Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Birth and the Woman Within

A woman believes she knows who she is - where she's come from, what she's been through in life... and in our minds we often limit ourselves to that perception. We feel we can do only what we have done in the past; that we can be only what we have be what we have been. We know ourselves only by what we have already proven to ourselves and to others... anything outside of our past experience of ourselves seems impossible, out of reach.

Birthing a child can be an experience that opens us up to the realization that we are MORE THAN we thought of ourselves...we are more capable, more powerful, more wise, more loving, more woman, than our minds would allow us to believe. In our hearts that knowledge is there all along; through the process of empowered birth a woman can let herself recognize and acknowledge that power, and free herself to revel in the awe of the realization that nothing is impossible for her, that no fear is stronger than her will, that the whole world is open before her. A woman is rebirthed during the birth of her child... born again into a new understanding of the lovely dichotomy of empowerment and humility... bringing into the outside world the woman she has always been, but didn't realize herself.

As with any birth, the new life is not fully formed, is in need of nurturing and protection as it grows and develops... once you have caught a glimpse of the YOU that is vitally, powerfully you, hang on to it and never forget that that is yourself, and you are splendid.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Midwives at Birth

For me, midwife assisted homebirth is a grey area. Many assume that, as a woman who is committed to encouraging and advocating for unassisted birth, I am opposed to midwives and midwifery. I am not. I always encourage homebirth, attended or otherwise. It's a personal choice, but unfortunately one that many women don't really feel free to make with full consideration of all the facts and alternatives available to them.

Not all women are ready to pursue or even consider UC. It's something that requires a little bit of a moment of "AHA!" (whether that's a sudden realization, or a gradual paradigm shift), and I think that women in this society have a lot of layers that that has to penetrate. I believe that, ideally, midwives can be instrumental in empowering women along the path of really trusting their bodies, birth, and learning to love and celebrate birthing. A midwife who makes you feel like you did it yourself, and that she wasn't necessary, is a good one. A midwife who leaves you feeling, "It's a good thing she was here with her training and equipment or it would have been bad!" is not empowering at all, and is most certainly a "med-wife."

One thing that is very important to most if not all UCers, and that isn't usually thought about by the general public, is that each and every person at the birth changes the dynamic. A midwife's very presence in the home changes things. Even if she is in the kitchen flipping through a magazine while you labor alone in the other room, the dynamic has changed. A subtle responsibility shift has occurred ... an "expert" is in the house "just in case"... and UCers feel that this takes away from mama's ability to tap into her inner voice/the leading of God, and shifts her trust to that person in the other room. Even in a completely hands off birth, she's already intervened, just by being there.

Now - just like any interventions, it is a mother's responsibility to be educated about the risks and benefits, to weigh them carefully, and to decide which ones she wants and which she does not in any given situation. The intervention of a midwife's presence might be worth the trade offs. After all, a hands off midwife can provide comfort and a feeling of protection against things going wrong, as well as more practical skills like herbal knowledge and clean up tasks...and as far as causing actual problems in the birth that's not necessarily an issue. The primary risk you run with a midwife is not being able to have the fullness of the birth experience that you might have with a UC; you might miss out on some subtle spiritual, personal, or marital growth... these are losses that would not even be noticed and therefore are easy to write off as negligible or even "not probable".

But the difference between a truly hands-off midwife attended homebirth, and a UC, is very subtle and much debated...

One thing to consider is that very few midwives as far as I can tell are truly "hands-off"... if she checks your dilation at all, if she checks the fetal heart tones, if she brings equipment into your bedroom, if she tells you what position to be in, or that you "should" take an herb at this time to hurry things along, those are NOT HANDS OFF. That is a midwife with her hands in. Those are absolutely interventions, and they involve her coming into YOUR birth space with HER ideas and "knowledge" ... undermining your intuition on an even greater level. If she says you need to get in a certain position, well then you must need to do that, since she is trained to know that for you. And even if you are not in agreement with her, what are the odds that your partner (or even you) will honor your "feeling" over her experience and learning? Men, for instance, can be very disempowered in their role as birth support and comforter when a midwife is around, beginning to look to her for guidance - rather than connecting with his partner for that. Even with a great midwife who tries to get a man involved, he is still drawn to taking his direction from her rather than from his wife and his own instincts with her. It's human nature in the face of an expert/authority figure.

UC is as different from assisted homebirth, as homebirth is from birth center, as birth center is from hospital... it's a spectrum, each offering different levels of intervention which each have their place.

For some women, a UC isn't a good choice, for emotional or other reasons... UC is a big leap from what is the norm, from what is usual and expected, and from how we see ourselves. When I first heard of it I was like, "Well, good for her, glad that worked out and that she really does trust birth... but that's a little NUTS!" I sure did not start out a UCer. [A brief history: I started out a little closer than some, since homebirth was all I wanted, and I loved midwifery and had a great midwife all lined up - that I had known for years (she'd been at my mother's two homebirths, and then I worked with her at her nonprofit grassroots organization for two years... so she was no stranger to me and a PERFECT midwife)... I wasn't forced into UC by financial concerns, by unavailability of a good midwife, or any other concerns. I was drawn to it almost against my will!] I can absolutely understand why a woman would be comfortable with a homebirth midwife and feel very empowered and peaceful with that choice, and I'm always glad to hear that someone is looking into it as a possibility.

My blanket statements are: 98 percent of women birth in hospitals. Most of them do NOT require any of the interventions they or their baby receives there. Homebirth is more often than not a healthier, happier choice for all involved. Healthy birth does not require physical assistance, as we are equipped with the instincts in the moment that we need. Some women have concerns or other needs that make a midwife a good, right choice for her birth. These choices are only between the woman herself and the Universe, and no one has any right to say "She shouldn't have an epidural" or "She should have someone who knows what they're doing there" ... our responsibility is to share what we've learned, to share information and our experiences, and to support each other in our journeys. It is not to make women have our same views and opinions, in the same way, at the exact time that we do.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Beauty Ideals

In other cultures the body of a woman who has borne children is not considered unattractive; in fact a woman who didn't have signs of childbearing on her body would be considered as a child herself. But unfortunately Western culture really drives home the exact opposite ideal, that of looking like you've not had the kids you've had - flat stomach, smooth skin, perky breasts... and even if we get empowered and stop buying into the popular culture that we're raised with, a lot of it is pretty deeply ingrained and it takes a lot of will to break free of it and experience really enjoying our bodies.

It seems that Western culture is determined to reduce women to nothing more than eye candy. The miracles her body can perform, such as childbearing and breastfeeding, are portrayed as evil curses that will "ruin" her body and reduce her attractiveness. So much time and money and energy are spent by the women in the US and elsewhere in the pursuit of a body that is in a lifelong state of "unmarred" and yet hyper-sexual youth... it is a continually growing industry. But all this does is reduce a woman to the status of object, a lovely doll who strives for conformity in her body and face. Any signs of experience or character or individuality are considered to be flaws that need to be fixed, hidden, or apologized for. Even very young girls begin to realize that their worth in society as attractive, successful females rests on forcing themselves into a mold of how they are supposed to look, an unrealistic ideal that even the most beautiful supermodels do not in reality attain. Our culture flows so deep in and around us that to combat this negative attitude is an uphill battle against a mud flow of resistance, both internal and external.

I think there is a lot of room for most women to learn to support each other in defining your OWN ideal, and striving for that, rather than trying to live up to some air-brushed, computer enhanced version of someone else's idea of what every woman should look like.

What if we are all beautiful? What if we are all amazing and powerful and gorgeous shining lights in this world, and believing anything else is a disservice to the Universe?

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Why Would a Woman Choose Unassisted Birth?

Welcome to Birth and Earth, where I will be talking about birth, mothering, and all things Female.

Some of you may have heard of "UC" or Unassisted Birth - other wise known as Unattended Birth, DIY birth, and freebirth - all these are labels given to a planned homebirth, unattended by a medical professional.

I think that before you can ask, why would a woman choose to have a birth, without the assistance of any paid, knowledgeable person, you have to first clarify so many women choose assisted births... What is the appeal?

Women often choose assisted births because it alleviates some concern that they have - they are afraid that something will go wrong and believe and attendent can prevent or fix it, they are afraid they will not be properly supported as they need if they are alone or just with their partner/family/friends, they are afraid they will not be able to listen to their instincts and will need some knowledgeable guidance, they are afraid that the law will prosecute them and they will be accused of neglect/endangerment regardless of outcome. These are the common concerns I have heard; I am sure that there are many more as well. The underlying factor is fear of the unknown, and a lack of belief in a woman's ability to birth in health and safety.

Another possible reason is a feeling that birth is a moment to be shared in the company of other women, and there is a feeling of rightness, connection with women throughout history, and a sense of community.

Also , many women don't actually know that unassisted birth is even possible/viable/legal... a typical first response is "You can do that???" - lack of familiarity with the concept is prohibitive. In our society we are culturally conditioned to expect assistance at birth, it is the long standing ingrained norm. Women have assisted births because it is never questioned, we accept it as how things are done, and assume that they are done that way for a reason.

Why would anyone give birth without professional attendants? Reasons given are :total autonomy and freedom, no one checking you for anything to make sure it's all "going well" (the implication being: it might not be going well, regardless of what your body is saying, once again subtly undermining the woman's ability to trust her own birth)... no one making any suggestions for position, etc (which again undermines the woman's ability to totally trust in her own body and follow those cues without hindrance)... complete privacy, complete control, complete empowerment, with no interference from someone who -except in rare circumstances - is a virtual stranger that has only been in your life for a few months. The birth is a bonding experience for the family, the community the woman actually lives in - nothing more and nothing less. A midwife in the room changes the energy of the birth - and for a UCer this viewed as negative.

Does having a birth attendant automatically place one in the realm of birth management that brings with it possibly poor outcomes (whether so subtle as to be unnoticed or so obvious as to become yet another "birth horror story")? I think it depends on the birth attendant. It is obvious with any clear-headed study of birth that many illnesses and issues are due to how pregnancy/birth/postpartum are handled. I think it starts with the assumption that a woman's body is somehow incapable of birth, that she is not able to access her innate instincts and needs "someone with know-how" to guide her... these are such pervasive ideas, and so damaging. There are some attendants who very much believe that women can't birth without their help, and that puts them firmly in the birth management realm. There are others who believe earnestly that birth is safe and natural, and that their role is to provide support, encouragement and comfort while the woman gives birth - something she could physically do safely with no assistance, and I think that is a different kind of birth assistant.

Every single intervention is a layer that separates the woman from her own body/birth/baby... my perspective is slightly different than most in that I believe that a midwife in the home is an intervention in and of itself, but obviously the degree of that intervention (interference) varies from midwife to midwife.

However, the woman's level of power in her birth is a subjective thing. I think that if a woman has an unassisted homebirth and feels totally out of control, overwhelmed, lonely, unsupported, and insecure - that is obviously not empowering... likewise a woman could have a highly interventive hospital birth and come away from it feeling that she is more powerful than she realized and that there is nothing she can't do. So a great deal of it has to do with the woman's personality, the circumstances of the birth, her existing perception of her abilities/strength, and the support and respect that she is shown in making her own decisions. It is far too personal for someone to say: this is what will empower every woman, because each woman is starting from a different place in her perspective.

I think that it is a matter of what each woman needs, in each birth... something that can vary a lot! For instance, I think that unassisted birth is an extremely spiritual experience, and that having relative strangers there touching me, talking, etc, would only hinder that aspect of it. I don't have any contempt for assisted birth... however,. I do think that UC is a wonderful, beautiful, powerful, safe, and normal way to birth, and that in our society women are often discouraged from even thinking of it. I think its vital to encourage women to trust in their own body to do what it is supposed to, in their own ability to be and do everything that they need.

There is a huge difference between having a midwife attend your birth because you like the company of other women and crave that connection and society... and having a midwife there because of all the things that can "go wrong" or a feeling that you won't be able to "know what to do" and you need someone to tell you how to birth your baby. These are two completely different ways of looking at it. The woman who is a social birther should be completely encouraged and supported in that; the woman whose reasons involve doubts about her ability to birth, or her baby's ability to be born, has some fears that a midwife can alleviate and address - raising the woman's understanding of her own body and instincts to a higher level, working her through those concerns, and empowering her. This isn't to say that she couldn't work through her fears and become confident in he innate knowledge on her own, of course - every woman has inside her the capacity to be empowered, whether that empowerment comes from external sources or from within herself.

No matter what, on a fundamental level birth is essentially unassisted. It is a biological function that *happens*. No matter what, the birth is the sole responsibility of the mother, whether from her own choices or from allowing others to make those choices. And it is undeniable that the mother's body is the one doing all the work - on it's own, naturally. Anything done to assist that is an intervention that has it's own set of effects.

I would never say that midwives and other birth attendants don't have a place in birth - I think that they do... but it really is a sign that we deep down believe that birth is something more than a perfectly natural, normal, family occurrence. Whether this is due to the woman's beliefs, lack of adequate experience or support from her family, or outside circumstances, birth has been removed from this realm. That is valid and she should have all the options and support that she needs/wants to have what to her is going to be a satisfying and fulfilling birth, and I believe that midwives can provide that, as long as they are sensitive, intuitive, and fully trusting in birth.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

The Ideal Birth

When you say, "UC is the ideal birth"... women often get the impression that you are somehow saying that any other kind of birth is "less than" in some way. Which of course belittles or negates their experience -- which of course is not what is intended!

I do think its ideal - the best possible birth... I think this in the same way that I believe exclusive, on-demand breastfeeding with child-led weaning is the best nutrition and nurturing for babies. I don't say that with any judgment for women who did not or can not - for whatever reason - breastfeed. In the same way, I don't judge or think ill of any woman who doesn't have a UC. Each woman makes her own choices, based on her information, the support available to her, and a million other emotional, psychological, social, physical, and even spiritual factors.

To say that something is "ideal" is not to condemn or belittle other choices. I think almost anyone would agree upon some research and thought that EC (elimination communication) is the *ideal* way to handle baby's pees and poos... does that mean its possible or the best choice for every woman, that it's the right choice no matter the circumstances, and that those who are ECers should look down on those who dont practice it? Not at all! Because we don't live in a society that raises us to understand or appreciate EC, to support or educate us in it, and our own circumstances and emotions come into play heavily. But even simply learning about EC is useful, even if it doesn't "work out" for you or isn't something that you feel is right in your life. It gives a different perspective on something that is such a part of baby care, and that can only enhance our mothering and understanding.

The same is true with UC. It is ideal. But that doesn't mean that the circumstances around us are ideal to accommodate UC, or that we are emotionally/psychologically able to commit to it. I fully believe that 99% of women in our society CAN birth without professional assistance thats not the same thing as saying that they SHOULD. I do think all women should learn about unassisted childbirth, for the benefits the different perspective can bring to their births - whether that is a homebirth with midwife, or a hospital birth with OB. Getting into some of the typical ideas that come up with the topic of unassisted birth - faith in the Divine/nature/ourselves, letting go, trusting our bodies to birth, getting in touch with our instincts, learning all we can about our miraculous bodies in pregnancy and birth, becoming a questioner and a seeker of true information... these are all wonderful things that are beneficial to ALL birthing women.