15 May, 2011

My thoughts as I await my third child

When you're going to give birth, you are doing so with a Divine Being. This person is closer to the Source and knows infinitely more than you do. Trust him/her and trust yourself, for you too are Divine. Release control. You will know what to do and how to do it. Trust yourself and the Being who makes you a Mother.

19 November, 2008

What birthing has taught me

In my personal birth experience, I learned that the right education and true support can make the difference between a passive, mainstream I'll-do-whatever-you-say birth and an active, empowering I-am-strong-and-capable-of-deciding-everything-for-myselfbirth. I switched practices when I was 7 1/2 months pregnant because I didn't want to be on the baby-conveyor-belt that the mainstream maternity system puts all of us on. I wanted individual care with a person I knew would be at my birth and who cared about me and wanted to listen to me and really discuss all of my concerns with me. I wanted someone I could trust during my birth so I didn't have to wonder what was going to happen and if a suggestion was really in my best interest or was just because of some medical convenience.

What made this change? I went to a birth meeting in town and was told by a few of the women there (childbirth educators and doulas) that I could do what I wanted, that this was my birth and my body and I could change practitioners if I wanted to. I was on Medicaid and thought I was trapped with the public health department's program, but I wasn't. Medicaid covers a lot of midwives and OBs. I switched and only looked back to see how amazingly different my birth experience would have been if I hadn't done what I did. I also hired a doula and invited my mother and sister to attend my birth (along with my wonderully supportive husband).

I had an unmedicated, active hospital birth with my wonderful midwife and all the other support people I mentioned above and I don't think I could have done it without hearing a few people telling me that I needed to take control and own this experience because it's not something I will experience often and it's something that will change my life forever.

I'm now a labor doula and I'm working on my childbirth educator certification. That's how much my childbirth experience affected me.

As a childbirth professional, I've learned a lot as well. I've learned that the place and people you surround yourself with at birth can be the difference between a natural birth and a cesarean for having a pelvis that's "too small." I've learned that location and attendants can mean the difference between an epidural and a natural birth. I've learned that some hospital childbirth classes are pretty good and some are horribly awful (call and see if the teacher is certified to teach... many haven't even been trained). I've learned that good education and support make for better experiences, even if the events take turns you didn't want or expect. I've learned that hospitals and doctors do not always have our best interests in mind, even if they have them in their hearts, and you might end up with a "problem" that isn't a problem or a procedure that isn't necessary but may affect you for the rest of your life. I've learned that informed decision making only happens when we ask questions until all our doubts and surmises are fully addressed AND the people answering our questions give their answers based on verifiable evidence, not just hear-say or hunches.

I've learned that a lot of women in America feel like they are broken - that their bodies just can't do birth, at least not naturally. I've also learned that this is often because they weren't given enough support, enough time, enough education, enough power, enough freedom of movement and freedom in general, not because their bodies are broken. The World Health Organization states that cesarean section rates should never rise above 10-15% (even for developing nations) because above this number, women and babies suffer more than they do when birthing vaginally, even when they need assistance there. The national cesarean rate is over 30%. It's not because women are broken. It's because women lack support, time, education, power, and freedom in many birth locations and with many medical attendants.

For instance, homebirth midwives have an average cesarean section rate of 2-4%. Now this is for low-risk women, but aren't most of us low-risk women? There are hospitals in the US with 50% cesarean section rates. Isn't there something wrong with this picture? Women who are given 12 hours to birth their babies after their water has broken are at risk because people are doing vaginal exams! Women whose waters break months prior to their due dates are not induced and given 12 hours to have their babies! No, they're put on bedrest and there are no vaginal exams because that increases their risk of infection. Hmmm... Moms who are induced at 39 or 40 weeks for their first babies are being induced a full 1-2 weeks before the average first-time mother would naturally go into labor! To be sure, doctors and hospitals are wonderful to have when women are in high-risk situations or when the rare low-risk birth needs intervention, but with studies showing that low-risk women giving birth are safer in their homes than in a hospital, isn't there something wrong with the way mainstream birth culture addresses birth?

I've learned a lot about myself and about birth in America since I had my first baby two March's ago and I'm still learning. Now I'm starting to plan for baby #2, who is due sometime in late July-early August. I'm planning a homebirth this time, and not because I had a bad experience in the hospital - I didn't - but because it's statistically safer for me and my baby than a hospital birth and my last birth proved to me that I am powerful and capable and intelligent enough to make this decision for myself. Go figure.

13 November, 2008

My rant about the homebirth vs hospital-birth debates.

I think it is wonderful that we are living in a time and place when debates like this are happening. We have access to research and opinions, professional and personal ideas, anecdotal and evidence-based practices in our country's medical system.

I would challenge everyone interested in this issue, standing on any part of the spectrum, to read the Johnson and Daviss studies previously mentioned. Dr. Tuteur, as always is comparing apples to bananas by pointing out low-risk hospital-births compared to ALL home births (planned or not, attended by a midwife or unattended, etc). It has been shown time and again, in this an other countries, that homebirth is just as safe, if not a safer alternative to hospital birth for a low-risk mother with a trained midwife. Could hospital births be just as safe as home births? Yes, but they're statistically not.

This debate is all subjective, however. If a woman lives in an area where all the local hospitals have a 50% cesarean rate (a method of obtaining a child which is more than twice as likely to result in death of the mother as a vaginal birth), you can safely bet that a low-risk mother, and perhaps even high-risk mothers, would be better off birthing at home or going to another state to have their babies.

If a woman lives in an area where the closest hospital is 2 hours from their home, she may be in a difficult predicament for choosing her birth place. In the state of Colorado, where I live, a homebirth must occur within 30 minutes travel time from the home to the hospital. This implies an inherent safety of birthing for low-risk women attended by a CPM.

This debate isn't about making all low-risk women birth their babies at home or making all women birth their babies in hospitals. At least, it shouldn't be that way. It should be about finding the options that result in the most satisfying results, including safety to mother and baby. Of course, we are not all the same and we do not all birth the same. Some women have the best outcomes in a hospital, some at home, some in a freestanding birth center, some in other locales altogether. We can't make decisions based purely on other people's experiences, even when those people are doctors.

We need to be informed consumers and look at the scientific evidence presented to us and listen to our hearts and souls and bodies. If after you have done the research, your heart and soul tells you that the hospital is the place for you, then you're right. Choosing your birth place because everyone else does it that way or because of reasons you haven't researched is asking for trouble. If we find ourselves outright stomping on an alternative we've never looked into, we should challenge ourselves to look into it. We may find that we're right or we may find that we're wrong and our culture has taught us something that is not true or is no longer true.
Yes, mothers and babies in the US suffer from lower mortaliity from birth today than they did in the early 1900s. Why is that? Well, we learned about germs, for one thing, We stopped letting doctors go from cleaning out cadavers to using forceps on birthing women, ungloved and unwashed. When birth went to hospitals, it was more dangerous than homebirth. Read "Brought to Bed" for more on the transition from home to hospital and the numbers associated with this transition. There are plenty of books on the topic and all of them point out that moving births to hospitals was NOT the big change that made birth safer in this country. It was germ theory and penicillin. There were places where birthing in a hospital meant a 50% mortality rate due to infection. It was horrific. No, hospitals are not that bad now, but with 20-50% cesarean rates, you have to wonder.

Speaking of cesarean rates, lets point out that the World Health Organization has proven a cesarean section rate above 10-15%, for industrialized countries, puts women and babies at greater risk of morbidity and mortality than a physiological birth. I already mentioned that mothers are more than twice as likely to die when they have a cesarean as when they have a vaginal birth. And someone said people never die because the doctor is there "in case." Hm... A doctor is trained to see problems and fix them, he or she is not trained to let well-enough alone and see normal variations as normal. An obstetrician is very good at what he/she does, when it is necessary. It is not always necessary, however, and it is certainly not necessary for women to have cesarean sections more than 10% of the time they are just wanting to bring their babies into the world.

Women should not be coerced or forced into having unnecessary interventions in labor and birth, especially when there is evidence to say those interventions are dangerous when used without very careful application. These are the things people should be upset about, not the decisions of some women to birth their babies at home.

First, my definition of safety: your relative chances of suffering physical and psychological damage. This is comparing two cars. They both have 5-star safety ratings under certain circumstances, but they're not the same circumstances.

Is homebirth safe? Yes, but your safety factor depends on some things! Is it safe for a low-risk mother who is attended by a trained midwife with a plan for transfer if mom and midwife decide to go? Yes, this scenario places mom and baby at the same safety level as this same mom in a hospital with a midwife, and if the mother has had babies before, she is safer than at a hospital.

Is it safe for a high-risk mother with the same midwife? Yes, but not as safe as a hospital might be for her and her baby.

Is hospital-birth safe? Again, yes, but it depends! Is it safe for the same low-risk mom as above, who is attended by a hands-off nurse-midwife? Yes, but not as safe as the homebirth would be if she has had babies before. How about the low-risk mom attended by an OB? Hm... this is a tricky one because it greatly depends on the OB's practices. Generally, however, the low-risk mother and her baby, with an OB at a hospital, will be in greater danger of suffering physical and psychological damage than the same mom and baby at home or with a midwife in the hospital. And the high-risk mom in the hospital? Generally safer than at home, still dependent upon her provider, however.

So, it's not all black-and-white. It depends on the mom, the baby, the birth place, and the healthcare provider. That's why it's so important to shop like a consumer when it comes to birth choices. Don't just choose the same car everyone else is going for... sometimes you'll find out that your car isn't worth anything in a few years and you'll need to trade it in. And remember, you can always exchange your car for a better model, sometimes for a lot less money! Plenty of women have changed doctors or switched to a midwife or a homebirth at 8 months pregnant or even later. It's your body and your baby. You should do what feels right for you.