There is No Such Thing as an Un-Natural Birth

I had a C-Section.  From the moment I found out I was having identical twin girls the possibility of a C-Section loomed large in any and all discussions about delivery day.  I also had one of the most un-New Agey pregnancies you can imagine.  I had sonograms every two weeks until 28 weeks to check for twin to twin transfusion syndrome.  I had 2 amnios – one for each fetus – and a third shot full of blue dye to make sure they weren’t pulling fluid from the same sac twice.  That Maternal Fetal practice was my second home for 37 weeks.  And never once did I feel like all that medical care distanced me from the experience of pregnancy, or intervened in the “natural” process of gestation.  As a data geek I actually loved having the inside look at my developing babies, charting their progress and having the documentation.  But, there were plenty of forces out there telling me that everything I was doing, that my doctors were recommending, was somehow unnatural at best, and plain out misogynistic and corrupt at worst.

I started writing this a few days ago, as I sat and waited while my sister was in the midst of a long, painful, drawn out labor delivering her first child.  My sister threw herself into creating the perfect circumstances under which to give birth “naturally.”  She fought her insurance company – and won – for the right to have a midwife instead of an OB/GYN.  She did hypno-birthing, acupuncture, massaged places you’d rather not ever have to massage, bought flameless candles for the delivery room, and basically focused for 9 months on making sure that the delivery day would be exactly the way she envisioned it – with minimal medical intervention.  And, boy did I hope it would go that way for her.  But, anyone who has been through the process knows that anything can happen once labor begins.

The problem is that an entire industry has cropped up telling women that the pain and complications are mostly in our heads; that with enough focus and determination – and not giving in to the evil “business” of birthing – we can attain the beautiful, connected birth experience women are meant to have.   This movement that was meant to empower women to feel more in charge and less scared of the birth process has now become one more source of pressure and judgement on women at their most vulnerable.  When I was in my 36th week of my twin pregnancy my girls were in two very different positions.  Baby A was head down ready to go.  Baby B was transverse, stretching under my ribs, and she was bigger than Baby A.  My really wonderful doctor said to me, “Well, we could try to deliver Baby A vaginally and then try to turn Baby B, but chances are you’ll end up having both  – vaginal and C-Section.”  He tried to say this matter-of-factly, but I immediately blurted out, “BOTH? Are you nuts?”  He looked so relieved and the nurse laughed.  So, scheduled C-Section it was.

And yet, still, even after my multiples childbirth class where C-Section was a major topic, a part of me felt like I was copping out.  That I was somehow not getting the full birthing experience, that my babies wouldn’t be properly prepped for the world, by having a C-Section – scheduled no less.  When my water broke at 37 weeks, 3 days before my scheduled date, I took a taxi to the hospital, met my husband there, went right in to the doctor’s office, was then whisked into the pre-op room,  and then hung out for 6 hours reading and watching TV until they decided enough time had passed since I had last eaten that they could now do the C-Section.  20 minutes later my girls were born.  Healthy, adorable, and raring to go.   I never regretted that decision, I actually often thought to myself that 90 years ago both I and Baby B would most likely have died during the birth, but I also have to admit that I still thought that I didn’t have the “full” experience somehow.

My sister’s 30-hour, excruciating marathon labor ended in a C-Section – and a beautiful, healthy baby girl.  My sister was literally in shock.  She said she felt like she was suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress afterwards.  And, she was disappointed.  She couldn’t shake that somehow it was her fault she didn’t have the delivery she had planned for – that she came to the hospital too early, that somehow her “mental” state changed and caused her body to slow down the labor, that the pain soared because suddenly she was too anxious.  Of course, none of this is true.  And it made me angry.  My sister was wiped out, cut off, and sad.  The exact opposite of everything the “natural” birth movement is supposed to encourage.

The actual birth?  That’s a blip, and as far as I’m concerned, if they gave out medals for that sort of thing, my sister would have won the Iron Woman prize three times over.  The fact that women are now made to feel guilty and less-than because they couldn’t have this idealized, magic, essence of womanhood moment is infuriating to me.  We should stop condemning the “business” of birthing, and start thinking about supporting women through birthing – no matter what.  C-Sections and epidurals are not a sign of failure, nor an evil plot by doctors.  In the end, you have to do what is necessary for the health of mom and baby, because that is the ultimate goal – a healthy mom and baby.

I have friends who delivered “naturally,” friends who trained for months with the Bradley method, friends whose babies were crowning by the time they reached the hospital, and friends who ended up with emergency C-Sections, more than once (because they were convinced that they should try VBAC and have the experience they had missed out on the first time).  Guess what?  In the end, they all, thankfully had a baby arrive in the world – and then had to start the really hard part – being a mom.

This is what makes me angriest of all about my sister being disappointed in herself and trying to replay what she did “wrong.”  She is now a mom.  A mom who made sure for 9 months that she ate healthy food, took her prenatal vitamins, avoided alcohol, caffeine and pesticides – and then carried that baby 10 days past her due date!  She had already put in the first foundation of caring for her baby and considering its needs over her own.  She should be proud that she brought this healthy, sweet baby into the world, that she already tried her best to give her baby a solid start to life.

And she will be a great mom.  As she gets her mojo back, physically heals, gets some distance from the actual birth day, and settles in at home I know she will feel connected and more present.  In the meantime, she will realize that her birthing experience taught her the first important lessons of motherhood:

It’s a long, long journey full of things she won’t be able to control.

Things won’t go exactly as planned.

There’s plenty of guilt and judgement to go around.

Confidence in your choices is key.

And never feel bad for admitting you need help, need to change course, or need a little something to help get you through.

So, maybe, in the end, she got exactly what she needed out of that harrowing birth experience – candles, tubs and hypnotherapy be damned.

11 replies on “There is No Such Thing as an Un-Natural Birth”

  1. I always cringe when I hear someone say “natural” birth. All birth is natural. And I always say, why hurt if you don’t have to? I guarantee my birth experience with an epidural was far more pleasurable than it would have been with no meds. I was able to enjoy every moment. (Saw you on Babble)

  2. Rebecca, wonderful, wise, thoughtful post!

    And did you know that my twins were in the EXACT same position yours were – baby A (known to you as Ethan) was head down & in good launch position while his larger brother was transverse & belly down above him. My OB explained to me that if I went into labor, first thing to pop out would be Ethan, immediately followed by Jacob’s umbilical cord which would require an Emergency C-section to save his life. Um no thanks. And I spent a was too much time feeling bad I never got to experience “real” childbirth.

    How did something that set off to empower women end up making them feel “less than” and judged, anyway? Thanks for speaking out – and congrats on the lovely new niece.

  3. What a great post. I know a lot of women who are real proponents of the “natural” birth, but I was honest with myself from the get-go: I will go as long as I can and then take the meds. I had a 27-hr labor that ended in an emergency C/S. At hour 12, I got my epidural b/c good god, childbirth is friggin painful!! Kid #2, I was scheduled for a repeat C but was relieved to have an uncomplicated VBAC (got that epidural again, thank you). I am now 8 weeks away from birth #3, planning for another VBAC and epidural. I have lots of respect for women who choose to give birth without medical interventions, but I also feel judged by them sometimes. In the end, you don’t get an award for giving birth without pain relief; it doesn’t make you a better person. Every mom has to do what’s right for her.

  4. Here! Here! Women were giving birth for centuries before all this new world hocus-pocus came along. Modern medicine and good common sense will tell you that a trauma to a woman’s body is…well traumatic. I’m not sure of the benefit of no meds, feeling and enduring that pain – both physically and psychologically. There are no medals for that. That’s why they invented the EPIDURAL, the greatest invention for women-kind as far as I’m concerned. I went in around 6 p.m., had an epidural, and my husband and I enjoyed the time while I waited to dilate. And out popped the kid. Calm mother, calm baby.
    All to say, great post Auntie Rebecca! You’re sister is lucky to have you.

  5. I love your sane loving commentary. There are no wrong deliveries when the baby is out and well and ready to join the wonderful world. I know that Jesse will realize that she is lucky and hasn’t one reason for regret. Mazel tov to your whole family.

  6. Great post! I did a regular birth (with alittle help at the end with meds) with my first and it want great. I tried to do one with my twins but had complications so THANKFULLY I was at the hospital for them to do c-section. I have friends that have had three births with no meds so good for her as well. I think each mom should be supported to make the decision that is right for her.

    I think the health of mother and baby are the most important – so right on that there is no such thing as unnatural birth!!

  7. I really love this post. I had my son vaginally (with an epidural that was a comedy skit in itself and left me with a completely numb leg for 24 hours), and had my daughter via C-section because I had a really high fever, her heartbeat was getting really fast, they had no idea what was happening, and just needed to get her out. My sister planned for a home water birth, and ended up having pre-eclampsia and an emergency C-section. And in the end? We had three healthy babies and only when reading posts like this do I even think about how they all got here.

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