Tuesday, August 8, 2006

coming to terms with modern medicine, and my birth story

I’ve been thinking a lot about modern medicine lately. During the pregnancy I did so much reading about natural birth and midwifery that I became extremely distrustful of OB’s. I’ve been increasingly skeptical of America’s approach to healthcare, and having the baby has educated me even more. My online groups have been so valuable- before joining them I’d never heard of attached parenting, for example.

Many of the moms in the groups discuss delaying or foregoing vaccinations. Shane & I felt comfortable deciding to follow the APA recommendations, which I think put me in the minority in some of those groups, but that’s what works for us. So Molly had four shots yesterday. She handled the visit really well, but was fussy all yesterday evening. She’s back to her peachy self today, though.

My birth experience was a huge wake-up call after my determined preparation for a natural labor. We planned a waterbirth at the birth center, and the mention of pain medication was totally forbidden.

When my water broke and it was ew, green, I started to see my plan slipping away. When the midwife snuck us into the hospital to check it (planning if the meconium was thin to send us on to the birth center) and she told me I’d have to not only check into the hospital but also start a pitocin drip to hurry the baby out, I was crushed. I just could not get excited that the baby was coming so soon. I was terriefied, and all I could do was try, and fail, to reconcile my imagined birth with what was happening to me. (I didn’t want labor to “happen to me,” I wanted to be immersed in warm water having a strenuous but emotionally powerful initiation rite.) Then my cervix refused to budge. The scars from an operation on a birth defect (a wall dividing my vagina, cervix, and uterus into separate parts) made it too tough. The midwife told me she had to tear it open, and gently told me this was something she couldn’t recommend I do without pain medication.

Because she knew how serious I was about her not suggesting drugs, I understood that this was going to be extremely painful. I accepted a shot of nubain, and it stopped the contractions from strenthening, but she was able to progressively pull my cervix open, and when the medicine wore off and the contractions intensified things went well. I pushed for two hours, and at length the midwife told me she felt she needed to do a small episiotomy. She and the doula told me this was the first or second one she’d ever felt was necessary- the scar tissue wouldn’t stretch there either. It didn’t hurt, or I didn’t notice because the contractions were huge and had to deal with. Molly was born immediately after, and was wide, wide awake and healthy.

Then my placenta wouldn’t come out. The umbilical cord tore, and the midwife couldn’t get the placenta out after several really painful attempts. They had to call in the OB for the practice. He stormed in with a gruff, abrasive aura and after expressing shock that I didn’t have an epidural and grunting at me that this would hurt, he removed my placenta. I can’t express what this was like but it hurt so much I don’t know why I didn’t pass out. I wish I had. I bled a lot, but they decided I didn’t quite need a transfusion. (I wish they’d have just given me one, because I got so anemic my milk was severely delayed coming in, and I had to take Reglan to induce lactation. Molly had to have formula supplements for two weeks, and I’d rather have taken the relatively small risk of having the transfusion if I could have avoided giving her formula.) Afterwards the midwife said the scar tissue inside my uterus may have been rough and kept the placenta from detaching properly.

For the first few weeks after the birth, I was stunned and completely disappointed. I was exhausted and anemic and in a constant cycle of nursing, pumping, and bottle feeding trying to bring in my milk and keep the baby fed. It took a long time, but it dawned on me finally that it is a miraculous gift that I’m able to have Molly. If it weren’t for medical technology, I couldn’t have even made love to conceive a child. The fact that I had a very medicalized birth in a hospital and a traumatic experience afterwards was suddenly a very tiny price to pay for motherhood. I felt lucky to be alive in this era, when surgeons were able to give me a functional arm and fertile womb. I lost the disappointment and the pain, and I just felt overwhelming gratitude.

I’m just now finally able to examine my birth story and share it. As the weeks have become months, Molly has filled our time with so much sweetness and life. Every day she makes new memories that soften my experience and put it into perspective. I’m able to be proud that the midwife told me, “don’t let anyone tell you you didn’t have a natural labor,” and that when I was in active labor I was unmedicated. I can brag about Molly’s alertness and her Apgar scores (9 both times) and advise my friends that an epidural is totally unnecessary. I feel like a warrior woman to have been through it and still standing. I’m proud, so proud, to be breastfeeding exclusively. And I completely impressed my husband, who was incredible support and inspiration. I'm happy this is starting to recede into memory, and that time is bringing acceptance and thankfulness.

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