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Archive for the ‘Natural Childbirth’ Category

In preparation for the birth of our third baby, I have been rereading all of the birth books I found helpful during my first pregnancy, as well as others I didn’t manage to get to at that time. It’s been a few years since I read them, and especially after a difficult labor with my second daughter, I’ve been needing a little reassurance and guidance this time around.

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Since I’ve read several childbirth books in a relatively short period of time, I’d like to give you a little review of what I would consider to be the best natural childbirth book for women who only have time to read one book.

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Although I have discovered invaluable information in each book I’ve read, the winner has to be… drumroll… Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth by Ina May Gaskin.

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Here’s why:

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Most childbirth books tend to focus on one of two things: either the feelings of the birth experience and how to achieve a gentle birth through relaxation, or, instead, on the medical establishment and all of the interventions routinely performed on women. The first approach can leave a woman unprepared and uneducated in the face of a different birth than planned. Especially when complications arise. The second can unnecessarily frighten her and make her completely averse to doctors even in a true life-threatening situation, or it can train her to become an acquiescent patient in a hospital.

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Ina May’s book leans to neither extreme. She addresses both aspects thoroughly.

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Considered the nation’s leading midwife, Ina May Gaskin began her midwifery career in the hippie days, when everyone wanted a homebirth away from the “establishment.” She attended countless births over the years. Her wealth of knowledge and experience is truly incredible, and she has witnessed natural births that most traditionally-trained medical doctors and nurses have never seen or conceived of.

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The first part of the book is birth stories from many mothers who had natural births. This may not seem important, but in our culture of labor as a “medical emergency” and childbirth as “the worst pain you’ve ever experienced,” I think it is so important that pregnant women hear (or read, in this case) accounts of what a normal birth can look like. Each woman’s experience is different, but all of them fly in the face of the horror stories that everyone – from the media to veteran mothers – likes to inflict on a pregnant woman.

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In Part 2, Ms. Gaskin explains some history of birth in the last several thousand years, and how our society ended up with such a skewed perception of what giving birth is all about. She then talks about the process of labor, what’s happening in the body and mind, and even discusses nearly unheard of “orgasmic” or “pain free” birth. (Side note, there are unedited photographs of vaginas and women laboring or giving birth throughout the book, just so you know). Ina May explains how laboring in an unfamiliar place with unfamiliar people can lengthen or completely stop labor, and why an intimate setting with people you trust is the best place to bring new life into the world. She talks about this from both a biological and emotional standpoint. I should note that she discusses birth in both home and hospital settings.

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In the second part Ms. Gaskin also covers a myriad of tests and interventions normally performed or offered during pregnancy or labor, as well as VBAC (vaginal birth after cesarean) and tips for choosing a traditional caregiver, midwife, or doula. She also talks about birthing positions around the world, and has drawings of women in each.

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Throughout the book Ina May remains true to her earthy roots. She writes frankly and insightfully about birth and about the labor process. She is engaging and down-to-earth, and provides an incredible amount of information. This book now holds a permanent place on my shelf.  If I could only give one book about childbirth to any pregnant woman, Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth is the one I would choose.

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I apologize for the long time between posts. My husband currently works at a school around children, and brought home a nasty bug that has made the rounds in our household. I haven’t had time to do much. So, finally, here is a much overdue post.

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What is natural childbirth?

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Generally, women who choose to have a natural birth are those who view childbirth as a natural, normal process; one that doesn’t generally need outside intervention in order to have a healthy baby. They (or we) have confidence in the fact that our bodies are designed to birth new life, and we realize that women have been doing this for centuries without assistance, and in most places around the world they still do it that way.

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In the United States, this mindset is not normal by any means. We, as a country, have turned this normal process into a medical “condition” that requires a surgeon’s expertise (that is what an OB/GYN is, after all: a surgeon trained in the surgical repair or removal of female body parts). Women are taught to fear the prospect of labor, and are told to trust a surgeon to safely deliver their babies. Doctors frequently perform “emergency” cesareans and “save” the baby or mother from certain death. Of course, these “emergencies” mainly occur due to the doctor’s medical intervention in the first place, but more on that later.

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Natural childbirth does not rely primarily on surgeons, but on the woman’s own body. When I say “natural childbirth,” I mean a birth that is completely drug-free, during which the woman is allowed to labor and give birth in a position she chooses, rather than one that is forced upon her. In all situations, unless there is a real medical reason to have to perform a cesarean, a natural birth is many times safer for both the mother and baby than births that rely on drugs or other interventions (induction, forceps, suction). The reason for this is that drugs always have side effects, and many of them are not only unpleasant, but downright dangerous for mother or baby.

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The Purpose of this Blog

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In future posts I will be going over how to successfully have a natural birth, from nutrition during pregnancy to the best labor positions and relaxation techniques. I want to provide a myriad of resources to childbirth classes and reading material that may help you in your own birth journey. I will also cover each common intervention such as epidurals, induction via pitocin or cytotec, twilight drugs, forced removal of the baby vaginally, and cesareans. My goal is for women to go into labor knowing their options, knowing the risks and benefits associated with each drug, when that drug is likely to be used, and to have the ability to make decisions for themselves.

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What I desire for you

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I want you to know the truth, and then to make your own decision based on facts. Although I am, admittedly, an advocate for natural childbirth and firmly believe it is best and safest in the majority of cases, I don’t just want you to have a natural childbirth. Although I love homebirth, I don’t necessarily want you to have a homebirth. What I desire is that you have the information so that you are able to choose how to birth your baby with your eyes wide open, rather than out of fear or intimidation or ignorance. Whether that be with drugs or without, in a hospital, birth center, or at home, my goal is twofold: one, for you to know why you’re making the decisions you make and, two, not to fear childbirth but to welcome it as the miraculous event it truly is.

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You see it on TV, in movies, through the birth stories of other women: childbirth is awful! It is painful; so excruciating, in fact, that even the most mild-mannered woman will scream obscenities at her husband: I hate you! You did this to me!  Women scream and groan and ask for drugs as portrayed in the media. Probably the worst when I was pregnant with my first was all the horror stories older mothers felt compelled to relay. Their experiences were so painful and the baby wouldn’t come out and so they had to have an emergency c-section… I can imagine that anyone who has ever been pregnant knows what I’m talking about. You know, those stories that absolutely terrify you and make you wish you had never gotten pregnant!

Throughout the United States, childbirth is viewed as a horrible, painful ordeal that requires medical assistance. Although in 1900 over 95% of women gave birth at home, usually with a midwife in attendance, by 1960, roughly the same percentage of women were giving birth in hospitals with drugs. Why? Women were seen as incapable in both the act of childbirth and of assisting in childbirth as midwives. Also, obstetricians had sought to establish themselves as the only experts in the field for the majority of the early 20th century. So, in a very short time, childbirth moved out of the hands of women (both mothers and midwives) and into the hands of men. Doctors, instead of assisting and supporting a woman through the process of childbirth, turned it into a medical ordeal. They essentially used the “knock ‘em out, drag ‘em out” approach. Women were drugged, laid on a table with sheets covering everything except the vaginal opening, and their babies were extracted while they stayed in their drugged state. Unfortunately, that idea has continued in the American consciousness, although many midwives and doctors have fought for the right of women to take back childbirth as their own.

For much of history, women have given birth with the help of other women, usually older women who had already given birth to their own children. Unlike the current status of birth as a medical condition that always requires a doctor and hospital, birth was viewed as a natural process. And, in other countries around the world, it is viewed in the same light: normal. Childbirth is not something to fear. It is not an abnormal part of life. It is part of who we are as women. Biologically, we are perfectly capable of giving birth to a child without medical intervention.

Now, I’m not saying that no women ever need doctors during their pregnancies and births. In fact, some women really, truly do need medical intervention in order to safely have their babies. That is what doctors are for: to help those who actually need their knowledge. However, quite honestly, most women don’t. In fact, medical intervention tends to create more problems than it solves in a healthy mother.

A woman’s body is truly phenomenal. Life begins within our bodies, and is sustained while each new human being develops. When the baby is ready, our bodies begin to change and every little step falls into place – in perfect order – for a new life to be born. One midwife, while explaining the process to me, said that it is a miracle that the thousand things that must happen in order for a baby to be born do happen, in the exact order they need to, during the relatively short span of labor. Not to mention the previous months of preparation. And it truly is a miracle; a process that should inspire awe in all who witness birth.

So, pregnant women, do not be afraid! Your body was designed to give birth to babies. Your body adjusts and alters itself to accommodate the life growing inside, and your body inherently knows the perfect way to bring that new life into the world. There is so much to learn about childbirth, and how incredibly capable we truly are. And there is much you can do to prepare so that you are no longer assaulted by fear of the unknown or swayed by the fear of others.

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