September 24, 2010

Gentle Advocacy

Because of my own experience with Charlie's birth, I have naturally slipped into the role of childbirth advocate. I post a lot of childbirth-related links on my FB page, and sometimes they generate good conversation between my friends and me. Of course, there is almost always at least one person who chimes in with a tried and true "all that matters is a healthy baby!" which always ends up in my explaining that while yes, a healthy baby does matter, so does the health of the mother. And by health, I mean emotional and mental as well as physical.

This is a very frustrating conversation for me to have. Usually the chimer-inner spouts out their "all that matters is a healthy baby" piece and never returns to hear what I have to say on the matter. That's their choice, of course, but it makes me sad that others are so willing to brush off the pain of another person as being somehow necessary or inevitable when it comes to childbirth. It's like American society at large just expects everything in childbirth to be hugely dramatic and painful and scary, so when someone acts as the voice of dissent, others are like, "Duh. You decided to have a baby. What did you expect?"

Another thing I severely dislike is when people say, "Well, I had a C-section/was induced/insert whatever other intervention here, and everything turned out fine and it was a wonderful experience! So not all C-sections/inductions/insert whatever other intervention here are bad." To this, I always respond like this: "Duh. Of course they're not all bad. That's not the point. The point is that intervention has become far too routine, and as a result birth has become a medicalized process when it doesn't necessarily need to be. I'm very glad you had a good experience with your C-section/induction/etc, but that doesn't mean that other people do." (I usually say the "Duh" part in my head.)

(It is my humble opinion that those who get defensive about their own births probably aren't as happy with them as they are letting on.)

I think it is quite possible that I annoy other people with my ideas about childbirth, and frankly, I don't care if I do. I have found something that I believe in so much that I would go to the ends of the earth to educate people about it, because I think it is that important. I always find myself in strange situations, though, especially when I read my friends' various status updates on their pregnancies. It seems like so many of them are induced, and I have no idea what to say except "Good luck!" Just about an hour ago, I found myself telling one of my Facebook friends that she didn't have to consent to induction if she didn't want to. And then I added the disclaimer that "oh, I'm not trying to push you into anything; I just want you to be aware of this." It's a hard line to walk because I want to be supportive while also letting them know that there are other options that don't end up with them being drugged up with Pitocin, only to end up being cut open at the end of the day.

The vast majority of these people will probably make it through their heavily augmented labor and delivery just fine, and if they have any disappointment or negative feelings about it, they will probably push them away or say, "Well, golly gee, I sure am glad that doctor was there to save my baby's life." And when it comes time for them to offer advice to other mothers-to-be, they will say, "Oh, I was induced/had a C-section/etc and it was just fine. Just get the epidural and it will all work out." And the cycle will continue.

I don't know how to be a part in breaking this cycle except to continue what I've been doing: gently advocating against it, and putting my own thoughts out there in the hopes that someone is listening. I certainly don't want to judge these mothers and their decisions, but at the same time, I want them to know that they have options, options that don't include taking everything their doctors say as gospel. I want women to believe in their bodies and know that if given enough time and support, in the vast majority of cases they could birth their babies just fine and just as nature intended. Instead there are a whole bunch of women out there who really believe that they can't birth a baby, and while I know that there are women who really can't, I also believe that most of these women are victims of a system that feels impenetrable.

And that is why I often find myself at odds with them, because I refuse to believe that women on the whole are broken. If we are broken, it's because we've been forced to that point, not because we inherently are. I don't know if I will ever find a perfectly balanced way of advocating for the rights of childbearing women, but to stop my advocacy now would feel like a betrayal of the very deep part of myself that felt so broken after Charlie was born. I really just want to be a part of the solution.

I don't have a good ending for this post - it kind of all fell out of me in the middle of the night - and perhaps the point is that this is an issue to which there will be no end to the need for advocacy and education. I really feel as though I was meant to be here, and that isn't something I take lightly - so there really is no chance that I will shut up about this anytime soon. And why should I? After all, my birth experience gave me my voice. It'd be a shame if I didn't use it.


Eric's Mommy said...

My Mother remembers (I don't because I was so drugged up) after I had Eric I was crying because it didn't happen the way I hoped. I wanted to have a vaginal delivery and ended up with an emergency C-section where I was totally knocked out and didn't get to see my baby until an hour after he was born. That sucked.

E said...

I can totally relate to your feelings about this and wanting to be a childbirth advocate. I think you'll really enjoy the history of birth book. It was very interesting and eye opening for me. I used to be very passionate about women having the right to a home birth. I still am, actually, but my focus has shifted some. I spent months researching home births, midwives,the history of birth and how to get HMO's to pay for home birth. I was ready to fight them for as long as it took. I get angry about all kinds of situations that I hear about, particularly when hospitals are understaffed and women are told to ignore their bodies' signals to wait for doctor to be ready. It's really life or death sometimes. And sometimes its death for no good reason. Sometimes its really about hospitals making money above safety and health. But then there are the miracles like Natalia who really only lived because of some really smart and very attentive doctors and nurses. So I guess in the end, I learned a lot about being my own advocate, but I also learned more than I wanted about all that can go wrong. Some doctors have been so cruel that only I only remember them like a nightmare, while others can make me fall to me knees in thanks for their wisdom and compassion. I'll never forget the one who had the guts to tell me straight about Lukas. There is still a lot of compassion out there and a lot of great doctors. But shit, you'd better watch out for the ones that will tell you anything to get you quiet and to wait your turn.