Let’s Start At The Very Beginning: A Progressive Perspective On Birthing

Well… where IS the beginning? For me, both the blog and the parenting start with giving birth; something I am set to do any day, hour, even minute from now. (And if it’s not TMI right off the bat, I’m 40 weeks as of today, I’ve been 4cm dilated for a week and 3 since two weeks before!) Now, I’m no rookie at this- some may even call me a pro, being that this will be my fourth natural delivery. (I hope.) But each pregnancy & delivery, like each child, is different. Three births does not a master make- I know enough to know I won’t know a thing until the labor and birthing begin! So what does birthing mean? The dictionary defines birth as “the process of  bearing or bringing forth offspring; any coming into existence; to bear. (which, incidentally, means “hold up under”) In my experience, parenting has given me ALL kinds of situations to “hold up under”, all of which I want to try and touch on with an open mind here, pregnancy being the literal first. I walk around with my hands “holding up under” my belly all the time these days!
Birthing is one of the first true tests of a new mother. She may build a lameness-tolerance in the form of dealing with a menagerie of pregnancy-related symptoms, like morning (or if you are blessed as I have been through the entirety of two pregnancies, with hyper-emesis, you get all-day-long) sickness, or other fun symptoms, such as: swollen ankles, back pain, raging hormones of doom, random calf pain, other people’s unsolicited advice or horror stories, stretch marks, sciatica, walking with the forced gait of a penguin, etc. etc… (sidenote: you’d be amazed at how many of these are cured by walking daily, a hefty dose of B vitamins and drinking water!) but birthing is truly the first rite of passage into becoming a mother. Of course, this miracle also makes a father, who must “hold up under” his loved one’s labor, too- but assuredly, the process is a much different test for the woman.
In modern society, birth has been stripped from mothers. In it’s ugliest form, birth is viewed as a painful punishment for original sin and at best, reduced to an inconvenient bump in the road to all that is baby. It’s been minimized, automated and medicated to the point where it is no longer viewed as a rite of passage into becoming a(nother aspect of) woman, but rather something to be feared and dreaded, a transaction, a procedure. It’s been carefully planned, sterilized, swaddled and handed back to us along with an ugly diaper bag bearing cheap plastic diapers, a can of formula, painkillers and a bill. I cannot think of a single Hollywood portrayal of a woman giving birth with the help of a midwife, at a birthing center or at home- I can’t even think of a movie (or even TV episode) where the woman consciously chooses to have a baby naturally! Can you?

When and why and how did we somehow let go of the fact that childbirth is a miracle? We are capable of MIRACLES, ladies! Do we want that taken, processed, packaged & given back to us through an automated filter? Or are we capable of- and don’t we owe ourselves and our children- more? It’s the miracle we are somehow entrusted to be in charge of- and yet, the very magic, the grit, the triumph have all been sterilized. Sadly, most women aren’t even aware of our body’s amazing power, the process or even the fact that it’s been taken from us in favor of convenience and comfort. It’s like being marketed only Happy Meals and forgetting that there are gourmet, healthful meals we can prepare ourselves that are MUCH better and in fact, what our bodies are made for. Even fast food has it’s place, but not as the standard. The same goes for hospital and obstetrician-supported births.My fiance and family have all balked and given me the… “You’re NOT having the baby in a hospital? You’re planning to give birth with NO DOCTOR? Is that SAFE?!?”, with looks akin to what people must have given Michael Jackson while he was dangling his son out of a two story window. YES, people. Yes. Let me tell you why. 

M. Wagner made a good point in her quote, “Having a highly trained obstetrical surgeon attend a normal birth is analogous to having a pediatric surgeon babysit a healthy 2 year old.” Let’s start at the beginning, again with the definition. Midwife means, “with woman”. Obstetric means “to stand in front of”. I think these words in their essential forms highlight the difference and the root of the problem. Think of yourself going through a huge life transition- new job, a break-up or divorce, or say, creating life… and who you would want to be involved to support you and how. Would you want someone with you, beside you to guide you through what happens for you each step of the way, or in front of you- which can only facilitate blocking the way- or at very best, someone else choosing the path and leading the trodden path for you to follow. Yes, if there is something dangerous in the way, someone in front, leading you down a known safe path is a safe and smart choice. But most births are far from dangerous.

Did you know, according to the American Journal of Public Health, only 5% of births in the U.S. are attended by midwives (vs. 75% in European countries) and that 99% of our births occur in hospitals (even though we rank 29th in the world for infant mortality)? You’re probably not even surprised, at least by the hospital part. But obviously by second fact, birthing in the hospital does not in fact translate to a safer or less complicated delivery… in fact, there is over a 30% cesarean rate in the US, when optimally/medically, it should be closer to 5%. Why do you think that is? Are we so unhealthy and complicated, or just Too Posh To Push? To me, these facts illustrate a dangerous and alarming disconnect and lack of awareness about birthing in general- something I’m trying to at least shine a flashlight beam on through the muddled misinformation fog.

So what is a midwife? Most who gave me the stunned and slightly horrified stare picture some old hippie shaking a turtle rattle, burning incense and using nothing but hot water & rags to deliver babies. In reality, they are specialists in (normal/low-risk) pregnancy, childbirth & postpartum health, although they are trained to recognize and deal with deviations from the normal. (A Certified Nurse-Midwife (CNM) is a Registered Nurse with an additional masters degree in Midwifery.) Obstetricians, in contrast, are specialists in illness related to childbearing and surgery. Perhaps therein lies a clue as to why there’s a 25% increase in Obstetrician-led/recommended/allowed cesarean surgeries in the U.S. over the optimal 5% seen in most modern countries. In fact, the five countries with the lowest infant mortality rates are all ones with a 70%+ midwife-assisted birth rate and a cesarean rate much closer to the optimal 5%. Still think obstetricians and hospitals are safer? I remember my own mother going to have her third cesarean when I was 6. I was terrified because she was going to the hospital- where I knew people went when they got REALLY sick, had horrible accidents or worse, to die! They’re going to hook her up to needles and tubes, then cut her open with a knife and take something out and put her back together with STAPLES?! I have the same reaction now that was planted (and placated with a stuffed skunk) then, clear as day in my yet-to-be-programmed mind: Why- if birthing is a normal & natural occurrence- should it take place in a hospital, the place for illness, surgery & emergencies? Sure, if there IS an illness, necessary surgery or emergency- get thee to a hospital! But really, most births are far from any of those descriptions.

The media scares us into thinking birth is akin to illness and surgery and emergency (oh my!) or even a horrible amalgam of all three. You all know how it goes: It starts with the water breaking in a “SKOOSH!” (which actually happens less than 5% of the time, pre-labor) the frantic grabbing of the suitcase to make way for the hospital, the mother screaming obscenities and demanding drugs in the car and down the hospital corridor, the father-to-be frantically making phone calls, passing out or looking helplessly on as the doctor -who always slides in at the last moment- shouts, “PUSH!” with nurses standing by like cheerleaders in scrubs with shiny instruments instead of pom poms. I suppose some births happen that way, but I know for a fact after much reading, research and conversing with other mothers that this is not “normal”. You know what? BIRTH is normal. My midwife agrees.

I gave birth to my sons (my oldest two children) at The Women’s Health and Birth Center. It is also where I plan to give birth to my third son, Patrick, any time now. (My daughter was born in a hospital due to my insurance policy and severe hyper emesis, but that’s a story for a different time) I was drawn there 10 years ago with my first pregnancy, after reading about the benefits of water birthing. I had drown the majority of my pregnancy aches in the bathtub, why not try it during labor? The instant relaxation helps the mother let the body do what it needs to- a key element I’ve now found in my own birth experiences. The warm water increases circulation, making each contraction more effective. The buoyancy takes the pressure off of the back & legs and the residual tightness of each contraction. The water increases skin elasticity, making any tearing much less likely. The list goes on, Google it or check the link!

Aside from the mother’s personal comfort, imagine for a moment the difference in what birth is like for the baby: this newest, most precious gift, whom parents would fight tooth and nail for the best interests of. Right? Most parents agree, yet aren’t even aware of their options and the facts surrounding them. In a hospital, the newborn transitions from the cozy, warm, watery darkness out into the cold and bright, fluorescent lights to a racket of people in matching papery garb, machines beeping & whirring, only to get cloudy drops in the eyes, injected with vitamin K, whisked to a scale, measured, diapered, clothed, bundled & then finally presented to awaiting arms. Cold, pain, process and bustling confusion. Welcome to the United States, kid! 

Not exactly the environment it seems an educated, compassionate- a progressive individual would choose. Instead, consider this option as a newborn: changing environments from warm water to warm water, where limbs unfurl slowly and carefully. Soft colors and natural light emerge as the baby reaches the surface to take his/her first breath of air and be placed immediately onto the mother’s chest, a towel and hat placed on the baby while still in the water. With a midwife, things happen on the mother’s time, including the weighing, measuring and optional (though they are always optional. you just may not be aware of that) eye drops and vitamin K. (which can also be administered orally) Her time is solely the mother’s from admittance to the birthing center (or her arrival at the home). There is no last minute swoop of the OB to coach & catch, she is there to guide through each contraction, carefully paying attention to the mother’s comfort and needs. For me, the choice is clear…  and will be implemented in the next few days!

There is so much more to touch upon, and I hope to in future entries. My hope is to at least stir some thoughts and discussion on not only birth, but parenting and how we view ourselves and our children as a whole. What is your birthing experience? Was it different from what you expected? Were you aware of your options? Do you know anyone who has used a midwife? I welcome your comments, questions and topic suggestions. 

 “We have a secret in our culture, it’s not that birth is painful, it’s that women are strong.” Laura Stavoe Harm


  1. I had a nurse/midwife at the hospital. She was hardly in the room, constantly rushing back and forth between myself and another woman about to give birth. I was left with my husband and the evil nurse. She kept telling me she would make me angry enough to push the baby out…and I don't work that way! My poor husband had no clue what to do, we had always wanted him to be sort of at my head giving me focus, NOT holding my leg and taking orders from a nurse that I had NEVER met before. The midwife was nice, just never there and she pressured me into an induction. I definitely am a case of if I knew then what I know now…LPM-where did you find the ND midwife? I am also in ND and I know what you mean about the no birth centers. All of the midwives I have found in ND are connected to the hospitals so there is no home birth options!!!


  2. I was planning a hospital birth with my first, but in the hospital's birth preparation class, the instructor told us, very casually, "after a c-section, the doctor may take your uterus out of your body to inspect it and make sure it's intact." Aaaaaaahhhh!! So at 7 months pregnant I switched to care through an independent birth center attended by a midwife, where I went on to have a wonderfully empowering birth experience. There were no birth centers available in our new state when I was expecting my second, so I birthed at home with a ND midwife. As my daughter crowned, we realized the cord was around her neck; the midwife stayed so calm, that I never got scared. I just bring that up because I think people imagine that midwives are fine for "perfect" birthing scenarios, but not capable of handling things that come up in normal births. They are, they are! And I love the ending quote, Julie!


  3. My sister in law had a midwife, who could not get there in time, and she ended up giving birth with nobody but her and her husband…it was a great experience for both of them. Having complicated medical problems with all of my pregnancies…I wasn't able to have the oppurtunity. Can't wait to meet the baby 🙂 And hear more future posts!


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