Thursday, June 3, 2010

Unassisted Childbirth

So, recently I've become interested in something called unassisted birth. I've been interested in midwifery and natural childbirth for a little while now and one day came across a term called "UC" and I didn't know what it meant. So I googled it. It turns out "UC" stands for "Unassisted Childbirth" in the natural childbirth world and in my google search for what those letters stood for, I came across a website by Laura Shanley all about it (you can find it here). I found the website so fascinating that I've now read the entire thing in and out and am considering picking up a couple books on the subject.

The reasoning behind it says that women's bodies were designed to give birth and have been doing so for thousands of years without the intervention of doctors, midwives, drugs, etc. But since the early part of the 20th century, when doctors started becoming more frequent in communities and anesthesia was invented, pregnant women were being offered the luxury of a "pain free birth" if they would abandon the notion of giving birth with a "dirty" midwife and come into their "clean" hospitals. The women who agreed were definitely granted a pain free birth but they were also so sedated and drugged that they had no recollection of the birth itself, often waking up to a nurse handing them a baby they weren't even sure was theirs.

Then came the era where women were independent and able to make their own choices and decisions and they weren't going to settle for a painful, awful labour and delivery. They could have better! They could be pain free! It became so normal that in some hospitals in the 60's, women weren't even allowed to have a drug free labour and delivery. They weren't allowed to get up and walk around or do anything but lie in bed and wait to deliver their baby lying flat on their backs and when they would fight back about it, the doctor would give them an injection to sedate them because they were "crazy".

What people didn't know back then is that when a woman is giving birth, the hormone that's rushing through her system is oxytocin. It's the hormone responsible for bonding with your baby. Studies have been done with pregnant monkeys that show that when given an epidural, the monkey neglected and abandoned her newborn baby because she wasn't able to feel it being born, she wasn't able to benefit from oxytocin and thus didn't bond with her baby. In the wild, that baby would've died. Women are no different in the sense that we too are a breed of animal. Our bodies were designed to give birth without intervention.

Our society has created a fear surrounding pregnancy and birth and it's considered dangerous now to have a baby without drugs and doctors around you. The funny thing is, most of the complications involved in people's deliveries are caused by medical intervention in the first place. People are so grateful that their doctor was there to save the day when they weren't dilating quickly enough, or the baby's heart rate was dropping because it couldn't handle the mother's contractions. What they aren't being told is that labour and delivery do not accommodate other people's schedules (there should be no time limit on how long it takes you to deliver a baby, even if that means the doctor missing his golf game) and that the pitocin they were given to speed up their labour causes the uterus to have contractions that are much harder and closer together, therefore not giving the baby time to recover and causing his heart rate to drop. But don't worry! The doctor will be more than happy to jump in and give you a c-section! The most recent numbers from 2005-2006 indicate that 26% of babies born in Canada in a hospital were delivered via c-section (1 in 3 mothers will have a c-section in the US). Most of them were medically unnecessary. Now, don't get me wrong. I love doctors! I'm very grateful that we have doctors available to us 24/7 for anything from a migraine to a ruptured appendix but that's what they are good at. Medicine. They aren't supposed to be involved with pregnancy and labour and delivery because pregnancy, labour and delivery aren't medical procedures! They shouldn't be treated as such! I am aware that not every baby is born healthy and that not every mother delivers complication free. I know that there are times when medical professionals are required to intervene in order to save lives. I am 100%, totally on board with that but I think they jump in when they are not needed too often causing more harm than good.

There is no one helping our bodies to grow the baby from conception to delivery day, so why would we need help to deliver it? Our bodies are equipped with a birth response that delivers our babies from the womb with little help from ourselves. Our bodies know what they're doing! But there is something greater than the birth response called the fight/flight response and I think Dr. Grantly Dick-Read explains it perfectly:

"When a woman is in a state of fear, messages are sent to the body telling it there is a danger out there that must be fought or run away from. Blood and oxygen are instantly sent into the arms and legs enabling the frightened woman to fight the danger or run away. In order for this to happen, however, blood and oxygen must be drained from other organs which the body considers nonessential for fight or flight. This is why we turn white when we're afraid. The body assumes that our leg muscles need blood and oxygen more than our face does. Unfortunately, when it comes to fight or flight, the uterus is considered a nonessential organ. The uterus of a frightened woman in labor is literally white. Because it is deprived of "fuel" - blood and oxygen - it cannot function correctly, nor can waste products be properly carried away. Hence, the laboring woman experiences not only pain, but a multitude of problems."

The solution, he believed was twofold: not only do women need to stop being afraid but doctors need to stop interfering in the process. Labouring women do not need to be poked, prodded or drugged. Instead, they need to be calmly encouraged, or simply left alone so their bodies can work unhindered. Animals know this and that's why they seek seclusion when they're about to give birth. I thought this part of Laura Shanley's website so funny...and so true!:

"Purina's Handbook of Cat Care advises owners to pet the laboring cat
reassuringly and leave her on her own. She may stay in the box; on the other hand, don't be surprised if she doesn't. The best thing to do at this point is to do nothing. Keep quiet and do not attempt to help her - it's her problem. Mother nature usually takes over at this point and it is amazing to see how she goes about doing what comes naturally.

Unfortunately, this book is not on the required reading list in most medical schools! Doctors are taught to intervene in birth, and intervene they do."

Her website is about unassisted childbirth and therefore she encourages giving birth alone, without the help of a doctor or even a midwife. I can't say that I would feel completely comfortable giving birth completely alone, however I do understand and even agree that having a midwife present could hinder the birthing process. Perhaps it wouldn't if your midwife was someone you knew well and had a close relationship with, but more often than not, that is not the case. Usually your midwife is someone you meet for the first time when you find out you're expecting and then only see for a couple appointments throughout your pregnancy and once your baby is born you likely won't see her again. I think that having someone there who is essentially a stranger while trying to give birth could be really stressful on the pregnant woman causing her sense of fear to rise.

When my time comes to have another child, I've decided that I will definitely not be doing it in a hospital. I will be having my baby in the comfort of my home where I will be free to eat what I want, wear what I want, take a bath, take a shower, do whatever I want. I can't say that I will be doing it unassisted but I will be taking an unassisted type approach to it. I will not be checked every hour to see how dilated I am and I will not have my water broken. I plan to let my body tell me what I'm supposed to be doing and I trust that it will know exactly what to do even if I don't.

I feel bad when I think back to my first pregnancy. My baby was a footling breech and the midwives at the hospital looked at me like I had two heads when I mentioned having the baby naturally. It was standard procedure to have a c-section when your baby was heads up and I can remember going home and bawling my eyes out in the living room at the thought of having to have a c-section in that hospital. I know now that it would've been possible to have my baby naturally despite the fact that she was breech and I wish I had done my research back then so I could have made better decisions. I felt in a way like I had failed my daughter and done her a disservice. I'm hoping that any future babies I have will be born at home into my arms, the way I think it should be.

To end this post I thought I would share a video of an interview with Laura Shanley on Naked New York:

(I apologize, my blog template cuts the video off on the right side but you should still be able to watch it and see everything.)

If any of you reading this are interested in what I've said here, I would recommend going out and renting "The Business of Being Born". It's a documentary produced by Ricki Lake (I know, I also thought at first that it was going to be crap because of her association with it, but it was really well done and informative) about the history of childbirth and how it has come to be a business of sorts for North American hospitals. It does showcase births and how births are handled in the US rather than other countries but it was American made and still very interesting to watch because their customs aren't very different than ours.

One more thing I thought was interesting was an article I came across from the LA Times about maternal mortality rates rising in the US. Click here if you're interested in reading it. My favorite parts of the article were:

"Though the U.S. spends more per birth than any other nation, maternal mortality is higher here than in 40 other industrialized countries, including Croatia, Hungary and Macedonia, and is double that of Canada and much of Western Europe."

No kidding. Maybe that's because American hospitals are treating pregnancy like a medical procedure when it's not! They wouldn't have to spend so much money per birth if they left birthing mothers alone and stopped causing problems.


"Finally, a mistaken belief that childbirth is no more dangerous than having a tooth pulled may have led to complacency in a field often chosen by doctors and nurses because it is a happy medical specialty."

Childbirth IS no more dangerous than having a tooth pulled! These are the things people read and then we wonder why fear is instilled in our society concerning something so natural and normal as having a baby.