My first child was born in 1989 when I was only 16 years old. Abandoned by the child’s father, I gave birth in a local hospital. I was accompanied by two employees of the girl’s home where I was a resident. Neither of my parents attended the birth of my child. I was young and uninformed, trusting my experience into the hands of health care professionals. The child was born after 17 hours of labor and a list of difficulties including a failed epidural which later led to spinal cord fluid leakage and the most powerful migraine I’ve ever had in my life, requiring a spinal patch of blood taken from my hand. I was coached to push and tore my perineum which resulted in a host of stitches, I gave birth lying on my back with my feet in the air, a most undignified position. But mostly I was treated like a piece of livestock in a factory. There was little concern for my preferences and I felt like I had no choice but to do what I was told and comply with the professionals who were there to do their job of delivering my baby. At the time I thought that this treatment was because I was young, unaccompanied and was giving my baby to another couple for adoption. My later birth experiences showed me that this is standard procedure in American hospitals.
My own daughters were born in 1996 and 1999, when I was 22 and 26 years old. Delivered by the same doctor who cared for me through the duration of both pregnancies. Upon missing my period, I made appointments and diligently followed the advice of the doctor, took my prenatal vitamins, kept all of my appointments, tests, exams, blood work and ultrasounds, in the effort to ensure my babies received the highest level of care. I did what I thought I was supposed to do… there were no other options presented to me.
When it came to delivering in the hospital, I was concerned about having another negative moment so I talked with my spouse and my doctor about having a more natural experience this time around. Both agreed that would be a good thing, but there were no guarantees. When my due date came and went, the doctor insisted I should schedule a day to be induced for the health of my baby. I agreed to do this and when the time came, I was doing my best to relax and have a natural birth, but the doctor told my husband the labor was not progressing fast enough and that I should take the epidural. My husband and the doctor frightened me into complete compliance and once again, the hospital protocol took control of my birth experience. When my second daughter was born 3 years later, I knew the drill and I complied from the beginning without protest. These are the memories I have of bringing my first three children into the world.
Nineteen years later, after having met the love of my life and moving to the Netherlands, we conceived our love child when I was 44 years old. I vowed to do everything differently with this child and this time, I was fully supported by the father, my partner. We conceived on a full moon and solar eclipse and from the very beginning of the pregnancy I took care to get good nutrition, plenty of rest and limit stress. There are more options in the Netherlands, including home births and midwife services. We refrained from seeking professional assistance until the last trimester when we found a local midwifery and went to our first appointment. We declined all ultrasound tests, including listening to the baby’s heartbeat with Doppler. Aside from having one blood panel, we refrained from having any interventions at all in the pregnancy. There were no pelvic exams, no hospital visits and no invasive, demeaning procedures.
We created a birth plan of how we would like our child to be born which included a water bath, at home, with limited to no interventions and for the umbilical cord not to be severed. The midwife agreed to our requests and supported our decisions.
When the day arrived, I went into labor early in the morning and my partner began setting up the inflatable pool the agency rented to us. Using the techniques I’d read about in a hypnobirthing book loaned to me by a friend, I spent the hours listening to soothing music, reading affirmations and breathing through contractions. I was comfortable and relaxed for the entire labor, knowing I didn’t have to go anywhere, and I didn’t have to deal with anyone else’s opinion or agenda. This was all about me and what I wanted. I could totally get into my zen space. I took off my clothes when my water broke, laid down on my sofa and surrounded myself with crystals and soft music while my partner filled the pool.
When the pool was finished I was compelled to get in and the warm water made the labor more comfortable. There is something soothing about the water and the hydrostatic pressure made the painful contractions more bearable and somehow made them feel safe. In my previous experiences, I had been made to feel like I wasn’t going to be able to relax and therefore not be able to deliver my child naturally. Being in the water relaxed me and made me feel reassured and more confident in myself. My partner and I breathed together. I felt my child descending into the birth canal. We had called the midwives to let them know we were in labor and they arrived about an hour or two before the baby was born. They sat on the sofa and watched us while expressing encouraging feedback but stayed out of our space. I spent the last 3 hours of labor in the water and I delivered my own child with only the verbal encouragement of the midwife.
I have seen the animated videos of what happens in the female body when a baby is passed through the pelvis and as it was happening to me, it seemed that I could feel every inch of the painful process. I had been visualizing the baby moving toward the vaginal opening. I visualized the cervix opening like a lotus-shaped portal, ready to welcome my baby into the world. I remembered that every contraction was one step closer to meeting my baby. I felt the baby’s head crown, I pushed naturally as my body compelled me to. It was something that came by itself, a natural urge to assist my child, not like the experience I had in the past of being coached to push down hard like an exaggerated bowel movement. This was more beautiful. I was scared, I will admit. My previous experience was a trauma that kept playing itself in my mind while I was feeling every muscle and ligament in my pelvis and hips stretch to accommodate my descending child. I felt his body move through my pelvis. The midwife watched me from behind. She and I both knew the baby was moments away. She whispered words of encouragement. I kept visualizing the baby moving out. My partner steadily breathed with me, reassuring me with his calming voice. I felt my baby slide from my womb into the water. I reached for him, scooping him up, I lifted him to my chest. I was the first person to touch him, I was the first person he saw. It was the most incredible thing I have ever experienced.
I had an intuitive knowing that I could deliver my own child, even when I was young. The pressure to obey the professional doctors overrode my intuition and created an experience I would have preferred not to have.
Giving birth naturally was the most physically painful thing I have ever done. But the pain was unlike any other I have ever had. I was not a victim because of this pain, I was empowered by this pain. In my hands I hold a brand new life that I brought into the world in love. I feel like a goddess. I feel like I can do anything.
I wonder if there is a reason why the medical system has taken control of something that comes so naturally to women. Inhumane, institutional thinking is in control of how women deliver their babies. Women are placed in demeaning positions and told they must comply with certain rules in order to bring their children into the world. The incredible power of women is shut down by beliefs, fear and the potential for monetary gain. Who benefits from giving birth the way it is done in the institutional medical system? Not the children and certainly not the women.
If every woman knew the power they have within them, to create, carry and bring into existence life, she would see herself in a different light. She would understand how powerful she is. She would no longer tolerate oppression or abuse at the hands of a patriarchal society. She would become the goddess she naturally is. And the world would be better for it.