Monday, December 28, 2009

Your Body Is Not Broken

On another forum there was a journal entry written by a woman who was bothered when others offered support by telling her she would be able to give birth to her baby- that her body is not broken. I had to respond because I do frequently tell women they are not broken, and my response ended up one of my better ones so I wanted to copy it here. If I have ever annoyed anyone with my insistence that birth works, my apologies:

I am guilty of this. To so many women at the end of their pregnancies, I say "Relax, your body knows what to do, your baby knows when to be born. Birth works if we let it. Have faith in yourself and your innate ability to deliver your child. You can do it!"And it never in a million years dawned on me that it was offensive or unsupportive or unhelpful.I had my own cesarean following a 27 hour labor ending in failure to dilate at 9 cm. I struggled with feelings of failure, feelings of inadequacy, worry that my VBAC would fail after another day or more of labor because maybe my body really was broken. People told me I needed to have faith, I needed to believe my body was not broken, I needed to believe it was the modern maternity system that failed me. And it was hard! Every day at the end when I didn't have a single contraction, my baby didn't drop, I didn't dilate, I left my OB appointments crying... every day, it was hard. But I had to find my center again, I had to believe that VBAC was not only possible, but probable, I had to truly believe that my body could- and would- work.

Birthing a baby isn't something we need to learn, any more than we "learn" to breathe or digest or eliminate.Are there risks? Of course. Are there situations where modern medicine is lifesaving and provides better outcomes? Of course!!! But that doesn't negate the hundreds of thousands of years before me, filled with women who gave birth to their babies, eventually coming down to the one woman who gave birth to me. Birth works. If it didn't, humanity would not exist.

And women in developing countries? What about their outcomes? Why do so many of them (and their babies) die? Is it because birth is inherently flawed? Or is it because they conceive immediately following the onset of menstruation, they are malnourished, they have no prenatal care, they have no support during labor, they lack even the most basic medical care? At the turn of the century in the US, maternal mortality was just under 1%, with half those fatalities caused by infection. The majority of the rest were caused by hemorrhage or unidentified toxemia. Sanitation and availability of blood transfusions and antibiotics were the biggest factors in reducing maternal mortality. Not c-sections, not inductions, not continuous monitoring. Basics.

So many of the things we think of as complications in labor are really just variations of normal. Western medicine wants us all to fit in a neat little box, and we (in general) want to have a quick and pleasant birth. We don't want to be the woman who labors for 3 days and ends up with a 4th degree tear for her trouble. We don't want to be the woman who doesn't agree to an induction 12 hours after her water breaks and ends up with an infection. We don't want to be the woman who refuses any given intervention and has a poor outcome, so we accept it all- and right along with that we accept the implication that birth is broken. Birth doesn't work. We need all this technological help to get our babies out safely, and if we don't accept it we are deluding ourselves and ignoring the risks of birth. But are we? Are we really?

In closing I will tell you this: Having faith in something you have never experienced is difficult. Believing you can do it when you have "failed" before is even harder. It is normal to have doubts and it is normal to question yourself and wonder if it is birth that doesn't work, or if it is you. Perhaps there is comfort in thinking birth is inherently flawed, there is safety in modern medicine because intervention means it is no longer just you and your baby involved in the process. But perhaps there is some truth to the other side of it as well, and planning your birth with hope and just a little faith that it really can work- perhaps there's something to that, too.

I will never tell you your body is broken, or birth does not work, or you are destined to fail. If telling you the opposite is somehow offensive then I really don't know what to say or how to offer you support. No matter what happens, no matter what your birth choices, I do wish you a beautiful birth.

1 comment:

  1. i actually cried when i read this. being a proponent of a natural birth experience, I am sometimes guilty of saying some of the things in your posts to other moms. But the bottom line is after one miscarriage, one ectopic pregnancy, and a birth that i so wanted to be completely natural and wound up with a c-section....sometimes i have to ask myself. Is my body broken? for a while i wanted to have another just so i could try and do the vbac, then i realized i really did not want another child just a natural. birth, but that's no reason to have a baby.