It began during my first birth.
My sister had purchased a can of Vernors Pop from a vending machine and was sipping away on it. I asked her for a slug while I was sitting in the wheelchair waiting to be taken to my birthing room.
A nurse appeared right as I was sipping the can. (For the record, I do NOT recommend mothers drink soda during labor – raspberry tea with honey is a much better choice)
The nurse got right in my face, and said, “you will not do THAT again, no food or drink during labor.”
This was 1988 and my husband and I had just watched the movie The Verdict on television the night before. (Not exactly the best viewing right before giving birth to your first baby) So I understood WHY it was not a good idea for me to drink some soda, but I was thirsty…
This was the beginning of my first effort to claw my way to a normal birth in a teaching hospital in Michigan.
As I look back at my life as a mother, the one constant is the level of juxtaposition that came up again and again as I wended my way through the maze of modern mothering. As each experience contrasted with the last, I had to chuckle over and over at the level of extremes that appeared to be my lot in life.
I did not just have Post Partum Depression. I had Post Partum Psychosis.
I did not give birth for the first time in a reasonably balanced medical environment. No, I had to choose the hospital where I was born, Beaumont, in Royal Oak Michigan, a high risk facility that catered to high risk mothers and had a fifty percent c section rate back in 1988.
Back then I did not know that I was a Freebirther in embryo, a smoldering cauldron of birth activism willing to put it all on the line for my family and the families who were also being risked into medical slavery at just about every intersection with drugs and surgery.
The idea for this essay first entered into my mind a few weeks ago as I observed a chat on Facebook between my friend Carla Harley and a few Doulas who were expressing dismay that Unassisted Birthers were asking them to attend Family Births and play the role of midwife/protector and they were not comfortable and did not feel qualified to assist these families. Carla gave them sage advice as she is wont to do, and the conversation reminded me of my own attempts to recruit people to assist me with home births.
When I was expecting my second baby I sent a copy of Emergency Childbirth to my mother and asked her to help me with a home birth. She bluntly informed me that she did not feel qualified to help. In frustration I accepted her response and let go of the idea of Mom playing midwife and dug a little deeper into my own resources as a parent. As I began labor with my second daughter I found myself wrapped in fear. I had been going to prenatal appointments with a Family Doctor. At my last appointment before labor began she told me that she believed my daughter was breech. I refused an ultrasound and told my husband that I would rather spend that three hundred dollars on herbs to help me after the birth with emotional illness. I was so bottled up with terror that upon the birth of my child I would awake in a mental hospital, that the fear of a return of emotional distress was my upper most concern.
When labor finally kicked in I stayed home for twenty hours and gave it my best shot. My mother and husband were with me, and they were very concerned that we not arrive too early to the hospital as we had with my first child. When I showed up the nurses sadly informed me that I was only dilated to one. I was so disheartened by this news that when the doc insisted on an ultrasound to check positioning, I said, “OK”. Allison was indeed breech and I spent the next three hours negotiating with the staff on how we were to proceed. I struggled to know what was best for my baby. They told me that they could give me a drug that would stop labor, then another drug to relax my uterus, attempt a manual version, then another drug to start labor and then I could birth my baby vaginally.
I managed to call Dr. Bradley in Denver during labor and ended up talking to his wife Martha. She encouraged me to just have the c section and it was helpful to have her advice during that difficult time in my life.
During my third birth I again attempted a Family Birth at home and labored for three days alone.
We had mistakenly thought that Jeff was overdue by two weeks and my doc, who I had once again hired to do my prenatal care, insisted that we be induced on a monday at ten am. Jeff ended up being born at that exact moment, and the three days of his labor were a marathon of prayer, soul searching, and overkill in terms of the help I had set up for our older children. I had an army of friends who helped with the girls, assisted us at the hospital…it was so much over thinking that when I remember it now, I just feel silly that I felt the need to give all of those people “assignments” to help with the birth. It would have been so much simpler if we had just done the pregnancy ourselves, with no deadlines, and allowed labor to kick in when he was truly ready to be born. We did all sorts of “natural” things to induce labor, and while they worked, he was NOT ready to come out.
There were so many “Nos” from my doctor during his pregnancy and labor that this experience was the final “I’ve had it” moment for me. I walked away, literally ran from them. I am so grateful for the many writers and thinkers who influenced my choices. The clarity of the many doctors and midwives whose books I absorbed during this time gave me the courage to run away and free myself from the power of those who say NO! This was in 1994, before the internet was truly up and running for the average family.
I am so grateful for the Nos.
Because the professionals in my life said no to me over and over on various issues, it caused me to dig deeper and deeper looking for answers to big perplexing problems.
There is another group of professionals, family, and friends who also had the courage to say no. And it is to this group that I would like to address this post. Dont’ feel bad or guilty to say no to Family Birthers. It might be exactly what THEY need to hear.
I am a Doula, so I can say with confidence that the thought of helping any family with an unassisted birth scares the crap out of me. I have done it, but each time it was reluctantly and when they asked me if I wanted my name on the birth certificate as “attendant”, I said “NO!” and made it very clear to them that I was only there to help with older children, clean, cook food, and generally assist the family as they welcomed a new family member.
During my fourth labor I thought I wanted my friend Laura Shanley to attend. During a moment of pre labor that occurred a week before the actual birth, I invited Laura to come over. While I contracted in my bedroom she took my three oldest children to the park, and then came in to “help”. As most in the birth community know, Laura is considered the Mother of Unassisted Childbirth, yet for some reason it annoyed me that she was in my private space. During the final weeks of Andrews pregnancy I had bouts of pre labor almost every night that lasted four to five hours. His pregnancy was a real tease because I was so large I thought I was having twins and had decided to put my faith on the line and welcome him into our home after doing my own prenatal care. These bouts of pre labor were so confusing, I thought I was going into “real” labor about a hundred times.
It was curious to me that I did not want Laura there, and as I have thought about it, I think that I was loathe to have any sort of expert around me. Although Laura would be the last person on the earth to interfere with the process of labor I figure it was my own sense that this was supposed to be about Paul and I, not my friend.
During my fifth pregnancy I watched one of my best friends marriage dissolve after she had given birth to three children unassisted. The high divorce rate in the Family Birth community has been a blight, but I believe that many marriages cannot withstand the scrutiny, rejection, and bullying that non conformist parents experience.
My friend experienced the full range of invasions into her privacy as she dealt with mental hospital lockup/evaluation, time in jail, being cut off from her older children for months during a social services investigation and unassisted childbirth was the big glaring red flag as she was investigated by every agency and busybody the county of Boulder Colorado could provide. I understand and know that all of this was done out of concern for the well being of her children and after a domestic violence situation where she punched her husband in the face, but it was horrifying to watch and because I was seven months pregnant with Ben and she was eight months pregnant with her son, the full threat and awareness of what we were planning to do in giving birth alone was constantly right in front of my face. Especially since she stayed in our home for several days twice during that difficult time.
Every night she and I would get on our knees and pray for protection and asked the Lord to guide us. I was deeply concerned that as the time for her to give birth approached that if she gave birth in my home, I would be investigated and potentially locked up if anything went wrong, or even if everything went perfectly, because of the situation she was in, I would be dragged into the mess. Through a series of miraculous events she gave birth in the hospital to a big healthy son, and I was able to “lovingly detach” from her situation to prepare for my own birth and baby moon.
It is impossible for me to find the words to describe the horror of this situation and many times I felt like I had the weight of the world on my shoulders.
The final months of my pregnancy I was also overwhelmed by the media focus that was being shoved on the husband of Andrea Yates. Rusty Yates was being blamed for his wife’s Post Partum Psychosis and the deaths of his five children while she was in a psychotic state. The similarities between our family and the Yates family were stark; homeschoolers, five kids, religious, previous episodes of depression and suicidality, etc etc… Paul and I were so overwhelmed by the media spotlight, we had to turn off the news and cloister away from any media influence while we continued to plan and prepare to welcome our son.
During a couple of moments of overwhelm and concern I reached out to several LDS friends who had midwife training and/or were doulas and asked them if they would come just be in the house with us while I gave birth. These friends all said “no”. Again, I had to dig deeper into my own spiritual resources. Each “NO” was an opportunity for growth and strengthening.
When I was seven and a half months pregnant I decided to go see my family doctor. I had a blood test to check my iron levels and while we visited I asked him if he would come into the hospital to help me if I had to transfer during a home birth. He told me he would if I would do normal prenatal care with him, but he did not feel that it was fair to him to be pulled into another deadly situation if I did not have the courtesy to allow him to be a full participant. He also said that he knew the only reason I would show up was if there was an emergency, and again, he said it was not fair. I agreed and told him I understood. He also told me that it was terrible to expect the Emergency Room Doctors to pick up the pieces of a botched home birth because they rarely see childbirth complications. I agreed.
So again, a “NO”. A No that caused me to dig deeper, to think harder, to question everything.
Who was I?
What was the goal?
Why Why WHY did I feel to the need to grasp my Family Sovereignty and NEVER let it go?
For me, it is all about freedom.
Freedom to NOT be induced.
Freedom to choose how I will live.
Freedom to protect the private space around my child’s birth.
Freedom to hire those professionals to attend me and help me in my own space. My chiropractor and Aryuvedic Doula were both at my home within nine hours of the birth on October 25th 2002.
If I had hired a midwife two Colorado rules would have kicked in forcing me to be induced.
My water broke three days before Ben was born while I was at my exercise class. I would have been forced to transfer care from Midwife to Doctor two and a half days before the birth for that reason alone. I also went three days over 42 weeks. The midwife again would have been compelled BY LAW to transfer care to an OB.
Instead I spent those three days eating, sleeping, relaxing in the tub, and doing my normal daily schedule. I also spent considerable time praying to know what was best for me and the baby.
As each moment of those three days passed, I was GRATEFUL for the “NOS”.
Because so many people had said “No” to being involved in the situation of my fifth child’s birth, I was freed to quietly listen to my Heavenly Father and take his perfect counsel without any “professional” or well intentioned advice from friends and family.
And his guidance was perfect.
It was real.
It was all that was needful.
Paul and I were able to revel in the joy of unfettered spirit the night our child was born in our bedroom.
During transition, the most difficult time of my labor, Paul asked what he could do to help. I asked him to sing hymns. He pulled out our Mormon Hymn Book and started singing all of my favorite spiritual songs. The sweet glow of the spirit of the Lord washed over us and and spilled into our bedroom as the final hours of labor were dutifully conducted by my lover and I.
When Ben gave his first gasp for air Paul handed him to me and as I lay down on our bed, I looked over and saw my sweetheart jumping for joy.
The most sacred experience of my life.
I would not wish the emotional distress I experienced during that pregnancy on my worst enemy (weird, but Dr. Amy Teuteur MD just popped into my head).
But when I look at Benjamin, who will turn ten years old next month, I am reminded of the miracle of my Mothering Journey and it just makes me feel glad.
PS Read more about Bens pregnancy and birth in my book A Lotus Birth on Amazons Kindle
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