Birth: part two

NS September 29th, 2008

The next afternoon, with only one more hour’s sleep in me, I finally checked out of the hospital and went home with my baby girl. I was shell-shocked, sore, exhausted and overwhelmed. I couldn’t sit down so had to lay reclining on the sofa in the living room or tucked up in bed with a plethora of pillows underneath and around me. I tried to get a handle on breastfeeding but it was all going horribly. I fed TNC on demand, knowing that this would stimulate my milk, but it still took five days for it to come in. I’m convinced that this was due (at least in part) by the sleep deprivation and lack of food in hospital, the pethidine I had in labour and the overall stress I endured with the birth. By that point TNC had lost nearly a pound from her birth weight and I was being pressured to supplement with formula by one midwife in particular and the health visitor. One of them actually reached out and squeezed my breast before commenting “There’s not much in there, is there? You need to feed your baby.” I was told that if I didn’t supplement and get her weight up, my daughter would be classed as ‘failure to thrive’ and would need to be readmitted to the hospital. This absolutely terrified me and so I did as I was instructed. I went out and bought formula and started giving her an ounce or two after every breastfeeding session or even replacing a feed or two with a bottle of formula to give myself a break. What I didn’t know is that every time I skipped a feed I was setting myself up for failure as my supply decreased. I ended up on fenugreek, a homeopathic supplement meant to increase milk production and a bad case of mastitis.

It took a further few weeks before I wised up and did enough research (on kellymom.com) and got enough help (from a lovely lactation consultant at the National Childbirth Trust) that I trusted my body enough to know that it could nourish my daughter on its own if given the chance. I weaned TNC off the formula top-ups and by the time she was three months old she was off of them completely and back to receiving breast milk exclusively. She thrived beautifully and my confidence levels went through the roof. I realised that my body wasn’t broken, that I could and would feed my daughter myself, as I was meant to, and that the health visitors and midwives weren’t always right and didn’t always know what they were talking about. They might have meant well but in part because of their bad advice I didn’t enjoy the first several weeks of my child’s life. Instead, I was in agony most every day, from both the birth and the breastfeeding, and emotionally wrecked. I shoved these feelings aside, as most new mothers do, and got on with the business of raising a baby. By the time she was six months old I was happy again and we were both thriving. I was enjoying motherhood tremendously.

However, at around this time I began reflecting on the birth and how while it wasn’t terrible or traumatic per se, it certainly wasn’t ideal and was the beginning of a lot of the problems I encountered from there on out. I began researching the effects of pethidine and NHS birthing practices and stumbled across an online forum for mothers that encourages a more physiological approach to pregnancy, birth and baby care and promotes attachment parenting. I quickly realised that my mothering instincts drew me to this philosophy and that I was already living some of its core beliefs, such as breastfeeding, babywearing, co-sleeping and delayed vaccinations. I began questioning the current birthing industry and read a lot on the history of maternity care and midwifery. I was hooked.

There was so much that I hadn’t known, so many practices put into place for reasons that were anything but altruistic. Instead of what was best for mother and baby, it was often what was best for doctors and insurance companies. I was disgusted and fascinated at the same time. I began to learn what a female is capable of during childbirth (both physically and emotionally) and how that power has been squashed little by little over time by a male-dominated obstetric field and cultural limitations. I realised that I could question these practices and advocate for change while still respecting the medical advances that truly are advantageous and life-saving. So often in these arguments for and against natural birth, particularly births at home, the extremes come through and a line is drawn with one side saying “No interventions are ever necessary, never trust a doctor” and the other side saying “You are foolish not to have all of these interventions and are endangering your baby by not using all of them because birth is dangerous and you could DIE.” I realised I didn’t have to subscribe to such extreme views but could form my own somewhere in the middle ground, one that was truly about what was best for mothers and babies (particularly me and my babies) and not what was expected culturally or what was spouted as fact by medical institutions that focus only on overall statistics and not individual needs.

I began to write about birth and how it relates to modern feminism. I also began engaging in discussion with other feminists and mothers on this issue and (hopefully) highlighting for others why it is a valid feminist issue that needs attention. I now call myself a birth activist and try to put that activism into action at every chance I get, no matter how small. I decided to start with myself, by choosing to trust birth and put faith in my body. After months of thoughtful research and soul-searching, I knew that when I had another baby it would be a much different experience and that I would have a completely different outlook on the whole process. I decided that the best option for me would be to stay at home, where I would be more in control, more relaxed and less likely to succumb to interventions that scarred me physically and wounded me mentally. And so when a positive result appeared on the pregnancy test in mid-January, I joyfully began planning and preparing for my second child’s arrival, into his parents hands in his own home.

7 Responses to “Birth: part two”

  1. Charlotte says:

    Although I’m not a birth activist, my experiences and feelings post the birth of my first child were identical to yours. Despite everything I was reading and hearing, I was determined that full breast-feeding, co-sleeping and gentle parenting were for me. I was also more comfortable in the middle-ground between the two extremes.

    I am now dying to hear your son’s birth story!

  2. Chloe says:

    So sad that this story is so similar to so many other women’s stories. I can’t wait to hear how your son’s birth played out, and I hope you found some healing in it.

  3. joanna says:

    This is almost identical to my story – completely drugged, doctor-driven, instrument-aided 24 hours of labor. I was so naive! When I got pregnant again I read Spiritual Midwifery and I got real angry about my first experience. Against almost all the doctor’s wishes, my son was born naturally.

    As the last poster said, the commonality of (y)our story makes me so sad… thank you for advocating for real birth.

  4. Lyn says:

    I am sorry that we are an ocean away and I could not be there during TNC’s birth. Maybe it would have made a difference. Though I was somewhat frightened about you birthing at home this time I knew you would do your research. And I am very happy to have a beautiful grandson. I was lucky to have had a great old-fashioned doctor, the same one who delivered me, all those years ago who didn’t feel it necessary to do any more than the situation required. All three of you were born naturally in the hospital, and back then there was a nursery for the babies so the mothers could rest when needed, while nurses tended to the babies. I think this contributed to a quicker recovery, which was good since fathers back then didn’t have rights under FMLA to stay at home after the birth. I have to say I think you looked fabulous in your pictures right after TNS was born. And who else wear’s jewelry while giving birth?

  5. eieswideopen says:

    http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-6351515212287981735

    you need to check this out if you have any reservations on vaccines.

    every parent needs this info BEFORE they choose what to do for their child

    This video may stick some in the first 10 min, so, move the play bar to over ride this glitch

  6. NS says:

    Thank you, Charlotte and Chloe. The rest of the story is coming soon!

    Joanna: I’m sorry that you experienced a less-than-ideal birth the first time around too, but glad that you, like me, were able to have a positive experience the second time.

    Lyn: The necklace I was wearing was my ‘birth necklace’, made from beads sent by women in my due date club on the mothering website I belong to. We each sent one another a bead with a positive message and then made necklaces out of them as a sign of solidarity and strength and as a reminder that we are not alone in our birthing experiences. It’s pretty cool to think that billions of women have done it over the centuries and that it’s still the same basic process. That really blows my mind and makes me feel connected to something bigger than myself. Like I said before, I think it’s the closest to spirituality that I’ve gotten in quite awhile!

    Eieswideopen: I will watch the video you posted, thanks.

  7. [...] If you haven’t already, you may want to read part one and part two [...]