Monday, June 13, 2011

Letter to a First-Time Mother

  Dear New Mother-to-be,

   Your life is full of excitement right now;  joy and expectation.  You are feeling new life within you and when you tune inward, you can sense that you are a part of the great mystery of creation.  Many parts of your life may need shuffling around, requiring re-arrangement to make way for this new human, who will be joining our world soon thanks to your hard work.  Perhaps there is more stress in your life than you would like, in which case I pray for your peace of mind, and for easier times.  Taking good care of yourself is the number one job of an expectant mother - getting enough sleep, eating wholesome food, and cultivating joy and relaxation, all help to grow a healthy baby ready for a good and straightforward birth.

   Our culture is so complex and information-saturated right now, that you are facing all sorts of important decisions right from the get-go!   Will you find out the sex of the baby mid-pregnancy or not, will you have genetic testing or not, should you take hypno-birthing or Bradley classes, and on and on...  All the choices feel confusing  The biggest birth-related choice, the one that will provide the framework for all the other decisions and details of your birth experience, is this:   Should you use a hospital based provider (doctor or midwife) and give birth in a hospital, or hire a homebirth midwife and have your baby at home?

    Maybe you are just now realizing that you even HAVE a choice.  It is likely that your own mother went to a hospital when she had you.  Her mother may have given birth in a hospital as well but you can bet that your Grandmother's mother gave birth at home.  Hospitals were not used for birth until the 1910s in urban areas and the 1940s in rural areas, just so you know.  Before that babies were always, everywhere, born at home.  For ages, since the dawn of humankind.  But when you were growing up, birth in the hospital was the norm, and if you were like me, you never even HEARD of a midwife as a kid.

   But now, you are a grown woman, and a pregnant one.  Times have changed  again and homebirth is suddenly something to consider.  You are healthy and have taken relatively good care of yourself thus far.  You may have a vague distrust of doctors and the medical system, which you have heard is driven by the engines of the pharmaceutical and insurance industries  You may have relatives who have gotten sicker while taking drugs or treatments prescribed by doctors.  And now that you are pregnant you are noticing that SO MANY of your friends have had hospital inductions that ended in c-sections.  And if you ask around, you hear that in most U.S. hospitals there are 70-80% induction rates and that 32% of U.S. births end in c-sections.  This is probably true of the hospital in your neighborhood.  It is true of the three hospitals in our area.  Yikes!  In 1970 the c-section rate was 5%.  And we all turned out fine!  But what is homebirth all about?  Is it really safe?   It is hard to know where to turn, whom to trust.  What is the "right" choice?

   One thing I have learned in my work as a midwife is that there is no one-size-fits-all answer when it comes to pregnancy and birth. You are a unique woman, that baby inside of you will be a unique individual, and this birth will be uniquely your own experience.  Your task as a blossoming new mother, is to learn how to take in external information and then turn inwards and listen to your own inner wisdom.  That is right -YOUR  WISDOM.  You may think you don't know anything about this stuff, but your body knows everything it needs to grow your baby and give birth.  Say you close your eyes and imagine giving birth easily in a pool of water  and then picking up your baby and kissing her;  your body tells you something right?   It feels good, your body can almost feel what it would be like to hold your new baby.  And say you hear about a scary emergency surgery where the baby was barely saved, you can feel the fear and the anxiety in your body, right?  Pregnancy makes everything feel deeper, giving you the opportunity to really feel into your choices.  So I ask you to not just THINK about your choices, but FEEL into your choices.

    Make an appointment with a doctor and see how it feels in his office, with his staff, in the exam room. Ask questions about his philosophy of birth, his c-section and induction rates, delayed cord clamping (REALLY important for baby's health)  How did it feel when you asked?   How do you feel afterward, leaving the office?   Does this person and environment support your emotional as well as physical well-being as you prepare to undertake the most profound and challenging rite of passage of your life under his care?   Because birth is not a "medical event".  It is a physiologic event that all mammals are capable of.   It is also a  profound transition for both mother and baby.  How mother and baby experience the birth has implications for both that last a lifetime. (See for further information)  For many humans, ( too many,  these days) it also becomes a medical event.  This is largely  a result of it being placed under the auspices of doctors and hospitals in the first place.  (Watch The Business of Being Born for a thorough explanation of this phenomenon)

  Now for some of you, underlying medical conditions necessitate that you stop here.  Insulin dependent diabetics, those with heart disease or other chronic or underlying illnesses, you are perfect candidates for hospital births. In the olden times a woman with your condition may not have survived pregnancy or been able to conceive in the first place.  Or even lived until adulthood.  Doctors are ideally suited to your needs and are experts at taking care of high-risk women such as you. 

  For those without medical conditions, and 90% of childbearing women fall into this category, now go and find a midwife. Look in your yellow pages or online.  Make an appointment and interview her.  Ask about safety, about going to the hospital if a problem occurs, and what is her philosophy about labor, birth and bonding.  How do you feel in her office, talking with her, and how do you feel afterward?  Go and meet a second midwife.  Remember, your feelings are clues into what is right for you and your baby.  Your body is what will be giving birth and how your body feels gives you clues to what you truly need. 

  I talk to many women who feel vaguely disappointed or disempowered after their first doctor appointments.  Somehow,  they were expecting something different.  Just not sure what, exactly.  They were pushed into a vaginal  ultrasound or genetic testing without understanding why, or they waited an hour for a  hasty ten minute check-up.  They felt they were "bothering" the doctor with questions, although he was "nice".  Then they meet with me, and a light goes off and they say  "Wow!  I didn't know it could be this way ".   'This way'  meaning warm, slow, enjoyable,  with sharing of information through story and research, and a genuine connection.  Why not?  This is your sacred birth, your baby, we are preparing for. Let's be real with each other because birth is as real as life gets.  You need much more than "nice".  Midwives offer individualized care with long prenatal appointments to prepare you for what is ahead on multiple levels - emotional, physical, psychological.  We are experts in normal birth and trust that you are designed perfectly to birth your baby.  We like to instill in you a sense of confidence in the process, and in yourself.  We like you to leave every appointment feeling GREAT about yourself. 

   Look deep within your heart.  Do you need an IV, a team of nurses, and the availability of drugs to feel safe and empowered to birth your baby?  Or do you need to be in your own private nest, with your partner by your side, and a trusted, experienced midwife to watch over you? 

  Giving birth will be the hardest thing you ever do, no matter where you do it. I have looked into the eyes of over two hundred women in their  moment of despair, around 8cms dilated when labor is super-intense,  and they feel like they really can't do it.  And I have looked right back, offering nothing but calm reassurance with my eyes and smile, and they have known that they ARE doing it.  And they own it, and give birth.  When you feel like it is too much, you can't do it, we midwives know you are almost done.  The baby is coming!  Nature has designed birth perfectly that way; to call the midwives to you for the grand finale.   At home, you carry on and give birth and it is a powerful overcoming of obstacles that you will never forget. It  changes you forever to overcome that fear, that pain.  You get your precious baby from the experience, and you get more;  you are reborn yourself as a powerful Mother.  You are not rescued by drugs or vacuum extractors or surgery.  You are the Hero.  Look within your heart and ask what you really want for your birth.  Do you really believe in yourself?    Do you think you can do it?  What is best for your baby?  Your body will tell you the answer.

Blessings on your journey,


1 comment:

Lorelei said...

While I lOve that you included women with health problems, perhaps you could include that they still could be served by hospital midwives and still have choices despite their unique circumstances, rather than leave it at 'doctors are it for you'?