Sunday, October 25, 2009

natural birth: si, se puede!

Does it hurt to give birth? Yes! Can we handle the pain? Yes!!!

Last weekend, I went to my birthing class reunion. We had all met in June for two full days of class (mainly learning breathing techniques for pain management and about the birthing experience itself) when we were very, very pregnant.

Before the class ended, we had gone around the room and each shared with the group what our plans and hopes were for the births we were about to experience. Most everyone there said that they were hoping to have a natural birth, without drugs. Some said that they were “open to” pain medication, though, if they “needed” it (I’ve actually never known anyone who has said this and still ended up doing it naturally). Others, like myself, were not considering an epidural or any other drugs. Many of us were planning to use the natural birthing center at St. Luke’s-Roosevelt Hospital. You have to be pre-authorized by your doctor to use it and, once there, you do not have the option of an epidural because they don’t have that sort of intervention in the rooms.

At the reunion, there were five couples there with their babies. We went around the room and told our birth stories. Of four women who had planned to use the birthing center (including myself), none of us were able to in the end (two of us due to being labeled “high risk” during a complicated labor, one because her baby was two weeks past his due date, and one because her baby was crowning in the car ride over and she gave birth within 15 minutes of being taken via wheelchair into the hospital!). I had been so crushed when they didn’t let me use the birthing center and my birth plan was turned on its head…I wish I had known then how common it was to be turned away, so I didn’t feel like such a failure in the moment. At the same time, I have to wonder: who the heck does get to use that beautiful facility? If I had realized how difficult it would be to get in and that I was going to have to have a hospital birth in the end anyway, I probably would have chosen a hospital a lot closer to home!

But the big surprise of the reunion for me was this: three of the five moms there ended up having epidurals--even two of them who had been planning to use the natural birthing center. The woman who was crowning in the car and gave birth witin minutes of arrival, clearly, had her baby naturally. I also gave birth without pain medication. What I heard from the other four mothers were things like: ”I tried to do it without drugs, but it was necessary to get the epidural in the end” and “I just couldn’t do it.”

I am not trying to belittle their pain or say that it is bad that they went with an epidural. It is, of course, a personal choice. I just left the reunion being really sad, though, because these were women who had wanted a natural birth experience and didn’t trust their bodies enough to let them have it. Clearly, we--as women--were made to give birth and, of course, to be able to handle the pain. It’s part of what separates us from men and I think it is a great gift to be able to test and stretch the boundaries of our strength in this way. It was hands down the most empowering thing I have ever experienced.

Ever since I have given birth to my daughter--after 36 hours of labor (much of it back labor because Ruby was trying to come out the wrong way) and getting her manually turned inside my belly (yow!)--I have felt a renewed sense of energy and conviction that I am, in fact, a strong and capable woman. If my back hurts from carrying her around all day in a sling, or my feet hurt from trekking around the city, I find myself constantly thinking: “Suck it up, girl. If you could go through all that without drugs, then you sure as hell can do this.” And it works. I used to go out of my way to figure out routes in the city that invovled less walking. Now I walk constantly. I used to feel tired walking to the park and back. Now I can strap a baby to my chest and go the whole day without pooping out.

Was labor the most painful thing I have ever experienced? Yes! I’m not going to lie: it hurts. It really, really hurts. You’ll never really understand the term “ring of fire” until you feel it for yourself. Jude asked me what it felt like when Ruby came out and this is what I said: “Imagine a hole on your body that is full of nerve endings and is very sensitive getting stretched out to 10 times its regular size, then sliced with a million tiny papercuts treated with gasoline that is then subsequently lit on fire.” It’s called labor for a reason and that’s because it’s a lot of hard work! It may be beautiful, but it's sure not pretty!

But the second my beautiful baby was placed on my belly, none of it mattered. It didn’t matter that I had been keeled over in the lobby of the hospital throwing up into an overflowing garbage can with my dad holding my hair back from my face. It didn’t matter that I hadn’t slept in over 48 hours or eaten in 36. It didn’t matter how much I had hurt, or how much I still hurt. Because Ruby was bright-eyed and alert and latched on for milk within minutes of facing this world. I was fully present in that moment, my senses on overdrive. I felt so much love for my husband and my baby girl that I thought my heart would break. And I felt every stitch that the doctor pulled as she sewed me back up!

There are so many benefits to natural birth, not least of which is that it helps you to understand the changing parameters of pain (a 10 on the pain scale will never be the same in my eyes again!) and your perception of your own strength.

My hope for Ruby is that she will learn to believe in her own strength…to be fearless…to push through the lowest lows in order to revel in the highest highs…and to live a life full of vibrancy and color. I feel compelled with a maternal urgency to try to be this kind of person for her. A person Ruby can be proud of.

Millions of women have done this before me. Millions of women will do this after me.

I am woman. Hear me roar. RAARrrr.

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