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Thursday, April 30, 2009

"stages" of labor

As I have been helping more women in labor, I have been formulating thoughts on stages of labor that have to do with how a woman emotionally deals with labor.  I think so often we focus on how far dilated someone is, that we forget to see how this experience is shaping a mom.  I see a lot of transformation happening at this time that could have the potentional to be very beneficial to the mom or very truamatic years down the road.  I will be posting these as I work through them and possibly revising them as I work with more women in birth.  I would love to hear anyone elses thoughts on this also.  


Christina said...

I read all the thoughts you have on labor and birth, but don't really have much to add. You've been blessed to have much more experience in this area than I do; I just have my own wonderful births to remember.

I do think that the experience of giving birth is a very vulnerable time for a woman. There are so many different voices and opinions on the matter and a woman can end up feeling like she's failed even when she's been given the greatest blessing: a healthy child. I think sometimes we build up the expectations so much for what a "perfect" situation should be that when something happens or a C-section is required, it's a source of sorrow and mourning instead of joy that a healthy, beautiful infant has been born.

I know a gal who tried for over 20 hours at a midwife clinic to have her perfect birth experience. Because of the baby's distress, they were rushed to the hospital and she had to have a C-section. She's very bitter about the whole thing, blaming the doctors and the medical community for interfering with what her perfect plans were. And yet, I look at her beautiful 2-year-old boy and I wish she could move past the bitterness and simply be grateful that his life was saved. A hundred years ago, women were not given so many options or interventions in childbirth. Many of them died, and many of their children did as well.

We wax nostalgic about the meaning of birth, forgetting that for centuries birth was literally walking through the valley of the shadow of death, and that the measure of a good birth was whether or not the two primary participants survived.

I guess while I see the problems with over-medicalizing what is such a sacred moment in a woman's life, I also see the reasons for doctors erring on the side of caution, requiring IVs, intervening when there is fetal distress, and the like. I'm grateful I've never had a C-section, but I'm also grateful that they are available with so little risk of difficult complications.

Rachel said...

Christina-thanks for your viewpoint on this. I'm glad you feel like you could express these thoughts. I will leave the debate for the overmedicalization of birth for other forums, as that's not really my purpose here. But I do agree that for many people, working through feelings of guilt, anger, frustration etc, is a part of birth.

I had to do this also, though for something much minor. Still I count that experience as being very enriching to my life and still view that birth as adding meaning to my life. If not more so, because I had to work through issues of forgiveness and have found strength and meaning in that.

I have seen some women who have had experiences like your friends, who then turn around and try and improve others birth experiences. They let go of their own bitterness and work to make sure others don't feel the same thing. That to me is a great example of using your birth experience to better yours and other people's lives.

I think this problem can also be seen in the non-natural birthing community. We all have expectations for birth that could be broken. There are those who get really mad because they can't be induced when they want to, or the epidural isn't' working.

Plans may have to change in labor, you may need a c-section, you may have to endure the pain of labor more than you wanted to. Frustrations may arise, but bitterness should never be a part of birth. To me that negates every thing that the experience of birth can bring to you as a mother.

So, yes I do think that definitely these are emotions that should be looked at and dealt with and perhaps be a part of how women are educated on birth.

If you want you can see where I blogged about my own forgiveness trials regarding birth. It's at:

Christina said...

You're absolutely right, Rachel, about the expectations and the disappointment going both ways. And you make a good point about learning and trying to help others through the vulnerable birth process.

I'm also really grateful you know as much as you do about natural childbirth because given my history, I'm pretty likely to give birth on the side of the road somewhere and I really could learn more about getting through the pain of it. And I'm glad to know that you're among the good nurses helping at the hospital.

At my last birth, the nurse assigned to us was rather cold and a bit rude. I was so disappointed and started to blame her for ruining my good experience, but then I said a prayer that I would be able to focus on the beautiful experience rather than on the nurse's coldness. She didn't change; she was still brusque and didn't listen to me (for example, when I told her I knew I was fully dilated and she said, "you can't be, I just checked you ten minutes ago and you were only a 4."), but it didn't bother me.

I realize, however, that a small thing like a crabby nurse is nothing compared to the disappointment of other complications during the birthing process, but it goes along with your "forgiveness" post.

Birth is a Journey: Does it have to be life changing?

  • One woman might have to climb on an overfilled boat, risking her life and nearly dying as she escapes over the ocean to come to this land. This experience could certainly be life altering. It may very well color the rest of her life, positively or negatively. (I overcame this amazing struggle and here I am triumphant! OR Holy crap, that was SO hard I don’t know if I can go on! By the way, neither response is “right”. No one would judge the woman with the 2nd response.)
  • One woman may buy an airplane ticket, sit on a comfortable 747 and fly to America with a nice smooth flight and landing. She is happy to be in America. Those welcoming her are glad she is here safe and sound. She may only travel by plane 2-4 times in her life, so it is pretty memorable. But the journey itself probably wouldn’t be life changing; it would simply be a journey.
  • One woman may learn to fly an ultra-light plane to lead a flock of geese into America teaching them to migrate. This experience could certainly be empowering and life altering.