Monday, February 18, 2008

"Natural" Childbirth as a Necessity

I can only hope that epidurals, anesthesia and painkillers will be readily available to those who need them in the uncertain future. They have proved to be both a blessing and a curse to us in the last 40 years. But our current healthcare system is under strain even now, with the most available oil and energy - EVER - available to us. This surplus of energy has allowed us to pretend that we can all have our healthcare cake and eat it too. It has allowed us to ignore the hard choices that inevitably result whenever demand exceeds supply.

One group of people who might have to do without medication is women having a normal, healthy labor. Currently, a miniscule percentage of women in America deliver their children without medication.

What kind of energy is required to support the electronic nest that most women deliver their children into? Hospitals, fetal monitors, IV drips, anesthesia and C-sections all require energy to create and operate. On the other hand, childbirth itself requires very little besides loving support, an experienced caregiver and clean hands.

Contrary to popular superstition, natural childbirth is not just for natives or anti-drug hysterics. How do I know? I happen to be one of those few women in contemporary America who have delivered without medication. I'll share my story here not because I think that an unmedicated birth is always superior - I don't - but because if you plan to have children in 5 - 10 years you may want to think about preparing for natural childbirth. I am not superwoman, I don't have a high pain tolerance, and I am not an athlete. Fortunately, none of those things were required. What was required was planning, preparation and a supportive group of people - my husband, a doula, and my hospital-based midwife.

Proper planning included selecting a supportive caregiver. Obstetricians are surgeons by training and many of them prefer to deliver in the medical model - that means Pitocin, epidural, IV drip, fetal monitor, episiotomy and increasingly, a C-section. (I had none of these). So, if you plan to deliver naturally, you NEED someone who has experience delivering naturally. That means not choosing someone who will show up 5 minutes before the baby pops out. That means not selecting someone who insists on all the medical / liability / convenience procedures glossed over as safety measures.

Essentially my preparation can be summed up in three practices:

  1. Exercise (mostly walking 5 days a week)

  2. Stretching and yoga (including squatting and hands-and-knees practice)

  3. Relaxing - and I mean practicing EVERY day for the last 3 months

The key to pain relief during labor is NOT laying on your back. (I have heard waterbirthing is great as well. Doulas help, too.) And the key to not getting too tired is relaxation. If you scrunch your face, fists and all your muscles every time you have a contraction, you will get worn out pretty quick. If you don't, you will be more likely to have energy to get through the pushing phase.

I had a fairly normal, 12-hour labor and delivered without any medication. It was tough, and sometimes (heck, most of the last 3 hours) I wished I had some painkillers. I was exhausted by the end. But I did it. And I believe most women, if they wanted or needed to, were in fairly good shape and practiced relaxation, and had real, experienced support, could too.

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