What’s the first thing that pops into your mind when I say “giving birth?” If you were raised on western mass media like me, the clip that plays in your mind is of an angry, sweating woman screaming her lungs out while lying on her back in a tiny white hospital room, surrounded by fussing nurses and machines. Childbirth in America is almost universally known to be a painful and dangerous; and the assumption is that the only way to get through it is by taking drugs and trusting the doctors. That’s the image I had when I started down the road to pregnancy. That is, until I was at friend’s baby shower two years ago, and a mom started talking about her birth experience using a midwife.
What this mother described sounded nothing like what I’d always been told (even by my own mother) that birth was like. The experience she described was intimate, loving, spiritual and easy. This made childbirth seem not only less frightening, but also transformative. This conversation was what started to change my mind about what birth had to be, and the kind of birth and pregnancy I wanted to have.
When I give birth in five months, there won’t be any doctors or drugs or machines in sight: just my partner, and my midwife. Choosing to place myself under the care of a midwife for my pregnancy and birth was a big decision. So let me tell you why I made it.
The Level of Care
The standard prenatal procedure is simple: see you doctor monthly, get weighed and poked, and interact with the OB/GYN for a few minutes each appointment. If you’re lucky, you have a doctor you like, and if you’re very lucky, they’ll be at your birth.
Midwife care is very different. Through the midwifery practice I chose, I don’t have one midwife — I have a team: a Certified Nurse Midwife, an assistant midwife, and a student midwife. I meet with my team once a month, for a full hour, but more visits will happen closer to delivery. My midwife keeps up on my health, checks my vitals, answers my questions, and makes suggestions, but doesn’t force anything on me. Unlike doctors, midwives see their job as providing information so that mothers can make their own informed decisions. They don’t force anything.
For instance, I have no desire to know how much weight I’ve already gained (or will gain) from my little bundle of joy, and that’s okay. Tracking weight, it turns out, isn’t really that important, and since I don’t want to do that, we’re not going to.
The Birth Experience and Environment
Now, granted, I haven’t done this part yet, but I’m actually looking forward to it. That hospital birth we imagined earlier — lying on one’s back in literally the worst position to deliver a child — is the opposite of what will (hopefully) happen for me. I’m choosing to give birth in the birth center associated with my midwives’ practice, which is basically a B&B where people have babies. It’s full of pretty rooms with big tubs and everything the midwife will need neatly tucked away. Birth will go at my pace and take however long it needs to. Afterwards, the baby will stay with me and my wife for at least another day or two to give us time to bond as a family without being rushed out the door. At some point the next day, I’ll get a massage.
We could have elected for a home birth, but I really don’t want to scare the dog that much or have to clean up my house before or after squeezing out a new life.
I Don't Want To Be Rushed
When it comes to most hospital births, if your labor is too slow it will be sped up with drugs. Many of drugs increase pain and trauma to the baby, so you’re given pain medication. The pain medication slows down labor, necessitating more stimulants. This can often lead to a snowball effect of interventions that necessitate a C-section. Once the baby is out, you’ll get to say hi for a bit, before the little thing is taken away while you recover or come. I wish this was an exaggeration, but America has the highest rate of birth interventions in the world and an astronomical C-section rate – 32.8 percent!
Giving birth is, no matter what, a transformative and life changing experience. I want to be completely in touch with it when it happens. I do not want to be on a doctor’s timeline, nor do I want unnecessary drugs or interventions stopping my body from doing what it was made to do. I want to embrace this profound experience; one that should be joyful, spiritual, and natural. For me, that means surrounding myself with women who will support me in this adventure and help me bridge the gap between life as a woman and life as mother.
It’s What the Europeans Do
When I started thinking about going with a midwife, I did a lot of research. I watched documentaries, read studies, and most importantly, talked to midwives and other moms. As it turns out, midwifery is the norm in most of the developed world, and the picture of childbirth as a painful, antiseptic hospital experience is an almost purely American phenomenon.
In Europe, Australia, Japan, and other nations, the death rates of mothers and infants are massively lower than in the U.S. (seriously, our infant mortality rate has been called a "national embarrassment"). This may partially be due to the fact that those countries use midwives — practitioners trained to support and aid in the natural process of birth — rather than surgeons who often have never seen a natural birth. Midwifery is not only safe and better for mothers and babies, it turns out to be cheaper too.
Making the decision to go with a midwife rather than a conventional doctor didn’t sit well with quite a few family members. For the first month of my pregnancy, my wife and I were constantly asked if we were seeing a doctor. People wanted to know if my pregnancy had been “confirmed,” as if the evidence of my own body and a bazillion pregnancy tests wasn't good enough. People asked me if I was going to be okay with the pain of natural child birth, how late I could change my mind, what if a complication occurred during labor, and on and on.
This attitude seriously bugged me. Beneath the concern was the message that I didn’t know what was best for my own child and body. It was clearly implied that it was better to surrender agency over my body to the medical industry rather than go outside the system and trust myself and other women.
This attitude is in part why America doesn’t have midwives — they were driven out of practice in the early 20th century by the medical establishment in a concerted smear campaign replete with tones of racism, classism, and misogyny. In the same way the patriarchy has been taking away women’s traditional roles as healers and wise women for centuries, so too did the near eradication of midwives in America reek of men taking power from women.
And that taking back of my own power over my body and birth is the most important aspect of this choice for me. Choosing a midwife is a feminist act. I refuse to allow the patriarchal, capitalist system to tell me what is best for my body. I am choosing to trust myself and other women who have decades of birth experience and wisdom in this experience. And I can't wait.
Images: Getty; eyeliam, phildingo, Muus Creation/Flickr