Over the course of my pregnancy, during which I lived in two different countries and three different cities, I saw three doctors, three birth-center midwives and spoke at length to two prominent home-birth advocates. I was one of those expectant mothers who came prepared with a plethora of questions, eager to hear various opinions that would help shape my own still forming view.
But as my child gestated within, the questions too grew larger. Every one I consulted has scripted and predictable answers about what they considered a prime birthing situation. A doctor I sought care from temporarily in Seattle heard about my curiosity to have a home-birth and was quick to unleash a detailed run off of all the things that could go wrong. How would an attending midwife be prepared to deal with this, this and this? She shared a graphic story of a woman that was brought into the hospital after an attempted home-birth. She had lost the baby. I heard the story and was affected - of course I didn’t want to do anything to risk my child!
And then I spoke to “the other side” - friends who had home-births as well as some leading home-birth midwifes in New York. They too used fear mongering. I was immediately offered statistic after statistic, assuring me that my hospital births were a direct route to a more passive, uncomfortable and potentially dangerous birth. They made me feel that if I really wanted what was best for me and my baby, I couldn't possibly choose to deliver at the hands of interventionist doctors who would rush at any complication to offer me a c-section.
After nine long months of reading, arguing, asking and subjecting my husband and family to a host of opinions, stories and movies, I settled on delivering at a birthing center, where midwifes were under guidance of a doctor I knew, as well as associated with a hospital. For me, it was the best middle ground - it appealed to my natural, no intervention inclination but also answered my fear of being completely detached from a doctor or hospital. After hearing harsh voices from both extremes, this was my birth place. I mentally prepared for a natural birth, and was excited for all the options the center provided.
In the end, I wound up in a hospital under the influence of pitocin and an epidural. I had labored with my midwife and doula for almost thirty hours after my water broke, going against what is allowed, not to mention safe. By the time I accepted the drugs, I was so tired and so ready. I was grateful. I was comfortable. I had my beautiful, perfect birth. My hospital birth was everything I had been told to think impossible outside the confines of my home or a birthing center. And, in the end, the drugs I was trained to view as evil were my biggest ally. Moreover, three months later, I personally witnessed my sister-in-laws birth, at the hands of a doctor who had a more holistic and supportive vibe than even my own midwives had.
After all my rigorous research and questioning, I only found the truth - my truth - once I actually gave birth. I have since been able to drown out all the noise of both doctors and midwifes (and friends, too) who are set in convincing me of their agenda. I now have the confidence to ignore judgments, the voices of those who spread birthpropaganda.
Every woman should be afforded the right to choose her ideal birth plan without harassment and fear-inducing stories and "facts." Every voice on either side of the fence has a responsibility to teach without exaggeration and antics. How refreshing it would be for women to hear, "This may or may not be for you" or "There certainly may be reasons to choose a different way." Many women change their mind from one birth to the next. Bad experiences in the hospital or unsafe home-birth encounters can "teach" a woman how she really wants to birth. But once a woman has arrived at a sure place, her decision is her feeling, and her right - it is not an argument.
This week, Cathy Warwick, who heads the Royal College of Midwives in Britain, responded to growing criticism of home-births, saying "There is a concerted and calculated global attack and backlash against home birth which is being unfairly pilloried by some sectors of the global medical maternity establishment." She is certainly right, but I wonder...can she honestly deny that there is also a "concerted and calculated attack" on hospitals by the midwifery establishment? Take it from someone who heard speeches from both sides - doctors and midwifes are both guilty of unfair attacks, of creating very elaborate and misleading pictures to support their claims.
But while we may be unable to change agenda driven celebrities and groups with loud voices, women can change the tide amongst themselves. Be as supportive of your friend planning a home-birth as the one set on using drugs - and every birth type in between. Your earthy, holistic “nature mama” friend did as much research as the outspoken "gimme the drugs" expectant woman. There's facts and fiction on both sides, but every woman is doing what she believes is best for herself and her child. That's just the clear, undiluted and completely natural fact. The next time you get into a heated debate with another woman on the topic of birth, take note of your voice. Are you honoring motherhood by providing insight and support for a woman following her own intuition? Or are you using fear and propaganda to further your view? If it's the latter, please stop while you're ahead. Birth is no place for propaganda. Every woman deserves to own her birthing experience with intuition and confidence. Don't let your voice rid her of that natural, God-given right.