After my first birth experience (which I blogged about here – yes, you ought to read Part 1 first), I was committed to doing everything in my power to make sure that the birth of my second baby was as non-medical and non-invasive as possible. Toward that effort, when I became pregnant in 2006, I went to a midwife, not an OB, and I planned to deliver with no drugs in a birthing center, not a hospital. I recall people close to me questioning my decision. These were people who considered hospitals to be the only places to birth, people who would have gasped at the suggestion of a home birth. “Why would you purposefully want no drugs after having such an excruciating first birth experience?” they asked. It was specifically because my first birth experience was so awful that I needed to experience a non-medical birth. It was as if I needed to reclaim my body after the hospital had pillaged it.
As soon as I went for my first well visit appointment, I knew the experience would be completely different. Throughout the pregnancy, my midwife treated me in a way that demonstrated that she was not just looking out for the baby’s welfare; she was looking out for mine too! This woman was not going to hastily cut my vagina with little regard for how that would impact me post-birth. This woman was not going to force a birth to happen because it suited her schedule. This woman was going to honor and respect my body and my life, outside of my existence as a delivering mother.
Fast forward several months, and there I was in the birthing center, screaming through labor as my 9 pound, posterior baby slowly made his way down my birth canal. Let me be clear. This experience also hurt like fuck. Just ask the family members who were listening to my screams outside the room, yelling that it was barbaric and that someone needed to give me some drugs. (Yes, these were the same folks who had questioned my decision to avoid a hospital). But the pain here was different in that it gradually came upon me and more significantly, when he came out, there was no greater feeling in the entire world. As soon as Leo exited my body and screamed out his first cry, he was immediately on my chest, as I erupted in joyful screams, telling him how much I loved him over and over and over again. That night, he slept aside me and my husband (birthing centers enable parents to sleep side by side with their babies — as it should be – after a woman gives birth) as I nursed and watched him, feeling a surge of love and pride so big my heart could have exploded. Yes, I tore during this birth, but the healing happened in days. A few months after the birth, sex was not just “not painful”; it was enjoyable. Pooping? No problem! Everything about this experience was different – so much better — than the first.
Months later, when I watched “The Business of Being Born,” all of my ill feelings about my first birth were illuminated as I watched Ricki Lake describe a very similar path to mine – a first shitty hospital birth experience followed by an empowering 2nd birth experience outside of a hospital. This brilliant documentary (which every expectant couple ought to watch) highlights how hospitals are not in this to protect or care for birthing women; they are in this to make money, and the statistics show that hospital births in this country are probably the worst alternative for women and infants.
So what now? Now that the haze of early motherhood has passed (my boys are now 7 and 5), I have been tempted to take up the cause again. My husband, over the years, has increasingly wanted to sue, especially when it became obvious to us that our first son (the hospital-cytotec-induction baby) had certain physiological challenges than our 2nd did not have. Are Ben’s sensory issues due in part to the drugs that were administered at birth? We’ll never know for sure. It seems impossible to prove that any of these drugs or inductions are directly related to later physiological impairments, but personally, it would not surprise me in the least if someday a connection came to light.
Until then, what can we – the collective society of mothers/families that are getting screwed by hospitals – do? Perhaps we can initiate a class action lawsuit suit on behalf of all of us whose rights and liberties have been neglected or denied during a hospital birth? Perhaps those of us who would not be able to seek damages could at the very least ask for a declaration on the part of the medical community that they have messed with us and denied us our rights; that they will stop rushing us off to unnecessary c-sections because of medical premiums; that they will stop inhibiting our ability to move during birth; that they will stop having us deliver our babies lying down with our legs dangling in the air (the very opposite direction we should be in when trying to push a baby out); that they will fully inform us of what drugs they are giving us and how they work and what the potential effects will be; that they will allow a woman to birth for as long as it takes, not for as long as it takes as is convenient for the doctor’s tee time. Perhaps.
To mothers everywhere, I hope my stories (Parts 1 and 2) did not freak you out too much. My intention was not to scare or shock you; my intention simply was to bring awareness and honesty to a topic that is so often overlooked, a topic that is rarely told with unabridged candor. If you are pregnant, I hope you’ll watch “The Business of Being Born” with your partner. If you avoided this kind of birth experience at a hospital, count your blessings. If you have had a bad hospital birth experience, I hope you’ll share in the comments and let me know what you think can be done to help improve things for future generations.