by: Kim Fulbright
My partner and I are about to have a baby any day- literally a baby that is in me, will come out of me! As two women in Southwest Ohio we expected to meet homophobia head-on when we decided to get pregnant but have been pleasantly surprised dealing with very little (although not lacking in heteronormativity). What we have met along the way is a HUGE reminder that the patriarchy is alive and kicking in the birth industry. Oddly enough, women are systematically stripped of their choices and power during pregnancy and birth. I have learned as a pro-choice feminist that women’s choices about their bodies are important not only when trying to prevent getting pregnant but also when pregnant. Being pregnant has clearly reminded me that politics, medicine and the healthcare industry are not safe for women. It has been an intensive 9+ months of trying to navigate pregnancy, labor, delivery and postpartum with little trust or support in the medical community.
Pop culture portrays birth as traumatic warnings to women that it is unmanageable and dangerous. Growing up with a mom who had two unmedicated vaginal births she talks about it as the hardest and most empowering thing she’s ever done. Her births were not talked about as some scary process or pain but again, empowering- difficult but life changing. I am someone who knew I wanted to have kids and in that assumption was that I would attempt a similar process when the time came to deliver my baby. I want this experience of productive and progressive pain as a transition into an enormous new relationship to the world.
The birth industry has changed a lot in the last 30 years since my mom gave birth. It hasn’t been easy to find support for how I want to give birth. Anyone who has watched the documentary “The Business of Being Born” (produced by Ricki Lake) can attest to the increased hospital births attended by obstetricians (OBs), cascades of unnecessary medical interventions, number of c-sections (elected and non-elected) and lack of healthy safe birth options with no greater positive outcome. I’m not going to get into the details of all the possible interventions and risks and benefits or reasons that they may or may not need to occur- there are plenty of books, blogs, films and experts to turn to if you’re interested- I simply want to express I’m angry that as a low-risk pregnancy I have to be on the defensive of trying to avoid these. Trying to medicate, treat as passive vessels and literally remove women’s agency from the birth process is counterintuitive to having healthy babies and moms. Fundamental to the process of birth is trust- trust in oneself (mentally, physically and emotionally) and trust in the relationships in the birth team.
Birth can occur in three places, the hospital, a birth center or at home. For us the closest birth center is over an hour away which seemed too far. I thought about the possibility of a homebirth for months but in Ohio it is illegalish to have a homebirth so you have to find underground midwives and I couldn’t stand the idea that we would be spending thousands of dollars instead of my health insurance covering the cost of a hospital birth (after we had already spent thousands of dollars getting pregnant). The practice and art of midwifery is as old as humans having babies- considering it’s traditionally a women’s trade by forcing them out of the birthing culture it is another way to disempower women and women’s knowledge in our society. Hesitantly we decided that for our first birth a hospital would work, even though it frightens me to think my birth will be in a place where people go to be treated for illness and disease.
The first OB practice we were patients of was unsupportive and reactionary when we mentioned wanting to have an unmedicated vaginal birth. Their response was skeptical and pessimistic at best immediately asking if I was someone who was a “mind over body” type person and reassuring me that there is nothing wrong with getting an epidural because “it doesn’t hurt you or the baby.” While this statement may or may not be true, as a doctor in an “expert” role in that moment it seems it might been more helpful to help create an environment where this is going to be respected and supported and not going straight to the option of drugs. If you cannot helpful yourself and are going to talk about pharmaceutical pain relief, in my opinion, it is irresponsible to discuss the benefits but not the risks and realities. (They also told us that they don’t like their patients getting on the internet).
We broke-up with those doctors and interviewed a different practice in the area. One that had been mentioned by different women we knew as really the only supportive place for women to have unmedicated vaginal, empowering births. There are only two OBs in the practice so we feel like we are building true relationships and trust. At this practice we immediately felt supported in our decisions and they held similar philosophies on many procedures and interventions.
Other courses of action to prepare that have felt good have been to take a 12-week birth class. These two-and-half hour long classes helped us prepare with information, skills and tools for us to work together as a team and talk about issues that might arise along the way. We hired a doula so we would feel like we had an advocate who had been through the process many times before. Also, we wrote a birth plan with our preferred ways of handling different possibilities and shared with our doctors.
Of course there are legitimate cases of necessary medical interventions, c-sections and these are choices that women deserve to make as educated patients during their delivery- not used as scare tactics or as a way to make women feel less than. It is simply about true choice and being educated on the risks and benefits of each intervention and possible outcomes that may lead to other interventions with their own risks and benefits. Without the ability to make an educated decision many times women reflect back and feel like they were robbed of their experience.
I know the kind of birth experience I want is based on who I am and not everyone will agree this but the way that many girls and women are taught about birth has had a profound effect on the way they plan (or don’t’ plan) their experience. Women need to hear and believe that women are strong and capable. Being told that we can’t do it, scaring us into procedures and doubting our ability isn’t healthy for parents and babies. We’ll see how our birth experience unfolds- what kind of adventure we are in for. One thing I know is that our birth plan is simply a template; there is no way to be completely prepared for what will happen. I do feel confident in that we have educated ourselves, worked hard during the pregnancy to stay low-risk and know that ultimately we’ll learn a hell of a lot about ourselves, the world and our new baby when this is all said and done.
Kim Fulbright lives in Cincinnati with her partner and her two crazy dogs. She loves being outside and eating avocados.