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Unassisted Childbirth: One Woman’s Story

Posted May 14 2009 4:59pm

There has been a bit of controversy about unassisted childbirth after Janet Fraser, the birth activist who coined the term “ birth rape “, gave birth to a baby girl who died. Afterward, the was a lot of finger-pointing, some support and sorrow.

In my traversing this natural parenting bloggy world, I’ve been lucky enough to encounter a handful of amazing, brave women who have had incredible unassisted birth experiences.

I thought I’d share one with you. Introducing Sheryl, who writes at A Much Better Way, the bloggy site for her store. After enduring a bad, bad experience with a “ medwife “, she chose an unassisted birth for her second daughter. She was kind enough to enlighten me (and you, too, I hope!).

How did you learn about unassisted childbirth?

I often wondered about unassisted childbirth during my first pregnancy. If high school girls could deliver babies in bathroom stalls and women could deliver in their cars on the way to the hospital, why can’t we all?   I secretly wanted to just “have her” in my bedroom all alone because I was terrified of what would happen at the hospital. I did not consider a homebirth however,  because of sanitary concerns and the “what if something goes wrong” argument.  Like most other women, I believed I was doing the right thing for my child.

After my first daughter’s birth, I started nosing around on the internet because I was so unhappy with the entire birthing experience and I had a gut feeling that the birth could have been very different.  I found Laura Shanley’s website, and I cried out loud. I just sobbed.  I read every page of it.  In my head I was screaming, “I KNEW IT! I KNEW IT!”

You and I both use the term, “medical midwife”. Tell me about your first pregnancy and birth.

I was living in Spain with an abusive husband when I got pregnant with Brielle.  I had a very dramatic middle of the night escape with whatever I could carry and I managed to flee the country and return to the states.  My ex tracked me down and so I was forced to move across the country again when I was six months pregnant.  It was an incredibly stressful pregnancy.  While I did not expect special treatment by my caregivers, I never thought I would become a victim of a violent hospital birth because they all feigned sympathy for my situation during my pregnancy.

I chose a midwife because  I wanted a natural birth and I thought all midwives believed in women, birthing and keeping it natural.  I discovered that CNMs or Certified Nurse Midwives are simply another cog in the hospital birthing industry’s wheel and while they may have started out with good intentions, they are just as quick as any other birthing attendant to use dangerous interventions in the name of convenience and profit.

At 38 weeks, my labor was induced for what was either a pinhole leak of amniotic fluid or no leak at all .  In reviewing my hospital records, the midwife was never able to conclusively identify amniotic fluid because there was so little of it.  She had a free evening so using scare tactics that she could not substantiate, she began the induction.  It was torture times 100.  They kept cranking the Pitocin and I was begging them to stop increasing it.  I didn’t even ask them to turn it down or off, just stop increasing it so regularly.

At one point I told the nurse that I thought I was going to die and I really believed it.  I begged for an epidural but they did not want to wait for the anesthesiologist.  They just kept cranking it. The midwife stopped addressing me directly and had me get on all fours to “facilitate dilation” and began doing such rough pelvic exams that she practically knocked me off the bed.  I wondered through it all “Why are they doing this to me?” “Why does she hate me?”.   When my daughter’s heart rate dropped to 50 BPM from the oversized Pitocin contractions, she finally cut an episiotomy that I only agreed to because the midwife said my daughter’s life depended on it.

She also laid me out on my back in the stranded beetle position with a spotlight, did purple pushing and cut the cord within seconds of delivery.  All of these things were against my wishes which I had conveyed to the midwife verbally on more than one occasion and were laid out in my birthing plan (which was totally ignored).

I found out later that many doctors will not induce for PROM, particularly pinhole leaks which often self repair, that they will reduce or stop the Pitocin if the contractions are too much and that all of the other horrible things she did to me were 100% unnecessary.  I also learned that birth plans are routinely ignored.

I suffered flashbacks and revenge fantasies for years.  I have no doubt whatsoever that I suffered birthrape, birth trauma and post traumatic stress disorder as a result.

So your second pregnancy was both an “unassisted pregnancy” and “unassisted childbirth” or “freebirth”. What did you do during the pregnancy to ensure that your second baby was healthy?

A lot of women in the natural childbirth community believe in simply trusting pregnancy and birth.  I don’ t believe that.  Without a midwife to rely on, I spent an incredible amount of time learning about techniques and positions for common complications and most importantly, when to transfer.  That is what people pay a midwife for and I had to be prepared to act as my own midwife.  It is a tremendous responsibility and one I took very seriously.

I also read a lot.  I read Henci Goer, Ina May Gaskin, Jennifer Block, Marci Macari, Thomas Strong and watched The Business of Being Born.

My pregnancy  was not entirely unassisted.  I take a middle of the road position on unassisted pregnancy.  I believe that certain potentially dangerous conditions, such as placenta previa can be ruled out with prenatal testing so I chose to undergo an ultrasound to confirm a healthy pregnancy. I also wanted to have an OB on the books in the unlikely event that I needed to transfer to the hospital. I stopped seeing her after the 18 week ultrasound.  I did not have risk factors or symptoms of other common pregnancy conditions like gestational diabetes so I decided to skip testing .  I checked my blood pressure regularly and remained aware of other symptoms that could indicate a potential problem.

Most importantly, I ate a meticulous diet. I eliminated sugar and processed foods entirely.  I sought out organic, grass fed raw milk and made homemade yogurt.  I ate anything with probiotics.  I drank superfood smoothies with Vitamineral green, took whole food supplements, Omega 3, Vitamin C Ester, Alfalfa, Lecithin/Choline and other supplements.  I practiced yoga daily.  I kept my stress level low and enjoyed every second that I had alone with my first daughter.  It was a wonderful pregnancy.

Tell me about Bianca’s Birth day.

The day started out like any other.  I was 41 weeks and 4 days so others were starting to get very agitated thinking I should “do something” to start labor but I knew Bianca would arrive when she was good and ready.  I had absolutely no indication I was going into labor until about 2  in the afternoon when I had some bloody show.  Within an hour or so the contractions were so hard that I was on the floor.  My 3 yr old daughter Brielle and my parent’s dog were climbing all over me during contractions which was irritating at the time but I have to laugh at now.

I was kneeling on the floor for the last few hours of the labor.  The contractions were incredibly powerful so I ended up intentionally pushing during contractions because it felt so much better.  I could feel her moving down through my pelvis with each push.  It was amazing. Bianca was born in the caul so rather than feeling her crowning, I felt the amniotic sac instead of her head and then suddenly she was born all at once when the sac broke.  I was still wearing clothes because I did not want to labor in the nude with my mother in the room so there was a mad rush to extricate her from my clothes. She was born about 5 hours after the first indication that labor was starting.

While those are some of the specific incidents that took place, what I really remember about that day is that when Bianca was ready to be born, my body took over and did exactly what it needed to do.  I was participant, observer, caretaker, vessel and more.  It is very difficult to put the experience into words.

Tell me what surprised you most about your Unassisted Birth.

Many women who birth outside of a medically managed setting report having pain free and orgasmic birthing experiences.  They claim that fear is the source of tension and pain during childbirth.  I can honestly say that I had no fear going into the birth.  I had educated myself to the point that I knew I had nothing to fear. I was very much expecting a pain free if not ecstatic birth. Despite my lack of fear and my positive outlook, the contractions were still very painful.  I was knocked on the floor and could do nothing but vocalize.  The pain really took me by surprise.  It was still a very different pain than the Pitocin induced contractions.  It was manageable and the second she was born I was fine.  The Pitocin contractions still haunt me.

The other thing that surprised me about the whole experience was how transformational it was. Marcie Macari likes to compare childbirth to fire walking or other life changing experiences.  I think my mind was still on the “clinical” side of birth when I read that.  I did not understand what she meant.  Now that I have experienced it, I can say that I am a different person.  My anger at the first birth is gone. I feel content, peaceful and euphoric.  I am no longer a victim of birth trauma, I am a survivor.

This is the spiritual side of birth that most women are robbed of.  I may have experienced some of that with a midwife assisted homebirth and none at all in a hospital setting.  I have always compared homebirth to making love and medically managed birth to a continuum ranging from arranged marriage sex to porn to rape.  I was not aware of how spot on that analogy was until I experienced the embodiment of love first hand.

Would you do it again?

In a minute.  It was the most incredible experience of my life. If I have the opportunity to give birth again I will probably choose a magnificent nature setting like a mountaintop, jungle or the ocean.

As a side note, what did you do with the placenta?

While I was pregnant, I had many ideas of what I wanted to do with the placenta. I considered placenta prints, encapsulation, placenta essence, burial or eating.  In the end I examined it carefully, took a few pictures, weighed it and then blended it with frozen berries, juice, superfood powder and a few other ingredients and poured it into thirty Dixie Cups and and froze it.  I had a placenta smoothie every day for a month.

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