Tuesday, October 11, 2011

What's important, the birth experience or just having a healthy baby?

37 weeks pregnantSometimes, I think about a blog post for weeks before writing, while other times, it practically writes itself. I think this is my way of releasing fear and apprehension about birthing, or at least giving that fear a voice; blogging helps me think through that fear.  Yesterday I hit a pregnancy milestone of being full term, 37 weeks pregnant, I have been waiting for this week to come because I know that the baby can come anytime now and we will be able to deliver at the birth center.  Even though my pregnancy could last 5 more weeks, being full term really puts the birth right in the forefront of my mind, we need to be ready to go at any moment.  I am a little nervous, but excited too, writing this helps me let go of one of my biggest fears, that my journey into motherhood doesn't matter.

This entire pregnancy I have been thinking about birthing, (just like every mother does, I am sure), but one thing that I have heard over and over from many people is; "all that's important is having a healthy baby," it's a phrase that has always puzzled me even prior to pregnancy but being pregnant myself I have come to the conclusion that it's just not true.  Maybe you disagree, and that is fine, but I think the journey definitely matters for the mama.  You only have to talk to one mother who didn't have a good birthing experience to believe that her birthing day DOES matter. Every time a new child is born, a new mother is born too, and their day is just as important as their child's especially because the mother will remember that day for the rest of their life, the newborn baby will not.

Now, I have always thought that the journey of the mother mattered through pregnancy and childbirth (because I really think life is about the journey, not the outcomes) but before my own pregnancy it was just what I thought to be true, I hadn't experienced it myself, so maybe it wasn't?  However, now that I am pregnant and about to face childbirth, I feel even more sure that the mother's birthing day does matter and this is why...
Back in my first trimester, Josh and I watched the movie The Business of Being Born and in the movie they discuss this subject at length.  One of the mothers didn't have the experience she wanted, for reasons out of her control, and it bothered her immensely.   Coincidentally, that very next day I met a girlfriend for lunch whose daughter is 19 years old, I had never heard her birth story before and when she started to share it, she prefaced the story with; "I am still so angry about my birth experience."  And went on to tell her story of unnecessary c-section and intervention that she adamantly tried to avoid while choosing a care provider and making clear her birth plan.  Even after 19 years, the day of her daughter's birth still brings back anger, fear and a flood of emotions that are still vivid and clear in her mind and it was not the birthing day she wanted or even needed to have.  Her story has stuck with me during my pregnancy and has helped me plan for our birth in a way that I feel most comfortable and in control.

Several months ago, I found a facebook page and blog called Birth Without Fear, which very liberally discusses no intervention births and many women share their stories on their page and blog weekly.  Recently, the page has become flooded with women who are birthing their second or more child via VBAC (Vaginal Birth After C-section, statistically safer per the World Health Organization than a second c-section in healthy women) after having traumatic first-time births resulting in interventions that they either didn't want, didn't need, or didn't know they didn't want until it was too late. While I personally don't love to read the stories about the 'bad' birth experiences, it again makes me believe that the birth day for the mother does really matter.  Many of these women who shared their birth story on this page are making very sure their second birth does not end up like their first, they are educating themselves about their options and are choosing to stay out of the hospital or at least stay away from intervention of any kind.  Again, you only need to read a few of these stories to know their birth day did matter to them and affected the way they planned their second birth.
So, if the birth day does matter to many, many mothers out there, then why do we say; "all that really matters is having a healthy baby?"  Now, I DO agree that having a healthy baby AND mama are the most important things regarding birth, any mother who does not have a healthy baby can tell you that; but does that mean it's the only thing that matters?  Don't I matter?

I think my journey is important too, this is not just another day in the life for me, this is the day I become a mother; I will remember this day forever and the emotions that I experience will stick with me forever.  My own mom was in labor for 3 days with me, yes, 3 DAYS at 42 weeks pregnant;  if that long of a labor occurred now in the hospital, she would have certainly had a c-section.  She wears that badge of labor proudly, although I personally think that it was very difficult for her and clearly the difficulty stuck with her, but so did the reward of having a healthy child.

Mothers in labor do matter.

Again, why do we say that the only thing that matters is a healthy baby?  Where did this notion that mama's don't matter come from?  But if that's all that matters, then we are doing birth very wrong in this country because our c-section rates are around 30%, way higher than the World Healthy Organization's (WHO)guideline of 5-15%, and intervention during birth is the norm nowadays, even though 70-80% of mothers are healthy and not in need of medical intervention.  We as a nation rank very low in infant and mother mortality rates and our NICU admits are very high and costly to our health-care system.   So, did this saying get adopted when our births started to become much more medical and we are seeing worse outcomes?  Are we now saying to mothers;  'phew, all that intervention was needed to save your baby, but at least you have a healthy baby and thats all that really matters?'   That is my theory.  I'd like to hear yours.

To bring this back to a personal note, the birth experience does matter to me and I know it will be something I remember for the rest of my life;  a good or bad outcome will affect me.  There is no major experience in life that doesn't right?  So, that's why we chose to have our child at a birth center with midwives.  Now, as I have said before in this blog that I work in medicine, in oncology specifically, I also spent many years as a CNA taking care of patients from teenage years at Craig Hospital through geriatric patients in a nursing home.  If I had cancer right now, someone would really have to convince me that herbs, prayer and positive thoughts would cure me rather than chemotherapy and radiation which is what I know to be proven statistically.

But a baby is not a disease, and the midwives provide a good balance between having the natural birth that I want and providing a safe environment that I feel comfortable with.  In their practice only healthy, low risk, mom's can deliver with them (which is 70-80% of mothers), babies can only be delivered in a normal head down position (not breech that is known ahead of time), only between 37-42 weeks in gestation (which is per the guidelines from the WHO) and the midwives don't take any chances beyond what is recommended.  This balance of natural/medicine provides me with an amazing environment to birth naturally, but allows me to feel safe, and if a decision is made for me to go to the hospital that they are making the decision for the health and safety of my child and myself.  While I hope to stay away from medical intervention completely, I have to 'let go' and feel comfortable with their sound medical decision if they feel that I need intervention.   Finding a care provider during childbirth that you trust is essential and we have done that in choosing this midwifery practice.
For now, I hope and pray that our birth goes as planned and to accept change if the unexpected does happen. I am nervous, but excited too, I am ready to meet this baby and start this new chapter in our life.

Again, this is not meant to offend anyone who chooses to have  a c-section or induction; this is meant to discuss whether your birth experience matters vs. whether having a healthy baby being the only thing that matters.  How you choose to birth to get that outcome is your choice, and I am telling you why I made my choices to go with a birth center.

Here are some more links that I found interesting and helpful as I was writing this post:  By far, this first link is my favorite.  Women who didn't have a healthy baby reflect to read this powerful story; click here.
Metropolitan Mama
Women Uncensored.


  1. I can hardly believe you are soon going to be a Mother! I am so very excited for this baby to be born. I know you will be strong and excited when your labor begins. No two labors are alike so enjoy this experience too. It does not come into your life very often.

  2. I loved this blog post. I wholeheartedly agree with you. I think the mother's experience does matter (even though I'm not a mother myself). I know my sister had to have 2 c-sections because of her high risk pregnancies and she so wishes it would have been different. I hope your birth goes as planned!

  3. The Business of Being Born is an amazing documentary. I will be delivering at a hospital because of being on blood thinners as a preventative against blood blots (I had a DVT and PE about 2 years ago). Anyways I am planning on a natural delivery and feel confident in my doctor to assist me in this goal. We have had many talks about expectations and I feel comfortable knowing that she and the other doctors in her practice will support my decisions. I think knowing what you want ahead of time and being comfortable stating your desires and needs is an important part of the process. Best of luck with your coming delivery!

  4. Cheree, I love to read your comments! Best of luck with your birth experience and I loved checking out your blog and seeing your cute-as-can-be belly pics!!! I also love your naming post :)

  5. Thanks! I can't wait to read your birth story.

  6. You absolutely matter, this day is amazing but hard as hell. You already know that you will remember every single detail of the day for the rest of your life which is so very true. My labors were long and intensive but no major interventions...I did lose my midwife in the first one and came very close to a c-section, but thanks to tons of support we did it! forceps,hematomas...and all....some would maybe say it was not ideal....but in the end....the first thing I did was WANT TO SEE MY BABY and found myself counting fingers and toes. The minute they come out, all of a sudden, you don't even care about you anymore, you just want to know that baby....gimmee gimmee.... with my 2nd, I couldn't hold her right away because she had meconium...the wait was short but agonizing!