a rare post in which i stand on my soapbox.

..and reading back on what i’ve written, wow — i really am on my soapbox! but i think it was good for me — i just needed a place to process thoughts i’ve had about freedom of choice in parenting and birth, as well as my two distinct experiences with birth in america, and birth in japan.  please don’t take this as anything other than the rants of a hormonally-crazed pregnant woman! that is, unless it would help or encourage you in some way.. 😉


so i’ve hit that season again:  third trimester, prepping to give birth, reading birth stories and thinking a lot about what i want and how i want to do it.  which has perhaps made me a bit touchy to the subject of birth, since it hits so close to home.  being i’m an information junkie, i’ve been reading a lot, and what i’ve been reading has kind of struck a nerve with me about the way parenting, birth, and breastfeeding are regarded in america.  living overseas has afforded me the incomparable opportunity to see things another way, to view and be a part of the way another culture treats parenthood, motherhood, and birth.  i can say that i think there are fewer freedoms in the “land of the free” than in most other developed countries, in respect to these topics.  (probably others, as well, but i’m not passionate about them, so…)

i finally watched “the business of being born” the other day, a documentary by ricki lake and abby epstein about the problems surrounding birth and the medical community in america.  fascinating.  and frightening.  and it made me oh-so-glad i am here, in japan, where midwives attend over 70% of the births, the c-section rate is the lowest in the developed world, and the infant mortality rate is in the lowest three.  compare that to america, where midwives attend to only 8% of the births, the c-section rate tripled in the 1970s, then doubled after that (making it ONE in every THREE births now), and where the infant mortality rate is among the worst in the developed world.  (let me throw it out there now that i don’t think c-sections are bad!  they are very important.  but the choice for these things being taken away from women is what is bad.)

did you know that homebirths/midwife-attended births are just as safe, if not safer, for mother and baby than hospital births?  lower rate of cesarean.  fewer birth complications, because medical interventions (which are meant for emergency cases) are rarely used.  easier recovery, emotionally and physically, for mom — lower rates of episiotomy and tearing, etc.   but nebraska law has made it difficult for a mother to make her home a setting in which it is safe to give birth.  although unassisted birth in nebraska is not illegal, it is a misdemeanor for a father to catch his own baby (!!) — and it IS illegal for a midwife to attend a birth at home, meaning that if you want to give birth at home, you have to do it without the help of a professional or could suffer legal consequences.  am i the only one that thinks this to be a crazy infringement upon our rights and freedoms?

when i give birth this time, i want to be able to do whatever it is that will help me relax and enjoy (ha!) what’s happening, with as little fear and anxiety as possible.  i remember the feeling of being out-of-control, however slight, from my birth with jones — even though it was technically a “natural birth,” i can look back now via comparison and see unnecessary interventions and how they made my birth a little more difficult.  i didn’t want to be induced, i wasn’t the full two weeks overdue yet, but with a doctor pressuring me (kindly, although) and the scary stories of what could be if i waited, i did what i didn’t want to.  and i remember feeling totally freaked out the entire time, as if i couldn’t move or push or make a noise if the nurses or doctor didn’t give me an okay — and i had educated myself A LOT about birth and my body.  but when you’re frightened to do something for the first time, and the people you are looking to for confidence don’t support the things you’re thinking and feeling, your vigor can quickly evaporate  — and before you know it, you’re in labor and your body is sending you LOUD messages to “push already!”, but you actually listen to the nurse who tells you that you can’t because “you’re only 9cm dilated and not 10.”  ???!!! did she know what it would be like, to go against the messages of your body like that? it was the worst part of my labor.  when you’re sick and your body tells you to puke, you do!  and it would be awful if you didn’t.  i’m not sure why birth is considered so differently by the majority of the american medical community.  and even after this, when i was finally 10cm, i was told to push, despite the fact that i didn’t feel like it and my body wasn’t sending any messages of the sort.  i pushed for two and a half hours, on my back because i was too pooped out to do anything else.  perhaps my body was giving me a nice rest, and i could’ve just waited an hour or more before the urge to push would come — and i wouldn’t have had swelling that lead to a painful tear, or complete exhaustion which inhibited me from even caring where my new baby was, or memories of birth and meeting jones that were mixed and completely unromantic.

my birth with ezra was so so different.  i was monitored closely by my midwife — i had a blood test at 34 weeks to make sure my iron levels weren’t low.  if they were, i wouldn’t have been able to give birth at her home, since it would be more likely that i would have postpartum hemorrhaging.  i also had to do some crazy gymnastics for about a week, in order to get ezra to turn head down, since she couldn’t deliver a breech baby because of the risks.  if i was RH-negative, i would’ve had to give birth in the hospital, as well, because my midwife couldn’t dispense antibiotics.  but since all of those things were okay, i was considered low-risk and free to give birth wherever the heck i wanted — at her house, at my house, at a birth clinic, at the hospital.  i chose her place.  and unlike the women attending my birth with jones, my midwife mostly stayed out of the way.  she came in to check on me and see if i needed anything, and she listened closely to my vocalizations to know when to come upstairs.  but she didn’t check me constantly for dilation, she didn’t push me to move or change positions, she didn’t tell me what to do or when, and she didn’t tell me what i could eat or drink (in fact, i had a full meal about four hours before ezra was born, because i was hungry and really wanted it! despite the fact that i had been in labor all day — that’s a big no-no in american hospitals).  when contractions were getting really intense, she instinctively knew to come upstairs because of the noises i was making.  she talked with bryan and asked him questions while i worked through contractions.  while she was there, my water broke during a particularly painful contraction, and she went and got the things she would need for the birth.  then she sat back and waited, and i just did my own thing.  she supported ezra’s head as he was crowning, and she instructed me to let my body do the pushing for a few contractions in order to prevent tearing, which is about the only instruction she gave me the whole time.  it was so freeing, to just be able to do as my body was telling me, to not have to worry about centimeters and the rules of what you can and can’t do!  a bit too freeing, perhaps, as i recall making a lot of noises that were akin to amazon woman during that labor.  but the important thing is that i felt free to do as i wished, and not constrained by the wishes of others during an extremely emotional and intense time.

some women have that experience in america, but its hard to come by — there is so much standing in the way.   of course, childbirth is frightening, but it is also extremely empowering!  to know that you did it, you scaled that wall that you didn’t think you could, and you wanted to quit, but you didn’t.  what a privilege, for anyone to have an experience like that.  i wish it were simpler to get in america.

i think i’ve sufficiently fleshed-out the things on my mind.  i hope it wasn’t offensive to anyone, as that certainly wasn’t my intent.  the “birth culture” is certainly something that can suck you in, especially when you’re in the midst of thinking about it.  when i’m done having babies, i wonder if i will have the same zest for this type of stuff — only time will tell.


11 thoughts on “a rare post in which i stand on my soapbox.

  1. I think this post makes perfect sense! Even as one who will probably never experience childbirth, I can see the beauty and peace and comfort in the photos of women who are laboring at home, or in a place that is home-like. When at last the baby is born and the woman crawls back into a real bed with clean sheets, even *I* feel a sense of peace and rightness. And I’m just viewing a photo. Being allowed to move and vocalize and stretch like you need to in childbirth seems profoundly important. I’m glad your baby girl is being born in Japan. 🙂

    • oh thanks friend 🙂 i actually thought of you and your birth with ari while i was writing this, thinking, “hmm… i wonder how any of this applies to jillian and the kind of birth she wants!” 😉

  2. Amen. 🙂

    And I encourage you, Jamie, to resist the urge to make a disclaimer in hoping not to offend anyone. It’s so hard when talking about birth to NOT do this, b/c as we know far too well, sometimes women will read a post like yours and immediately jump to the assumption of “You’re saying I’m a bad mom b/c I had a cesarean?!?” But please know that we very much need voices such as yours, of women who are not necessarily birth professionals, but who are learning about the very delicate physiology of birth and who’ve experienced the fullness and life-changing nature of such a birth. This is an issue of humanity at its core–protecting mothers and babies. Thank you for having the courage to speak up about this. I hope that at least 1 person might come away from your post with an open mind and the willingness to consider that birth is not just what “the norm” in the US is telling us. Women deserve so much better…and so do the babies they’re birthing.

    And oh my goodness, did *I* just get on my soapbox?? 😉

  3. Jamie, I really enjoyed this post. What a cool opportunity for you to experience two births in Japan. The more I read about birth culture in the States (and elsewhere), the more fortunate I feel to have stumbled upon the OB that I had. I get the feeling she is a definite anomaly – she encouraged me to eat and drink throughout labor, move around and switch positions, I wasn’t continuously monitored or given an IV or anything, she in fact talked me back INTO continuing on laboring naturally when I was tired and wanted to just get the pitocin and epidural to move things along, she was going to let me go two weeks past my due date before we even discussed the possibility of induction, etc. It is possible to have a positive, OB-attended, hospital birth in America; it’s just sadly rare.

    • “It is possible to have a positive, OB-attended, hospital birth in America; it’s just sadly rare.”

      Absolutely, Bethany. Very insightful. I’m so thankful that you stumbled upon an OB who believes in the normalcy of birth, used interventions judiciously, and that you had a positive experience with your birth!

      And I’d add to that–while it’s possible to have a positive, OB-attended hospital birth, not only is it rare, but it often requires the mother to do her homework, understand normal birth, understand the risks/benefits of interventions…and to stand up for herself. Oh and to surround herself with a supportive birth team, including a doula. I truly believe that any woman even considering a low-intervention hospital birth should seriously consider hiring a doula.

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