Practice Becoming a Parent During the Birth Process
This past weekend I had the privilege of attending the toLabor (the Organization of Labor Assistants for Birth Options and Resources) Doula Training workshop at Ph Community House led by toLabor’s executive director, Thérèse Hak-Kuhn. It was 26 hours of intense and experiential learning, covering topics ranging from common interventions to scope of practice to positions for labor. We did all the things you’d expect from a doula training, and I believe the new doulas taking the workshop probably feel adequately ready (and maybe a bit terrified) to start attending births.
Although I am always excited to get a refresher course in labor progression or our miraculous anatomy, I was really inspired by the unique direction toLabor takes on advocacy and activism. And that’s what this post is about today.
You might be wondering: what is activism in birth? Isn’t birth just…birth? well, yes, birth is birth. We are mammals and we do carry instinctive knowledge within that allows us to birth our babies without ever having read a book or taken a childbirth education course. But does that mean that we will have all perfect labors with perfectly positioned babies that result in a perfect (and let’s throw in: painless) vaginal birth? Not so much. Coping with the pain of labor and getting baby in an optimal position are some of the many reasons we take the classes, read the books, and hire a doula.
But the primary reason we need this extra support today is the fact that most of us reading this post are not living in traditional villages, surrounded by community that fully trusts us to birth with ease and confidence. Most of us haven’t grown up supporting our mothers, aunts and neighbors giving birth to their babies at home and witnessing them breastfeed these babies into childhood.
Things have changed. And yes, sometimes for the better! Modern medicine has given us so many tools to use if by chance labor starts to veer off course. Inductions, epidurals, cesarean section–we have so many tools and interventions that can be lifesavers for both mother and baby when it’s medically necessary.
But that’s the thing. Medically necessary. Our concern in the birth world is that many of these interventions are used too often and are not medically necessary—they have become routinely necessary for care provider’s convenience. Many OBs are trained in one school of thought and can be slow to change their practice when new evidence becomes available. Typically, it takes about 16 years once a practice has been proven for it to actually be implemented by a health care provider. That’s a long time to be practicing non-evidence-based care, and a lot of parents and babies who bear the brunt.
But we do have options. There is almost always an alternative (or a number of alternatives!) you can try before going ahead with an intervention if the situation isn’t emergent. And despite the fearful culture surrounding it, birth is rarely emergent.
You also have rights. You have a right to refuse anything that affects your or baby’s body. Surprising, right? No one can force you to be induced, have an episiotomy, fast through labor, have surgery or lay flat on your back to push. This is why it’s critical to do your homework–take a childbirth education class, read lots, and hire a doula–so you can know the risks, benefits and options surrounding your choices.
Am I saying that you should go into your labor ready to fight? That you should refuse every intervention that’s offered to you because you were planning an unmedicated/natural birth? Omigosh, no. I am a huge fan of humanity and compassion in birth, and this includes our attitudes towards the birth team. Hospital staff and care providers absolutely deserve the same kindnesses that we expect for women and babies. Birth should never have to be a fight. And to be clear, as a doula, I will never tell you what you should and shouldn’t do. These are fully your decisions–and those that I hope you feel informed and prepared to make.
Yes, I know it can be totally overwhelming preparing for labor–that it seems like there’s an endless list of questions to ask our care-providers, foods to eat and avoid, interventions to be informed about, and alternatives to try in order to have a positive birth experience.
But let’s spin this around and look at it differently. All of this time, energy and effort you’re putting into the pregnancy and labor on the front end will definitely put you in a better place to have the birth experience you want. But the real work here is about more than how your birth ultimately turns out. The real work here is the practice of active decision-making for yourself and your child.
Birth is about bring babies into the world, but it’s also about bringing parents into the world. You will have to advocate for yourself and your baby from now until forever-and-ever-amen and it won’t be easy. It’s not easy to stand up to family members who think breastfeeding is inappropriate or lewd; it’s not easy to stand up to doctors who think your toddler’s tantrums are all your fault. But we know that “easy” isn’t what this is all about (or else, who would want to get pregnant in the first place?!).
By advocating for yourself and your baby during the birth process, you’re practicing becoming a parent. The crazy-hard-but-insanely-awesome-and-never-ending job of being a parent. What our world needs now is strong, confident parents who trust themselves, ask the tough questions, and don’t give a rat’s hairy behind about hurting a doctor’s feelings if either their or their child’s physical or emotional health is at risk.
You are capable. You have choices. You have rights. As Thérèse, our toLabor trainer, said this past weekend, “This is about life, it’s not just about birth. It’s about living life.”