This week Hipmama.com Radio features an interview with Ina May Gaskin, founding member of The Farm and mother of modern midwifery. The interview is fantastic and reminds us that the fundamental controversy of parenting happens before you meet the baby: where, and how, will you give birth?
Pregnancy and childbirth are natural, normal, and integral events in the lives of the majority of women, whether we choose to be mothers or not. Most of our bodies are inherently capable of creating life - often to our surprise.
Traditionally women have handled this privately or with the help of a small intimate community. For most of human history, babies have been delivered by midwives. The entry of surgeons and doctors into the realm of childbirth is a recent phenomenon, with defined risks and benefits.
Professionals working in all of the disciplines have wisdom to share, but women are often pressured by economics or their community to choose one method and reject the other, without much thought to the needs of the individual woman or baby.
My own choices were limited by serious health problems. Just before my first pregnancy I was diagnosed with systemic lupus, an auto-immune disorder that can cause significant complications for both mother and child. I was forced, very much against my will, to submit to intensive medical interventions. The result was a healthy baby delivered naturally - for which I still sincerely thank my doctors.
The second pregnancy was easier in the sense that my health remained stable. But my placenta, unfortunately, did not. I was on bedrest for nearly five months, the final five weeks of that time in a hospital. But these precautions did not avert disaster. My son was delivered by the miracle of emergency surgery, without sufficient anaesthesia. Premature, and sad, but alive. The alternative was death, for both of us.
My own experiences of highly medicalised pregnancy were without a doubt necessary and appropriate. They were also frightening, and expensive. Having babies is easy for some people, difficult for others - simplistic but true.
The larger point is that we can learn from all ways of giving birth. It is important to recognise that doctors save lives. It is equally important to acknowledge that most babies could be safely delivered at home.
The fact that I needed surgery never reduced my commitment to the natural childbirth movement. I remain convinced that caesarean section should be a choice of last resort, to prevent disaster, not as an option offered for the convenience of the parent or doctor. Yes, some women need more advanced care than a midwife can provide - but every woman can benefit from the core values of midwifery.
In my life there were a few lessons that I took from one world to the other:
-Even if you need medical intervention, remember that birth is natural.
-Babies are awesome small humans, and should be treated as such.
-It is critical to have an informed and supportive person to help you, whether that is a partner, friend, or doula.
-Giving birth is powerful, elemental, and deserving of huge respect. The people around you should act accordingly. Kick ass if required.
Above all else, trust yourself. You are the mother!