We watched Rikki Lake's "The Business of Birthing" last night. I mean, we, as in H, the kids and I. We didn't plan on a family viewing but the kids were utterly fascinated with watching babies being born. And it was an extremely interesting documentary. I'd say I knew most of the information but it's always good to get a refresher. Combined with Moore's Sicko I'm not real confident about the US health care system. But that would be a whole other post/rant.
Mostly what I thought about through and after the movie was the implications of birth in terms of feminism. There is an argument for drugs/painkillers and convince. Why should women be made to endure such horrible pain (and it is horrible I assure those who have never experienced it). There is a case to be made for the choice to use drugs/interventions to be well within the rights of an independent woman. But on the other hand, there is the problem of how much a choice a woman really has in such circumstances. Are they honestly being informed? Are they being manipulated by the system? Is there not also something amazingly powerful and feminist about giving birth without those things? Does it not give a woman a sense of strength and accomplishment to see and feel what her body can do? But if we give that kind of birth power than doesn't that in turn make women who really didn't have a choice or who make other choices feel less? These are tough questions all of which I think about a great deal since having had my three children.
Here's my Camille birth story. I use her story because Camille's birth was the furthest from what I wanted. I saw a nurse midwife throughout my pregnancy with Camille. She was a wonderful care-giver. She spent lots of time with me. But she was definitely an establishment person. She worked in a OB/GYN office as the only midwife. She scoffed at breastfeeding beyond a year, and was more than okay about pushing an epidural. She did respect my choice to go natural but she was clearly skeptical of that choice. Still she was better than any of the OBs in the office. I detested all of them and hoped desperately that I wouldn't get them when I went into labor.
My water broke three and a half weeks before my due date at five am. We had nothing prepared. I took a shower, packed my clothes, stripped our bed, and spent some time reassuring Umberto that all would be good. We called the office and they wanted me to come right in as my first labor had been very quick. In we went. My water was continuing to leak, soaking through my pants. When we approached the nurses' station we were sent to a room where I changed into the night gown I had brought. First, the nurse fought me about the nightgown. It was going to be inconvenient she insisted. I refused to budge. Second, she refused to believe my water had broke because the test strip wasn't come up with a strong enough result. She accused me of peeing myself. I felt humiliated and angry.
After four hours of not progressing, they hooked me up on Pitocin. Pitocin artificially speeds up contractions. I asked them for some more time but they refused, offering me horror stories of what could happen to my baby. At this point, I was discouraged and tired. I had been up for awhile, and was not delivering as quickly as I expected. For five hours nothing happened. I insisted they take the fetal monitor off my belly so that I could rock. I wanted to move to try to make things happen, and from my own study knew that lying on my back was going to do nothing.
After the five hours, they upped the pic to the highest level. This is when I fell into my own personal hell. The contractions were nothing like the ones I had with Umberto. They fell one top of each other with no breaks. It was the most intense pain I had ever felt. I was curled up on my side wrapped around my stomach while the nurses were trying to insist I lay flat so they could put on the fetal monitor. I yelled at them to leave me a lone. H was rubbing my back, and trying to tell the nurses to leave me a lone. They gave up on the back position but started in immediately about the epidural. The nurse had a real bug up her ass about me being on the epidural. I wasn't yelling. I was moaning softly through the pain. H explained to them that I was afraid of a needle in my back. But they kept trying to talk me into it. They were trying to reason with a woman who could think of nothing but the horrible pain she was in. I didn't want to listen to them. I started swearing at that point, and the nurse scurried away.
She kept coming back though saying "It's just killing me seeing you in this much pain." I finally agree to take something. They gave me a drug, which did not take the pain but did allow me to sleep in the few seconds before contractions. H says I was snoring in those moments of sleep.
Finally my midwife showed up and made the nurses stop pestering me. She also deduced that I was ready to push. The nurses tried to roll me onto my back but I refused to move from my side. I think I told the nurse to get her fucking hands off me at one point. The midwife gently told them she could deliver the baby with me on my side. And I did. Three pushes later Camille was out. They whisked her away not even telling the gender which we hadn't found out before birth. H had to go over and ask them. Finally they gave me my little girl, and I was so doped up, I could barely enjoy my new baby.
What this birth showed me was that I had no choice in it. The nurses overrode all my decisions, and vetoed my say in nearly every decision in that birth. The fear they had for Camille came because of the pictocin they had given me not because something was wrong from the beginning. I had to fight when I was in an incredibly vulnerable position. My power was utterly taken away from me. There was absolutely no respect for my own knowledge of my body and what I knew my body could do. I ended up being a kind of hero in the maternity ward afterwards because I didn't have epidural while on pictocin. Nurses were coming in to see the woman who refused the epidural. I found that so sad that I was this famous just for denying something that freaked the hell out of me.
When I look at my other two births, it's astounding how little say I had in what was happening to my body with Camille. With both Umberto and Piper, the nurses and doctors listened to me and took what I said to heart. For example with Piper, I told the nurse I would start yelling for an epidural when I was ready to push. Sure enough when I was ready to push, I started calling for the epidural. When one nurse ran to get the anesthesiologist , the older nurse, said "Wait, let me check her." And I was ready to push. She remembered what I wanted and what I had told her. She had already apologized to me when she hooked me up to a monitor. And she let us play Glenn Gould during the delivery, dimmed the lights for us, and made sure H was comfortable. Umberto's doctor sat with me through 2 hours of pushing, and wet my perineum with wash clothes so I wouldn't have to be cut. These women empowered me to have the birth I desired rather than taking away all my power to get things done the way they thought things should be done. With Camille, the nurses saw me as a number not as a person.