November 17, 2011

When You Can’t Have The Birth You Want

For many women, the birth of their baby is not unlike getting married. It is an experience that may have envisioned and planned in a certain way for quite a while. What happens when that vision cannot be met? It can create disappointment, envy and an overall unsettled feeling.

Recently one of my students, Lauren, confided in me that she was having a very difficult time digesting that her birth will not be able to go as she had originally hoped. Lauren had always wanted a natural birth, ideally at home or in a Birth Center. She explained that due to a serious pre-existing medical condition, her doctors thought it best that she use an epidural to assure that her blood pressure stays more controlled for the safety of herself and her baby.

Here is what Lauren had to say about her feelings:

PYC: Would you explain why you may not be able to have a natural birth?
Lauren:My reasons for why I may not be able to have a natural birth are probably very different from other women. However I always find it helpful to hear others’ stories so I am more than happy to share mine. Here’s the short version:

In 2007 I ruptured a brain aneurysm in yoga class (doing triangle pose!). Before that point I had no idea I had an aneurysm. I was rushed to the ER and had surgery to coil it. Although my brain is monitored every year and I live life with very few restrictions (no scuba diving or sky diving, oh well) I am considered high risk. I am monitored every 2-3 weeks throughout my pregnancy to check my blood pressure and the development of my baby. My baby and I are both healthy and doing wonderfully. The concern for me is that natural birth may pose a risk for my brain. My doctor does not want my blood pressure to elevate too high. The ramifications of high blood pressure could be causing another brain bleed. Although this seems like a common concern (about high blood pressure, not the brain bleed ;))the emotions that are connected to it are quite complicated.

I always dreamed of natural birth in a tub at home or at a birthing center. My sister is a licensed midwife and naturopath. There are the medical concerns but additionally there are the fears. I am so excited to be pregnant (it took quite awhile) and yet birthing has these fears of death attached to it now. Obviously, the aneurysm is the scariest thing I have ever and probably will ever experience. So I’m working through complicated emotions about the beauty of birth and my fears of what could happen. Our goal is to do natural birth, but in many ways it is outside of my power and hopes.

PYC: How do you feel when you read about childbirth in many of the books and website available?
Lauren: My constant dilemma in reading birth related books is that I feel a disconnect between their advice and what my options are and may become. The advice is empowering and insightful, yet it can cause me to feel anxious. Especially the parts about epidurals. When the books start talking about the possible negative outcomes of using epidurals, it can be frightening such as: epidurals can make the laboring process extended and the pushing more difficult and painful. The books often explain, even after accepting both of those negatives effects, the mother might have to have a c-section anyways. Then there are the concerns about the babies health in relation to epidurals. So much to think about….I’ve begun to skip those chapters.

My thinking is, this is out of my hands so what is the point of knowing. Ignorance is bliss and I never think that! I’m the kind of person that loves to read and learn about new things, but this is one area that I have decided doesn’t necessitate my exploration. I’m trying to accept that whatever happens will be decided based on my baby and my own health and well being.

PYC: Have you found any books/websites etc that support the use of medication?

Lauren: I have to be honest I haven’t really looked that hard for more books and websites. After a month of freaking out, I stopped reading. I’m just now starting to pick up the books again. I’m reading only the later chapters in Ina May Gaskin’s book. I decided to skip the amazing birthing stories that made me jealous. I also skipped the epidural and drugs section because it made me scared. However, I see the importance of this information for most women. They should know their options and be strong advocates for themselves.

One way to start to wrap your mind around having a birth that may differ from your original idea is to start to look at the risks versus the benefits of how you want to birth. As a Lamaze teacher, I often encourage my students to ask, “Is mother ok? Is baby ok? Can we have more time?” Well, this is not necessarily about time, per se. But it is about looking at the two most important people involved. If one or both of them are put in harms way, it is important to re-evaluate the situation. Looking at it from this angle, and understanding why you may need to deviate from your original birth plan may make it easier to come to terms with what you are facing, and perhaps make it easier to readjust the vision of what birth can look like.

Another of our students from the PYC community had this to say about her birth experience:

“As you may remember, I had to have a C-section, much against my wishes, because my baby was breech. We also found out, during delivery, that he had the cord around his neck so its a good thing we went with the C. Not to say the baby can’t come out vaginally with the cord around your neck – I was born at home with the cord around my neck – but I think with him being breech it was the safest thing. ANYWAY, what I want to say, and I invite you to share with your classes, is this:

In class you often talk about how you don’t know what labor and delivery are going to bring. And although I had a planned C-section, so much of what I prepared for still mattered. I used breathing techniques before and during the surgery to help me stay present, calm and in my body despite the spinal. I know, for a fact, this helped me feel more like the delivery was mine. I was so afraid that the C wouldn’t feel like I really *had* the baby, but because I was able to stay present and feel him coming out of me, I was able to connect with my delivery and still feel like I had a real labor experience.”

I also advise people that cannot (or did not) have their desired birth, to mourn the experience. Personally, I had a very difficult birth and while the outcome was ultimately what I wanted, a natural birth at home, the experience was very arduous and traumatic. I was often annoyed when people dismissed my pain of the experience and said, “At least you have a happy, healthy baby.” Of course having a healthy baby is a blessing, but having to accept that the birth I had was so far from what I thought it would be is still difficult. While the outcome is vitally important, the process of birth is lasting and deep for many women and needs to be honored and supported.

I would like to thank my two students for sharing their stories with the PYC community. I hope their insight may help another mother find solace in facing a birth that differs from her original vision.

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