrie said...

Jenne, I know how you feel, at least a little bit. I had to exclude everyone from my dd's birth even though it was in a hospital! Many were afraid that I was using a midwife instead of an OB. My doula was invaluable, though.

Wouldn't it be cool if all the ladies from nLDS could be there to support you? Well, we will all be there in spirit!

Shawnette said...

You know, there is absolutely nothing wrong with approaching anyone you would like to have present with your wishes and asking them to agree beforehand to respect them in the birthing moment. Let them know that at this time, you'd like them there--or that you may want to have them and won't know until you're in it. Let them know you may suddenly decide you want them to step out of the room, or leave entirely. Ask them to come only if they can enter without fear. Talk to them about embracing birth with an open mind and heart-not only will you probably be thrilled they were there, they will be changed forever by witnessing the magic unfolding from your body and your spirit. You can even approach it the same way you do with W--sit down with them, watch birth videos, and then ask, "can you be a positive part of this for me?" And you know I am here in whatever capacity you need-even to help council those you'd like present but whose attitudes/reactions you are concerned about. When M was born I was surrounded by people I loved, and it freed me in a way I didn't experience with G, feeling like I was being watched and judged by strangers. It also gave me energy in a way that being alone would not have. If you feel it's what's right for you, then it's what you need. But don't rob yourself of it by assuming you know what your loved ones think. They may surprise you.