While we still have almost six months before our little one is supposed to arrive, my husband and I already started considering which would be the best way to help our baby make its entrance into the world. Well actually, I have to admit my husband was the ohe who started thinking about it - he seems to know much more about pregnancy and birth than I do. As a side note I'll confess that he knew I'm pregnant before I was sure of that. One night he pulled a home pregnancy test out of his bag and said, "You are pregnant. But go ahead, make sure!"
At first, I didn't even think of ways to have a baby other than what most women here go through: a hospital room, lying flat on your back, monitors, constantly changing faces of doctors, nurses and students fussing around you. And epidural. Oh, of course, epidural. I wouldn't consider actually going through labor pains, now, would I? And besides - you go home in a few days and it doesn't matter how you gave birth, right?
However, prompted by my husband, I began to question whether it is normal to treat birth - a natural process - as a surgery. Sure, there might be possible complications, and that's why it's wonderful we have advanced medical care available when it is needed. But shouldn't that be the exception, not the rule?
In the past, women were encouraged to move around during labor, and take any position that alleviated pains. When a woman is mobile, she may place herself in a position when gravity is to her advantage, and helps the baby come out. Epidural, I realized, limits the woman's freedom of movement and might slow down the entire process, which can ultimately result in pytocin induction - which wouldn't have been necessary, if only birth had been allowed to take its natural course. Also, I started reading evidence of women who suffered long-lasting damage to their mobility because of epidural. Damage caused by epidural can be irreversible:
"Four years ago during the routine delivery of my fifth child, my doctor (with my consent) called for an anesthesiologist to administer an epidural anesthetic. The epidural caused bleeding into the spinal column, and because of the neglect of the doctor and hospital staff, I remain a paraplegic to this day."
Now, I understand labor is painful. I have never given birth yet, so most likely I cannot imagine just how painful it is. However, I can't help but consider the following: labor pains don't cause long-lasting damage. Epidural might.
As someone who has worked in a hospital, I wasn't under the illusion that hospital is a safer place for a healthy child than, say, home. Yes, sometimes we need hospitals - thank God we have them. But I have seen more than one infant arrive to treat a minor complication, and end up hospitalized for weeks because of violent bacteria you won't find anywhere but in a hospital. I was aware of the fact that hospital surroundings are institutionalized, unpleasant, impersonal and not at all encouraging. Patients are treated as "products" on an assembly line. It adds a lot to the natural stress accompanying illness - or giving birth. But again, giving birth is not a surgery!
However, I didn't fully realize the dissonance caused by a typical hospital birth until my sister-in-law had her baby not long ago. She was in labor for 24 hours - during this time she was hooked to an i.v., to prevent her from losing too much fluids. At the same time they didn't give her anything to drink. I don't see the logic in that. Isn't it possible to drink between contractions, at least in the earlier stages of labor?
Newborns were separated from their mothers, and nursing was supposed to be done on "feeding hours". Now, I don't think it's very difficult to understand how absolutely ridiculous this is when we are talking about a newborn, who is supposed to be fed when there is need to, and not because hospital's schedule says now it's feeding time. My sister-in-law was told her baby "doesn't have strength" to nurse (of course she didn't, if she happened to be sleepy when she was "supposed" to nurse), and they gave her formula. Since they stayed for several days, this disrupted the initial nursing relationship.
So far, I realized this: I don't want to be helpless during labor, and I don't want to do anything that might cause long-lasting damage to myself or the baby; I don't want to be hooked to an i.v. and have birth treated like something abnormal, not a natural, God-designed process my body goes through in order to bring new life into this world; I don't want to be separated from my baby in the first couple of days after I give birth, and I want to be able to nurse my baby whenever there's need to. If at all possible, I would like to avoid induction, surgical intervention, and giving formula to the baby.
The remaining question was, how can we accomplish this? The perfect solution I could think of would be home birth assisted by a midwife, with the possibility to get advanced medical treatment within minutes in a case of emergency. That way, the woman is more secure within her natural surroundings, her home, and isn't exposed to foreign infections. I must tell you home births are extremely rare in Israel - which wouldn't have bothered me if it weren't for the fact that it's about 30 minutes drive to the nearest hospital from where we live. This seems like an awfully long time in case urgent intervention is needed. Of course, so far there's no reason to think this might be the case, but it would make me feel very insecure to know we are so far away from advanced medical help.
Right now my husband and I are considering the option of a natural birth center in our area. It's on hospital territory so help can be received within minutes if there's an emergency, but birth is allowed to progress as naturally as possible, with the help of a doula and monitoring now and then. The birth center encourages use of warm water pool, shower, essential oils, candles, birthing chairs and balls, soothing music and anything that might alleviate a woman's labor pains and make her feel better. Mothers are later given the option to remain with their babies around the clock, until they go home. It's costly, but if it's really what it promises to be, we feel it would be worth it.
As always, I cherish the advice of more experienced ladies. I would appreciate it if you could share about your birthing experience: did you give birth in a hospital, at home, or someplace else? Did you have epidural - if you did, were there any side effects? If not, why did you choose not to, and which alternative methods for pain relief did you use? What soothed you and kept you afloat during labor? Were you given the chance to be with your baby and nurse your baby whenever it was needed, and what overall effect did it have on your entire nursing relationship?