It's lonely out here: planning for a natural childbirth

BlogHer Original Post

Who knew we were such a nation of drug pushers? Here is the conversation I am having at least once a day, with moms and non-moms alike. Them: “Are you taking childbirth classes”? Me: “Yes, I’m taking hypnobirthing. I want to have a natural childbirth.” Them: “Good luck with that (wink wink). Or, “Yeah I did too, you’ll get over it.” Or: “You’re nuts! Take the drugs”!

My completely unscientific poll also finds that younger or Gen X women are more pro-drugs, while older women favor natural childbirth and likely had their kids that way. I decided I needed role models closer to my age, or at least to try to figure out why I feel like an alien when I discuss my birth plan. Ricki Lake and Nicole Richie are the only two celebrities I could find online who’ve advocated for natural childbirth. I wonder what Michelle Obama did? Angelina planned one for Shiloh (it was a C section) and her twins, but I don’t know if they were born au naturel- I doubt it since she was on bedrest. We know Victoria Beckham was “too posh to push” and scheduled a C-section.

Then I tried to find out if Sarah Palin had had natural births. I mean, the woman hunts and fishes and ran until she was eight months pregnant. I didn’t come up with anything- though I did find humourous this “Sarah Palin Birth Guide” that suggests jumping on a plane right after your membranes release (that is hypnobirthing speak for water breaking).

Caveat: I don’t want to sound holier than thou here, so please forgive me if I do; I am possibly the least rigid mother-to-be I’ve ever met, plus I’ve never actually gone through labor. I smiled when I read Her Bad Mother’s post on how annoying Emma Thompson is with her supercilious claim that “he regarded having given birth 'naturally', without aid of painkillers, as her greatest achievement.”

But I really want to have a natural childbirth. It never occurred to me I wouldn’t. My mom is a La Leche League indoctrinator who gave birth to me in the 1970’s. My husband was born in a rural hospital in Ghana (no running water, much less painkillers) so his mom ups the natural ante A LOT. Before I got pregnant, I assumed most women  these days had drug-free childbirths, and certainly that those in my cohort did (over 30, natural health conscious, suspicious of authority).

Turns out 80% of American women get some form of medical pain relief during childbirth, and over half of the four million American women who give birth each year (2.4 million) get an epidural, according to Easy Labor by Dr. William Camann and Kathleen Alexander.

Of course, I do hear many stories that women planned for natural birthing, but there were complications at the hospital that necessitated drugs. I'm going to withold judgement out of superstition and ignorance here. But BlogHer Amy Gates points to a recent Consumer Reports article stating "Too many doctors and hospitals are overusing high-tech procedures."And with C-sections topping 30% nationwide, something feels strange.

Ironically, we’re in a cultural moment that embraces alternative methods for labor (baths, birthing balls, doulas available at most major hospitals) as well as post-labor (holding your baby right after birth for “skin to skin” time, instead of giving him to the nurse.) But natural birthing is not in vogue. In the hypnobirthing method, we are made aware of the current medical language around birth, and asked to change it in our heads. Indeed, the current language around birth is both medical and scary. I never noticed it until we went to the hospital tour last week, when I listened closely to the nurse. The language was scary, although she was lovely: from her attitude of preparing us for problems, not normalcy, to her terms: “purple pushing,” mom being “repaired” after giving birth, and her many references to fetal monitoring and weak baby heartrates (in hypnobirth-speak, “complications” are “special circumstances”). She led with a fear-based paradigm. And in my tour group, I was the only one planning natural birth.

Either there is something I’m really missing, or drug-free birth is a special circumstance of its own these days.

So first, I need some natural childbirth role models here. Second, perhaps I need to not discuss my birth plans with anyone (except maybe on a blog with millions of readers...duh). When I talk about my plan for birthing, I feel as if I’m saying something like, “I’m going to make ten million dollars in the next two years and win the Nobel Prize.” People pat you on the head and mutter, “yeah right.” Not a very confidence-inducing process!!

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