Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Have courage to prove

I woke up the morning and discovered that I had gone to bed last night just in time to miss the morning MOSW post.  It was already loaded and leftover in my Echofon add-on from early this morning, so I could see it before the flood of other tweets from this morning came up.  So this is what greeted me.

"...You have an unproven pelvis."
Well, shoot.  You don't say.

Now this is kind of funny to me because my pelvis is quite entirely unproven as well, as any semi-loyal reader knows.  In fact, a lot of women's pelvises are unproven, and every last one who has ever given birth was at some point, too.  Throughout all history, the existence of the entire human race rests on a foundation of previously un-proven pelvises.  (Weird image, I know.)  The quote was a scare tactic to tell the first time mother that because she had never given birth, she really ought to do it in a hospital in case something goes wrong.

Don't get me wrong, I am glad we have hospitals to birth in, and obstetricians to be on staff.  There is a need for them in true emergencies and they definitely serve a purpose that I think any reasonable person can acknowledge.  The problem, as with so many things from sugar to medication, is inappropriate use or application of the hospital in birth, and the unnecessary involvement on a medical specialist in a healthy, non-medical situation.  Women head to the hospital more often out of fear that something could go wrong than having a statistically significant reason to believe it will go wrong.  In our culture, you have to prove that you can finagle your body into birthing vaginally a)in an unnatural position (lithotomy/"stranded beetle"), b)in an unfamiliar and often uninviting location (granted, many labor rooms look less like a biotech "clean room" than they did a few years ago) c)with unfamiliar people (who may or may not be good caretakers) swooping in and out to check on your progress d)which is monitored by the beeping machine next to your head that you're strapped to as it spits out an endless stream of paper, e)while you're likely being pumped full of any or all of the following: synthetic hormones, antibiotics, narcotics or other pain killers, and IV fluids because they won't let you eat or drink (so after a few hours your strength and blood sugar plummet.)  If you can get your body to still push out a baby with all of these factors against you, congratulations!  And please come back next time in case something goes wrong, even though it didn't this time.

If you can't manage to get your body to adapt to this highly technical and "managed" situation, that's okay!  That's why we have c-sections, right?  And that's why one in three American mothers has them.  Then there's the kicker; once you have your first Cesarean, your likelihood of being "allowed" to birth vaginally in a hospital is less than one in five.  So if you're a first time mother, and you enter this downward spiral your likelihood of ever having a normal birth in the hospital is hugely diminished, because somewhere along the line someone essentially told you "You can't do it until you prove that you can."  It's kind of like credit (as KDB said.)  This is not a supportive attitude and it is wrecking our ability to give birth.

What do I think the answer is?  Simple: Educate women long before they get pregnant.  Change the Sex Ed programs in middle school and high school to include education on options in birth: homebirth, waterbirth, birth centers, midwifery.  Teach girls and boys how birth can and should be; that continuous, knowledgeable support is critical, that interventions are to be kept to a minimum and applied only when truly necessary for the health of mother and/or child.  Then educate nursing and med students on the exact same things.  Most nurses and doctors have never seen a normal, healthy labor or birth, nor can they recognize them without the use of machines.  And it's not their fault because that's how their educated.  Education needs to change, or we will never see a difference in the lives of individuals until the damage has already been done.

And that's the crux for me as a childless birth advocate.  I feel very much like an oddity, an island in a sea dotted by island clusters of women with children and bad birth experiences.  I haven't been traumatized, and I don't want to be I would wager that the vast majority of birth advocates are women who experienced trauma in their first birth(s), put their foot down afterward and said, "I am not going through it again!"  But it doesn't have to be like that!  We can stop it before it starts.

Talk to your girlfriends before they have babies.  Talk to your daughters, your nieces, your cousins.  Talk to women at your churches, your synagogues, your mosques, your book clubs, your gyms, your coffee houses, your hair salons, your political gatherings (whether you're Red, Blue, Green, or I don't know, Orange-with-Blue-Stripes.)  Get the facts, learn what the normal process is, and talk.  This is a concern for all childbearing women regardless of race, ethnicity, religion, creed, political views, sexual preference, education level, language, or tax bracket.  Advocacy and education don't have to be complicated or brashly outspoken and in-your-face; in fact, on the day-to-day, person-to-person level, they shouldn't be.  Just talk.

Women with a legitimate medical need should seek out the care they require for the healthiest outcome possible.  Women without that need, even if you're a first-timer, even if you're not "experienced", I would encourage you to be brave.  (Edit:  By which I mean be brave in the face of possible/likely disagreement or disapproval from those who don't understand your choice, your research, or the reality of safe home birth.)  Hire a midwife.  Hire a doula.  (Don't skip hiring a doula, wherever and however you birth.)  Birth at home.  Birth at a center.  Keep your ability to walk, move, stand, squat, stretch, nest, eat, drink, pee, poop, shower, socialize (if you want), walk around in a nightgown* or nothing, cuddle with your hubby/partner, and everything women are typically discouraged or outright forbidden from doing behind the heavy double doors of a hospital maternity ward.

To the woman who posted the MOSW story that prompted me to write all of this down (and helped nudge me in the right direction to expressing what I meant above) , I salute you and I am thrilled that you got the birth you wanted and "proved" your pelvis on your own terms and in your own home.  I look forward to doing the same and encouraging others like us as well.
Jena Vincent of Abundance Massage

*Free, unsolicited plug. I am in no way affiliated with Hot Mama Gowns, I just happen to like her product and follow her on Twitter.  And of course, you can wear your own nightgown.


  1. I believe the one thing we can pass onto our "sisters" is the power of knowledge and preparation. Whether it is birth or breastfeeding; when armed with the resources, tools and support, we can do anything (unproven pelvis and all!!)

  2. It's like the Greg Mortenson quote: "If you educate a boy, you educate an individual. If you educate a girl, you educate a community." Teaching women matters.

  3. Go Jena! I too was a childless birth advocate for a while (as you may have suspected from the MOBSW thread). That supportive birth community is priceless when it comes to your own pregnancy and birth. It sounds like you'll also love being able to answer the question "Are you doing this work because you had a traumatic experience?" with a glowing "Actually, I had a fabulous experience and I want to share that with other women." (Been there, loved that.)

    I do have a mild quibble with your post. ;) When we choose home birth because we think it is the smartest and safest way to bring a healthy pregnancy to its normal conclusion, the only way in which we are being more courageous than any other woman who chooses the path of motherhood is that we are willing to brave the disapproval and willful misunderstanding of those who don't want to educate themselves about birth. Bring Birth Home has a great post on "brave" homebirth:

    Thanks for this post!

  4. You're absolutely right, ThoughtfulBirth, that the bravery comes not from birthing at home, but in facing those around you. This is much more in line with what I had in my head and meant to say, but the thought never fully formed. Thank you for the article and the gentle realignment to help me get out what I really meant to say. *off to add an edit*