The journey through parenthood and pre-parenthood is often marked by a myriad of road signs that oppose each other and forks in the road that give no hint to where they are going. It can seem at times to be an obstacle course engineered to confuse and inspire fear and doubt in tentative new parents. Each of us alone or with a partner faces the responsibility of discerning which route will be most likely to lead our precious babies and us to a place of health, safety, and love.
We were all born with the gift of choice – It is one of our most treasured possessions. Without it we would all be helpless, unable to have any influence on ourselves or others and not responsible for anything that happens to us. Along the path of life we all will meet people who try to take away our choices or try to convince us that we have none. This is never true. But when we acquiesce because we believe there is no other option, what we find is that what initially seemed like a non-choice actually was not – it was a decision to ignore our gift of discernment and to turn our free will over to someone else. Making decisions based on fear or the belief that we have no other options never leads to peace of mind, self-confidence or wisdom, It only leads to feelings of helplessness. When we allow ourselves to be pushed, bullied or corralled into decisions we do not feel good about, we lose a little bit of power until eventually we are powerless.
For most expecting moms in this country the choices are vast. We choose whether we feel happy or worried about our pregnancy, whether we view pregnancy as a blessing or an inconvenience. We choose how we take care of our pregnant bodies: how many hours a night we allocate for sleep, what kind of food we eat, if we remember to take it easy when we feel tired or stressed. We can choose whether or not to hire a care provider and decide who that person will be – male, female, OBGYN, midwife, nurse-midwife. It is important for new moms to have the courage to make the first decisions they will ever make for their child. These decisions set the stage for either a lifetime or courageous decision-making for the benefit of their child’s well being or a lifetimes of decisions based on directives from outside sources which may or may not lead in the right direction. But always remember the saving grace for all of us who have been non-choosers at some point: it is never too late to start making your own decisions. I know this because after a life marked by passive acceptance I saw miraculous things happen when I began to choose.
It was a rough beginning as a newly expecting mom. I was aware that a homebirth was a possibility but was told matter-of-factly by someone I trusted (who had medical training) that no midwife would accept me as a first-time mom because I had an “unproven cervix”, meaning there was no proof that a baby would fit through it and I had to prove it before I could have a homebirth. Of course now I see how ridiculous the notion is that I, as a woman, with all my parts in good working order should have to prove that they are not broken before I can choose where I want to give birth. But at the time I accepted this logic without much thought. I found an OBGYN who came highly recommended. I had never been to a midwife, so it didn’t seem strange to me that my doctor didn’t care about what I was eating, if I was sleeping well or if I was happy about being pregnant, because I had never been under the care of someone who actually thought those things mattered. It didn’t seem strange that every month he only wanted to look at my vagina and never asked if I had help lined up for after the baby came or if I needed breastfeeding support. However it did bother me that he refused to calculate my due date based on my carefully charted cycle but instead relied on the ultrasound which indicated the baby was due five days earlier than I knew he was. When I argued it he said I was being nit-picky, so I let it go. Then sometime after thirty weeks he informed me that he was not comfortable letting me “go over” more than a week, and that we would plan an induction around my due date. I never thought I would go over my due date – after all, the baby was “due” on that date, so why would it be late unless something was wrong? I’d forgotten that my date was a full five days off. On my last appointment I winced in pain when he checked me – I wasn’t aware that he had stripped my membranes without telling me. When I started bleeding later that day I called the doctor in a panic and was informed that it was no big deal. The baby was late – the induction began on a Saturday morning. I wanted a natural birth but I didn’t know about pitocin. Nor did I know that the dosage would continue to be adjusted up every half hour until it reached the maximum allowable. It was excruciating. The nurse said I was not contracting. I tried to explain that every time I lay on my side to rest the monitor would slip and stop picking up the contractions. She said I was wrong. As night fell my water had not broken and I was exhausted, and so I asked the nurse if she could please turn down the pitocin so I could try to get some sleep. She looked at me condescendingly and said “do you want to have this baby or not?” I finally begged for an epidural around five in the morning because there was not one ounce of energy left in my body and I was falling asleep between contractions despite being in more pain than I had ever been in my life. I needed sleep. My baby was born just after nine am and I was tired, numb, but happy. If only that was the end of the story. What followed still makes me too angry to talk about. And the worst part of it is that I let them treat me that way, and I let them treat my baby that way. To make a long story shorter, the beginning of my son’s life was emotionally and physically stressful. And to make matters worse I was not able to breastfeed him -and I was devastated.
There will always be people who will tell us we have no choices. Where birth is concerned, these types of people may tell us that a hospital birth is the only safe and wise choice for a mother who loves her baby. They discuss it on widely-viewed talked shows, they publish it in medical journals and in mainstream magazines; they make sure we know the “risks” of making a different choice and they aim to make us feel afraid. They say they are only trying to scare us for our own good and the good of our baby – but the truth is that there is nothing good, true, loving or wise about fear. Fear equates to one thing only: a tool to manipulate another person. One of the reasons we may find ourselves listening intently to these voices is because our society has given these voices a mantle of respect. They do after all have the power to save many lives that would have otherwise been lost and to make lives livable that would have otherwise been unbearable. But more than that – as a collective society we value prestige (people with a formal education, star status, political connections, published authors, etc.), money (wealth and possessions) and power (political power, monetary investments, well-paid jobs, etc.) The medical community is a construct of all of these things. Furthermore, the cost of medical care may lead us to trust its worth. As well as offices and hospitals full of machines that cost as much as fine automobiles, and drugs that take years to produce and are expensive to purchase. Can you imagine a midwife or doula having this kind of influence in our world today? Can you imagine a midwife appearing on a well- known talk show as a birth and pregnancy expert, being interviewed as if she knows exactly what she’s talking about? More likely she would be presented as someone “alternative”, simply a way to include an opposing side to the logical side and make for a more interesting show. But then is it a guarantee that a man who has been through years of schooling is more qualified to attend an uncomplicated birth than a woman who has attended hundreds of births and most likely given birth herself at some point? The voice of a doctor has power because we choose to give it power, but it is no safer to follow blindly what he (or she) says than it is to follow blindly any other person. We need intuition in our lives, so that if we choose to employ the services of an OBGYN or choose to birth in a hospital setting, it is because we believe in the inner part of our self that it is the right thing for this baby at this time. Some people have more options than others but there are always options. For some people the choices may seem endless and the question may be “where and how do I want to give birth?” For others the question may sound more like “am I going to allow myself to feel hopeless because I am unable to have the birth that I wanted or am I going to claim what I do have and be grateful for it?” We must look for wisdom in all things and trust that our creator has given us the gift of choice – not expecting us to never make mistakes, but expecting us to actively pilot our own lives and the lives that have been entrusted to our care. If we give up that power then we turn our backs on a precious gift. But when we accept this gift (or reclaim this gift), we begin to learn and grow and find peace and happiness in our lives.
My second child was born at home in water. It was peaceful and loving and I was never tired for a moment. My baby left my arms for just enough time to check his weight, then he fell asleep by my side and has slept there every night since. His life has been blissful and loving and I am grateful for the choices I made for his birth. And as an added bonus, he turned two last month and still enjoys breastfeeding. There is no single right choice for all mothers regarding her birth and her baby, but there are right and wrong choices in any given situation, and the only way to learn is to start thinking, researching, meditating, praying and then acting with strength. We are women of a new generation who know more than anyone has ever known before about birth, mothering, and our bodies. It is our time to refuse to feel powerless. It’s our chance in this wonderful country founded on freedom and truth to make our choices boldly and never surrender our will to another. This is my prayer for my life and for all mothers and mothers-to-be: I pray that we will have the insight to see the path and the courage to pursue it.