Finding Your Voice

I was at a networking meeting for birth professionals recently and in small group discussions we asked a question: “What do you wish more people knew about pregnancy, birth, postpartum or breastfeeding?”

There are a lot of answers to that question, but immediately one doula said (and I paraphrase), “I wish more women knew… that they had options.”  Options*. Yes. You have tons of them. But often people don’t know about them–well, you can’t ask questions about something you don’t know exists–so they get swept along with the status quo.

Here’s how it so often goes: You already have an OB/GYN that you see for your annual Pap test and any other “feminine issues”. When you get pregnant you’re a jumble of emotions and new physical sensations.  The birth is, like, forever away.  You call your OB/GYN to see what to do next and you’re told that they don’t see you until you’re about 12 weeks along. And so you wait. And hopefully you’re not too nauseous as you’re waiting.

When you do go in for your first visit, you’ll spend short visit being weighed, measured and listening to the heartbeat (♥). You may do some tests to screen for Down Syndrome and Spina Bifida. (Do you have to do these tests? No. But then again, you probably don’t know that’s option. And you don’t know that the screening test is only about 60% accurate. The other 40% of the time, it gives you a false positive or a false negative, yielding either a lot of anxiety and more tests or a false sense of security).  And then… you make an appointment for the next visit in another month. Maybe you had some questions, but your doctor seemed pretty busy. Besides you’ve got tons of time before you have to talk about all this stuff (remember, the birth is forever away). You can cover it in the next visit. Or can you? (For an illuminating view on the differing amounts of time you spend with an OB vs. a Midwife, watch this 2 1/2 minute video)

Maybe you have a vague concept that there are other childbirth choices, but they all seem kind of out there, odd, or um, crunchy. You can’t really relate.

I can relate.

You might be the ‘respect authority’ type, or the laid back ‘I-don’t-want-to-trouble-anyone’ type. I know I was. Only because my interest in birth goes back pretty far, did I go for the “crunchy” option right away.  But I don’t like to inconvenience people, especially not doctors. They’re important and they’re busy. I’m not a diva. I don’t feel like my needs have the be the highest priority. No big deal, right?

Wrong-o.

There are all kinds of choices that need to be made in your pregnancy and birth (in your life for that matter) and if you are not making those choices, it doesn’t mean that there wasn’t a choice, it just means that someone else is making it for you.  Sometimes that’s nice. I hate making decisions. If it’s of little consequence, I’m only too happy to hand that responsibility off to someone else! (Thai food? Burgers and fries? I don’t care! Pick for me.) But the key word here is “consequence.” Who has to live with them?  You do.

Wrenching as it sometimes is to make big decisions (or little ones, even) there’s something immensely satisfying about being in the drivers seat when it comes to your care.

Women should be making decisions together with their doctors or midwives. Your doctor or midwife should know enough about you to understand your hopes, fears and peculiarities. He or she should listen, answer your questions fully and should have a genuine interest in you and your well being.

If you have a nagging feeling about whether your choice of provider or birth place is really right, my advice is not to push it away. Take that nagging feeling and look it in the eye. Are you confident that you will get all the support you might need? If not, it’s time to start researching your options. There’s that word again! Options. Research them. Ask questions. Read books. Read blogs!  It doesn’t mean you have to change your mind or your plans. In fact all your research might show you that, in fact, your first choice was the right one for you. But whatever you choose, it will feel better–more purposeful–now. And, really, one less nagging worry is always a good thing!

Congratulations. You’ve found your voice.

*Obviously, this post isn’t about specific options (too much to cover in one blog entry!), but about the value of exercising your freedom of choice. 🙂

What to read when you’re expecting

I’m kind of picky about my birth literature.

Weeell… I’m maybe I’m not that picky about what I read, but I’m super, über nit-picky about what I’ll recommend.  I’m a Virgo. I’m critical. What can I say?

The list of ‘can’ts’ is long. It can’t be too preachy, too fluffy, too scary, too bland, too rigid, too slanted or too, uh, new-agey, let’s say. I know, I know, what’s left?  Not much, unfortunately.

Certainly not the most ubiquitous pregnancy book on the market. I don’t know whether I’m proud or embarrassed to admitted that I’ve never cracked a copy of  What to Expect When You’re Expecting. It seems unthinkable but, well, I’m not really sorry about it. Everyone I know who has read it said that it gave them anxiety attacks. And does anyone really think that what pregnant women really need is another dose of anxiety?

And then there are the books that I actually like, like The Thinking Woman’s Guide to a Better Birth by Henci Goer. It is an incredible book with research-backed information, but… it comes down pretty hard on hospitals. It’s just not that approachable if you think hospitals are pretty okay–and most people do. And then there’s the fact that it doesn’t do much to bolster your confidence about giving birth. Instead it gives you something else to worry about, not Big Bad Listeria that’s lurking in delicious soft cheeses, but the care providers themselves and the often routine hospital procedures. More anxiety! Not helpful.

Also I devoured The Baby Catcher, written by midwife Peggy Vincent about her many years of catching babies, but I’m not going to hand it to a pregnant lady. Vincent chose all the most memorably dramatic births (translation: fast and scary) to write about, which is great for the purposes of the book, but too skewed of a picture to be considered solidly educational.

Nope. I’m not going to pile those books into your arms when you come over just to borrow a cup of sugar for your zucchini bread.

Instead I’m going to meaningfully press a copy of Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth into your palms. I want all pregnant women to read this book. It’s an engaging read. You can read it cover to cover without getting bored.  It uses birth stories to illustrate the wide range of ‘normal’ in a labor and birth. It describes how each woman passed her own hurdles of labor (or whether labor was easy and enjoyable) to powerfully deliver her baby. Ina May Gaskin boils down her 30+ years of witnessing normal labor and gives her insights into how birth works (you have to read it to get all the little gems, like one of my favorites, a chapter called “Sphincter Law”).  All in all, it’s pretty radical stuff, but she doesn’t jam it down your throat. She’s not out to judge anyone or tell you there’s a right or wrong way to give birth. But she knows that birth works and she wants to make sure that you know it too.  If we let mainstream media tell the story, birth is very dangerous and usually needs lots and lots of intervention. Ina May’s Guide tells us another story–one that doesn’t get much press.  After reading all those birth stories, its hard not to think “Well, if they could do it, so can I!”

Sold!

Labor and birth are filled with unknowns. Without being scary, this book helps you feel prepared to expect the unexpected. Forget What to Expect; be prepared to be surprised.