Wednesday, March 18, 2009

What No One Tells You About Birth... My Version

We picked up an issue of FitPregnancy recently. Inside was an article entitled "What No One Tells You (But You Need to Know) About Birth. I know this is a mainstream magazine, but sheesh.

Three of the tips mentioned epidurals. Five mentioned cesareans. One mentioned broken blood vessels in her face... from all the purple pushing, no doubt. One mentioned how embarrassed they were that they had a small bowel movement while pushing out the baby. Two mentioned episiotomy.

What do I see wrong with this article? Even though I freely admit I am NOT mainstream in any way, shape or form, I used to be. I admit I had a cesarean. I had two epidurals. I had an episiotomy. I learned my lesson after 4 births of hospital protocols. But I still see problems with this article.

No one mentions doulas as an alternative to an epidural. Studies show that the presence of a doula can reduce the number of epidurals AND cesarean sections because Mom gets the constant, caring support she needs.

While I don't particularly feel comfortable performing bodily functions in front of others either, the whole "eww gross" attitude that we actually have bodily functions bothers me to no end. When will we admit that people actually can smell like people instead of flowery deodorant? When will anyone admit that they pass gas at inopportune times, or that baby helped clean out your bowels on the way out? Not our favorite moments in life, it's true... but it happens frequently. In fact, baby can actually pick up important immunities by passing so close... hmmm. Maybe that's why the vagina is located down there so close to the anus and not up by our belly button?

The fact that 1 in 3 women get cesareans today (or more in some hospitals), and another 1/3 get episiotomies even though studies have shown that episiotomies cause more damage than natural tearing is utterly amazing to me. What is wrong with easing the baby out? Your body will push the baby out whether you actively help or not, and taking a break and breathing through a few pushing contractions can actually give your perineum time to stretch around baby's head. Yes, it may be uncomfortable. They don't call it the "ring of fire" for nothing! However, letting your tissues stretch little by little prevents tearing.

The whole "eww factor" that many people seem to have today really gets to me. What will they do when baby has a messy diaper? When baby throws up what looks like more milk than they've eaten in a week? What will they do when their 4 year old throws up macaroni and cheese in the middle of the night? That last one is sure to get inward groans from me and fighting my own gag reflexes, but they can't help it. They didn't do it on purpose to make your life a living hell. Life is messy. If you're going to have children, it is time to get used to it.

Maybe we need childbirth classes that really teach what will happen in labor. Will people listen and understand?

Here is my version of what you should know before going into labor.

1. It will probably hurt. Some women are lucky and don't feel labor pain... whether this is because of reframing their perception of pain, or just sheer luck... I don't know. Either way, wish I had been them! For most of us... it will involve some intense pain. But it is only for a short time out of your entire life. Drugs will cross the placental barrier and your baby will get the drug just like you. Only your baby is much smaller than you, and they are not getting the baby dose.

2. Being active can actually help you cope with pain! It's true! I've done the beached whale syndrome in labor, and I've walked, rocked on a birth ball, leaned on a wall... anything that even remotely sounded good at the time. It helped! While the contractions were still intense in active labor and transition, I knew they were accomplishing something. I told myself every contraction I went through never had to be experienced again. In the midst of transition with its overwhelming feelings, I told myself that millions of women throughout history had done this exact same thing... and so could I. I could feel the baby moving down, so as uncomfortable as I was, I knew what was happening in my labor and could deal with it.

3. Your water may break before labor, during labor, just before baby is born, or it can be broken after baby is born in rare cases. All are normal. Having someone break your waters in early labor puts you on a clock that will lead to more interference with your labor.

4. You can do this! Women are strong! Our bodies are wondrously designed to bring life into the world. This is an amazing super power that women are blessed with!

5. Purple pushing (where you continue to push hard while someone counts to 10... slowly) is not only exhausting for you, but it deprives your baby of oxygen. There are only a very few instances when you want to push this hard, and they all involve situations when your baby is in distress and needs to be born asap. In a normal labor with a healthy mom and baby, exhaling while you push, shorter pushes and pushing only when you feel the urge will let baby be born gently and you will stretch better instead of tearing. By the way, an episiotomy is like cutting a piece of fabric a few inches with the scissors. Try tearing it before making the cut. Pretty hard to do, isn't it? Now snip it and try to tear it again. It tears all the way down. Your perineum is the same way.

6. Once baby slips out, the pain is miraculously gone. Take the time to get lost in your baby's eyes... smell his or her head, still wet with birth goo. This helps your mothering hormones kick into high gear! Don't let society's "eww factor" come into play. Watch your baby... they will begin to lick and lap at your breast. This is an inborn instinct.

7. If breastfeeding hurts, baby is not latched on correctly! Baby needs to open wide and take in as much of the areola as possible. Their tongue needs to be under the nipple and over their bottom gum line. Don't let them clamp down ON the nipple. The nipple should be taken deep into their mouth along the roof of their mouth.

8. Sleep when baby sleeps! Don't take that precious time and clean the house or update your blog. Get as much rest during your babymoon as possible to get you and your baby off to a good start.

I have a zillion more tips... so more later. :) In the meantime, visit our site, for more tips and advice.


Maggie said...

Hi, Toni. Excellent blog, I wholeheartedly agree! However, can I just add one thing - birth is not supposed to be painful. No other mammals but us experience pain in childbirth, and we experience pain because we kick in our "fight or flight" response with fear. Almost every woman can have a pain-free or nearly pain-free birth using childbirth hypnosis to stop that fight or flight response. I used HypnoBabies - check it out!

Toni said...

Thanks for the comment, Maggie! I see your point... maybe I could have used a description that was a bit more descriptive like "intense." I know people who have not had pain during birth... alas, I was not one of them. Still, I'd do it again in a heartbeat, so it obviously can't be too bad. :)

Thank you for bringing that up. :)

kate said...

As for the tip concerning drugs and the passing to the placenta... A friend once made a great point about the use of drugs during labor--Women who are considering taking a drug should think about this: If the baby was already born, would they allow the doctor to give the baby a shot of Demerol? Most mothers would never let this happen. We need to really consider just how serious it is to use drugs during labor and how it affects our babies.

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