Before you read this article, please understand that what I am sharing are just facts I have found while researching about my options along with my honest and raw feelings. I think that every woman should approach the birth(s) of her child(ren) however she feels confident and secure. I just think that before making a decision you should become informed. I also know that even though you have a plan, circumstances can change and you have to make the decision to go a different route than you thought you would and I am also prepared to do that. I am simply passionate about how I wish to approach the birth of my child(ren) in the event that there are no serious emergencies.
I have always enjoyed the company of children and have never found them restricting. Sure, you have to approach things differently, and things may take a little more time, but in my opinion you can continue to do the things you love to do, such as traveling, hiking and going out. I know some find it impossible. But really it is just a matter of finding other ways to go about your activities that suits both you and your child.
I find that children make each of those things you love to do so much more entertaining and exciting, even when their reactions aren’t “pleasant”. The way children look at each activity they embark upon on a day to day basis is just magnificent: pure honesty and raw emotion. Guiding that learning process became a passion of mine, and every moment of a child’s life is a learning process, even for you as you get to be brought back to what it’s like to really feel. Our feelings are more driven by past experiences while a child’s are driven on pure emotions. I’ve never found being a general guide and source of protection for children restricting. It is beautiful, even when stressful.
So when my husband and I found out that we were going to have our first child together I was over the moon. A wonderful little combination of me and the man of my dreams. They would have similar ways of looking at things as well as ways that are within me that I never knew. I would be their number one guide, their number one influence. I just had to get over one more hurdle.
Every woman’s worst nightmare. From the moment I was deemed old enough to be present for the visuals of the media and horror stories amongst friends and family, I have been led to look at birth in the only way that conventional society today views it: the worst thing that could possibly happen me. My husband and I started planning straight away and the first thing we agreed upon was that not only would he not be in the room, we would be going down the straight “old fashioned” (as in when hospital births became the norm) route and he would be down the road at the nearest pub with a buddy, drinking a beer and waiting for the call announcing the birth of his child. When did they start letting husbands into the birth room anyway? I was not going to have him in there to witness me all doped up, screaming psychotically, legs in stirrups, spotlight between my legs, and a strange man in full-on clean room gear and a face shield covering his head, hands/forceps up my lady bits pulling a human head out. Sadly, this is how I imagined birth because this is the story I heard regularly from friends and family that have had children. One of the greatest mysteries to me in life at that point was how a couple had more than one child after the husband witnessed that. How could men ever look at their wives in an arousing way after that??
Finding the Truth
I am in no way obsessive compulsive by nature. I love to just jump into a moment and run with it without giving it a second thought. I don’t always look at the dangers or possible negative outcomes involved in these situations before I jump in because it makes life exciting and interesting and keeps you on your toes. That’s how you acquire life experiences. If I were to think about it first I probably wouldn’t have experienced half of what I have. But when something is important I do in fact become hyperactively obsessive compulsive, and it kicked in with a vengeance that I have never felt before when I found out I was having my first baby. When it comes to my own body and the health of it I have always been informed and done the best I could to make the best choices for it, which are always holistic. Now that my responsibility has extended to another person’s body that is unable to make their own choices, my natural desire has multiplied by a number that is inconceivable. Aaron, who by his nature tends to always question the “norm”, also started doing his own research and quickly became almost as obsessed as I. He also found himself coming to a lot of the same conclusions.
What is so bad about birth? Why all the horror stories? Yes, I understand that you are pushing a small person out of small and sensitive space, but obviously it’s built for birth because that is how nature works. I had a feeling that things were being either over exaggerated or that there was just something wrong with the system women were finding themselves in and I took it upon myself to become informed.
I rarely go to the doctor and am not a hospital goer. I’ve been to the hospital three times in 25 years for emergencies. It’s safe to say that for me, the hospital is a last resort for medical emergencies, and going there for what seemed to me like one of the happiest moments of my life seemed contradicting. Going to see a person who’s job is described as being “a surgeon qualified to practice in childbirth” in order to embark on the most intensely powerful natural process I would ever experience didn’t quite settle with me. At least not on purpose, without anything being wrong. A lot of women ask me why I wouldn’t want to be as close to medical help as possible in case it were necessary. They never seem to be able to understand my reasoning but I do not feel comfortable in hospitals and if a medical emergency does happen, which is way less likely than we are led to believe, I’m only 10 minutes from one.
Luckily there was another option, an option I didn’t know much about other than what I had heard from a few women that I know that chose this method. Natural birth. Birth without synthetic drugs. Not on your back, no spotlights, no forceps. I had heard whispers about this method but who actually gave birth this way?
It wasn’t that long ago that EVERY woman gave birth like that. There were no epidurals. There was no synthetic oxytocin. Women didn’t even go to the hospital! Women gave birth to their children, hold on to your chair…. at HOME. It was Aaron who mentioned this idea to me as he came across what our actual options in Australia were and I was hooked. Tell me more. Tell me how.
A quick definition of natural birth as far as this article is concerned is “an undisturbed vaginal birth without synthetic drugs, tens machines, gas, or any other kind of chemical/machine operated crutch other than the chemicals your body gives you.” Although gas and tens machines are not bad for you, I still don’t consider a birth that utilizes them a purely natural one as they may interfere with you and your baby’s natural process, even if minimally.
As I learned about natural birth I found there were huge benefits that, until natural birth became virtually taboo, were just the way it was meant to be. A mother and a baby went through labor together at their appropriate pace, usually resulting in no excessive stress for the mother or baby’s bodies. Women didn’t react so strongly to what their bodies went through during birth because they weren’t told it was negative. It was the most beautiful thing that ever happened to you. It was your right of passage into womanhood. The greatest accomplishment, and you were rewarded with meeting the love of your life. During this labor, your body releases appropriate levels of hormones that play an important role in the process itself as well as the emotional relationship you have with your baby. In the active second stage of labor you are getting a mix of natural oxytocin and endorphins that bring you to an ultimate high of pure love for that moment when you see your baby’s face for the first time. I don’t know when or why it became more desirable to drug yourself up for that experience, or skip it all together and just have your baby surgically removed electively. But as I said before, I think all women should approach birth however they feel confident and secure. These are just my personal feelings.
I learned that I could have a natural birth in one of two places. At a birth centre or at home. Unfortunately because of a change in healthcare rules, all of the birth centres in Melbourne had very recently just been incorporated into hospitals. So we were left with one choice only, a home birth, and I was very much okay with that. So it was time to find out exactly what I would be going through, not only because it’s incredibly interesting, but also to learn what to be prepared for so that if an emergency did occur I would know what was happening and be able to be a part of the decision making process.
What is a Contraction?
While reading one particular book, Birth Skills, I was let in on what a contraction is and why it is so painful. I will use an exercise that I believe everyone has done at least once in life, the sit up, as an example. Imagine you are at the gym or in your back yard doing sit ups. You continue the exercise for as long as you can until your abdominal muscles get tired and start to “burn”, becoming painful, and your brain tells you to stop. So you stop. When you are having a contraction, the muscle being exercised is your uterus, and since you don’t work your uterus out in life really at all except during labor, that muscle tires quickly and starts to burn. But the exercise doesn’t stop once it starts to burn. If it did, you and your baby would not progress at all. So you’re doing your sit ups and your abdominal muscles start to hurt and your brain says stop, but your body continues the vigorous motions at the same pace as you were going as soon as you started. That’s what your uterus is doing. That’s a contraction.
Our Natural Drugs
I like to joke to people that I won’t be giving birth without drugs. My body gives me all the “drugs” I need for labor, one of which is synthetically recreated and commonly used in the hospital to help women start their contractions, and the one I will begin with.
The hormone that causes feelings of love and altruism. This hormone is secreted during sexual activity/orgasm as well as birth and breastfeeding, and helps bring on the ejection reflexes. When labor begins, your body releases oxytocin in an appropriate amount which initiates your contractions. These contractions begin as small cramps because they aren’t lasting for long. Your uterus is “warming up” for lack of a better term. As labor progresses the amount of oxytocin released increases and your contractions start coming closer together and last for longer because your body is now actively beginning the process of pushing your baby down, and they have to be longer in order to make any progress. Eventually the dose peaks and initiates the fetal ejection reflex. Women that give birth naturally will tell you that they never exactly “made the decision” to push, they just did what their body told them to do. Some even say they didn’t consciously push at all, they just gave in to the process and their body did it with no cues from them whatsoever.
Your baby is also secreting oxytocin into it’s own body, so at the moment of birth, both mother and baby are bathed in a beautiful cocktail of ecstatic hormones. At this time ongoing oxytocin production is enhanced by skin-to-skin and eye-to-eye contact and by the baby’s first attempts at breastfeeding (also mediated by oxytocin). Good levels of oxytocin will also protect against postpartum hemorrhage by ensuring good uterine contractions.
The hormones of pleasure and transcendence. A very active endorphin in birth, along with a number of other human experiences, is the beta-endorphin. This endorphin is present during the same activities as oxytocin but it is also present during stress and pain and acts as a pain killer, with properties very similar to opiates. Beta-endorphin induces feelings of pleasure, euphoria, and dependency or, with a partner, mutual dependency. Beta-endorphin levels are high in pregnancy and increase throughout labor where they reach a peak. Such high levels help the laboring woman to transmute pain and enter the altered state of consciousness that a woman experiences during natural birth.
Adranaline and Noradrenaline
Known as the fight or flight hormones, and collectively as catecholamines (CAs), these are important to mammals in a number of ways. If the level of CAs are high in the first stage of labor, they will inhibit oxytocin and slow labor down. This comes in handy to mammals giving birth in the wild, where if the animal were in danger, CAs would peak, birth would stop and they could run. However, after the first stage of labor has been successful these hormones act quite differently. An increase in noradrenaline activates the fetal ejection reflex. It makes sense that if a mammal even in the wild was in a position where their baby was already nearly out that fully out would be better for the mother than half in. Once the baby is born, noradrenaline takes over and mixes in with the cocktail of ecstasy and mothering instinct.
The final ingredient in the mothering instinct cocktail, but also present in males and so dubbed “the hormone of paternity”. It is the hormone that causes feelings of submission or surrender and cause parents response to their baby’s cries and needs. Some males have higher levels than others but going through a natural birth ensures a mothers’ appropriate levels. Prolactin also plays a major role in breast milk synthesis and breastfeeding.
The Wrong Atmosphere
There is a very simple explanation for why the hospital is not the right environment for me to give birth, and in my opinion, is also a great explanation as to why many women have such horrific stories. First of all, the majority of hormones given to a woman during birth are the same hormones she is given during sex. Imagine being forced to have sex with your partner in the same atmosphere you go to in order to give birth. Go ahead, put yourself right in that hospital room, hooked up to those machines, likely numbed from the waste down from an epidural, with all the staff around and get ready for an intimate moment with your partner.
Second of all, the other hormones your body gives you are fight or flight hormones that will slow labor to pretty much a pure stop in the atmosphere provided in a hospital room. A woman needs to feel safe and secure, which is only possible in a familiar place with people you know and trust. In a hospital, I would be somewhere very unfamiliar with several strangers and machines in the room observing me in an intense way. To make matters worse, if I don’t “progress quickly enough”, the situation becomes even more tense. How any woman is able to give birth under these conditions is beyond my understanding. Ina May, arguably the world’s most famous midwife, sums this whole concept up nicely in what she calls “Sphincter’s Law”. She jokingly talks about how giving birth is much like taking a crap: your body simply doesn’t like to do it in public.
But women do manage it with the following:
Drugs and Procedures
When you go to the hospital before labor has started naturally and are given the option to induce labor, they give you synthetic oxytocin, or pitocin. However, pitocin does not act as your body’s natural oxytocin. Pitocin-induced contractions are different from natural oxytocin-induced contractions, usually being more strong and intense than either you or your baby need at that stage. This drug can easily lead to hyperstimulation, since at average levels used for induction or augmentation/acceleration a woman’s oxytocin levels will be 130 to 570 times higher than she would naturally produce in labor. It is being given continuously by IV infusion rather than coming in the natural pulsatile release, which has detrimental effects on the baby and causes fetal distress. The most disturbing analogy I have read on the matter is that the effects of pitocin are as if you are holding the baby underwater, letting it up to take a gasp, but not to breath, effectively slowly drowning or suffocating it, which is why women are then fighting against the clock on getting the baby out before an emergency c-section is the only option left.
Another important point is that oxytocin, synthetic or not, cannot cross from the body to the brain through the blood-brain barrier. This means that pitocin introduced into the body by injection or drip does not act as the hormone of love. It also interferes with the important role that oxytocin plays in preventing excessive blood loss. The most upsetting effect, apart from possibly being health endangering, is that when the mother is not producing the appropriate levels of the love hormone, it has been studied that this very well could be interfering with the production of the baby’s love hormone levels, effecting their ability to love entirely. Not to say it takes it away, but it very well may mute it
Opiates and Pain Killers
Some women will use opiates for pain relief. It is another drug that decreases natural oxytocin levels in the woman as well. One can only guess what kind of psychological effects this lack of love and dependency hormones is having on women and children, although studies are becoming more advanced in the matter. There are studies that are bringing back results of drug dependencies, emotional disorders and even inhibited brain structure….but I’m not going to get into all that in this article.
More and more women are taking epidurals for labor. As it has become the normal thing to do I started educating myself on how an epidural effects my labor before making this choice. If you are considering an epidural for birth, please just take a couple hours of one day during your pregnancy to see how they work and you might think twice.
Epidural drugs are administered over several hours via a tube into the space around the spinal cord. The drugs involved include local anesthetics of which are all cocaine derivatives, and more recently combined with low-dose opiates.
Epidural pain relief has major effects on all of the above-mentioned hormones of labor. When an epidural is in place, it inhibits your beta-endorphins which is desirable in a hospital so that you won’t be so direct, emotional and aggressive. This comes in handy for obstetricians. The oxytocin peak that occurs at birth is also inhibited even further because the stretch receptors of a birthing woman’s lower vagina, which trigger this peak, are numbed. A woman giving birth with an epidural will therefore miss out on the strong final contractions designed to birth her baby quickly and safely, and then must compensate by “pushing” all while being unable to even appropriately feel what is going on and without any experience of what an appropriate push feels like in natural labor. This explains the increased length of the second stage of labor and the extra need for forceps when an epidural is used. Use of epidurals also inhibits CA release, which inhibit the fetal ejection reflex and prolong the second stage to further extent.
Enough About Me… What About the Baby?
I learned that it’s safe to say that these drugs and procedures are all things that I will avoid like the plague in terms of my own mind and body. Then I realized something else. These drugs are most likely making it to my baby as well. How is this affecting him/her??
Drugs administered, especially by epidural, enter the mother’s bloodstream immediately and go straight to the baby at equal or sometimes greater levels. So your baby is being affected by these drugs even more intensely than you. Additionally, after these drugs are taken up into the baby’s brain, almost all will take longer to be eliminated from the baby’s immature system after the cord is cut than they will for you, so they have to suffer the effects much longer.
Once the baby has finally made it through all of this, instead of being placed in my arms where nature’s blueprint for this time includes a specific and genetically encoded activation of the brain and nervous system for both myself and baby, it is immediately taken away to a hard counter top.
In a birth centre or at home, your baby is placed into your arms immediately and remains there for the next one to two hours. This skin to skin contact at the mother’s left breast is where new mothers in all cultures instinctively cradle their babies where they are in contact with her heart rhythm. This time is crucial for the baby’s body and brain to accept the drastic change in environment and begin it’s journey in the outside world without high levels of stress. Although we are talking about the baby here I just want to include the fact that this time is also important for the mother and her ability to communicate intuitively with her baby from that moment on. Upon the absence of this nurturing moment with instinctive expectations in the baby neglected, s/he is left with only feelings of fear and abandonment more intense than any adult or even young child could imagine.
As this isn’t what this blog is about either, I just wanted to put a suggestion in here to do a little research on the psychological effects that we now accept as normal in babies and mothers after having completely ruined the natural process that your bodies are supposed to go through during labor. Some things you may look up are a number of behavioral and emotional problems within children as well as postpartum depression in women. Just to get you started in the right direction.
My Birth Plan
When I begin labor, Aaron and I are going to go to the park with our dog to spend my first stage, which can last a good day, walking together outside in the fresh air and keeping my mind as far from my cramps as possible. We may even have to return home, have a rest, and go out to another park or beach if this stage persists. The first stage can last up to three days. However, towards the end of this stage, Aaron and few trees may get a hug or two when I reach the point where I need something to hold me up during stronger contractions. We will then head back home. I will assist as much as I can in making a really good meal for us to share together before we dive into what could possibly be a very long wait as active labor can last up to 18 hours, although it doesn’t often exceed 8. If I don’t enter active labor by the end of our meal we will watch a nice movie, maybe dance a little like we do on occasion and I will have a nice big pink exercise ball to bounce around and lean on, a shower and/or bath for some hopeful relaxation, and my own bed if I am able to rest at all in between, which is possible and happens for a lot of women who take on natural birth.
We will be timing my contractions and once they are consistently 10 minutes apart we will call in the midwives. Although the midwives may not decide to come until they are a little closer together, they will be aware that they will indeed be coming over that day/night. There will be all kinds of tasty and healthy snack foods and drinks set out for the marathon ahead. And maybe some pie. Definitely some ice cream. The room temperature will be warm and there will be soothing music on and candles throughout the room with the lights dimmed. Throughout this entire process it is important that I am able to move about and change positions when I feel necessary. I will have Aaron right by my side to suggest I do so if I reach a point of irrationality. Women are not meant to give birth on their backs – this was actually a practice started because it is more convenient for the delivering surgeon. However, you’re not utilizing gravity and you are closing your pelvic opening. When left to their own devices in a natural birth, most women give birth on all fours or squatting with a support. This enables them not only to utilize gravity, but also to sway their hips, helping the baby to twist and turn into the appropriate position for the best possible exit.
Once I reach 5 cm, I will get into my big, beautiful and comfortable birth pool. Birth pools have been proven to reduce pain and stress for mothers in labor. If everything goes the way I think it will, I will remain in the pool for the rest of my labor (apart from getting out for toilet breaks), drinking plenty of water and snacking on veggies until I reach the active second stage. My pool has very strong sides that both me and my husband can lean on so that he can be right there with me as a support.
Eventually, my baby and I will succeed through beautiful and natural team work and he or she will go directly into my arms where he/she will remain for the next one or two hours while Aaron and I savor the moment. Champagne for Aaron and the midwives and some sort of revitalizing drink for me. The cord will remain attached to the baby until it has finished draining. Some studies show that this last bit the placenta gives the baby is incredibly important to their health/immune system. The cord will then be cut once all the blood has been given to the baby, I’ll go through the third stage of labor (birthing the placenta) while our new baby is weighed and dressed and has a big cuddle session with his/her father, and then we will all go to bed and have a big family rest while our midwives clean up for us.
One final huge benefit to this whole process is that men are proven to fall in love with their wives in a whole new way when they witness them endure natural labor and then hand over their newborn child.
If there is any kind of emergency, our midwives are trained to see it coming before it comes and we are less than ten minutes from a hospital.
Most of you don’t believe that we will make it through this plan. That’s okay, and that opinion is not going to affect our experience at all. Some of you know that it will work out just as planned with a very small chance of anything going wrong. Thank you.
The bottom line is that for me, labor is a natural process that is not to be messed with. Especially not with synthetic drugs that are also being fed to my baby through me. Women think that natural birth comes with too many risks, but I think that risks are being forced through today’s conventional birth at the hospital while they are only a small chance with natural birth. If I didn’t want to deal with the pain associated with it, I wouldn’t get pregnant. It’s just part of the process. It is scientifically supported that ruining the natural hormones involved in birth are damaging to both mother and child. One could speculate its effects on our society.
However, as stated in the beginning, I think every woman should have their baby with the method that makes them feel the most safe and secure. As long as that decision is an informed one, I will not argue that it’s the right way to go for them. How I will be doing it is simply the right way for me and the facts that I have given made that decision for me.
I may be weird but I am actually looking forward to the experience of labor. I just can’t wait to see what it really is like. Sure, I know that I am going to have a lot of moments when I can’t understand why I ever wanted to do anything like this. But it’s a life experience. Quite possibly the most amazing life experience a woman can go through, and I am not one to meet a good experience half way.