Birth Story, Phase 1: Pregnancy
I’ve had many fears around modern medicine and its interventions: pap smears, IVs, needles, getting cut open, getting stitched up, strangers touching me, that’s just to name a few. However, the general idea of giving birth has always seemed natural to me. I’ve heard countless times from dear friends, “How are you going to have kids, Natalie?” and frankly, it has never worried me… but then again, I’ve never really envisioned myself pushing out a baby in a hospital setting. In my younger naïve mind, it was just going to happen, somewhere… somehow.
Then I found out I was pregnant in September 2020, so I had to woman-up and schedule my first prenatal appointment. Reality sunk in quickly as they flooded me through their orientation and handed me a pile of brochures about different testing and procedures. The only thought I had running through my head was, “How in the world did I get here?” Somehow I was sitting on a sterile hospital bed with my bare feet dangling and a humble gown covering my body in a room that was getting smaller by the second. I sensed an emerging of all my fears confronting me at once. The bottom line, being a woman is no joke.
Despite the inundation of birthing info, I could see that my OBGYN was a sweetheart. She didn’t roll her eyes when I expressed my long-standing fears, and she actually encouraged my ideas about wanting a natural birth. She wasn’t condescending when I dropped the no-no terms, “birth-center” and “home-birth.”
To no one’s surprise though, I canceled my second prenatal appointment, and it was around 5pm that same day that I received a voicemail from this sweet soul OBGYN saying, “I just want to wish you the very best in finding a midwife and giving birth. You will do terrific.” I mean, come on, if my emotions weren’t already running around the globe that day, her message sure took me over the edge with immense gratitude. I felt heard and seen by someone in the medical field, and I can honestly say that was the first time in my 30 years of life thus far. So yes, that debunked any idea that I may have been holding in my psyche that medical professionals really didn’t have the time to care about me as an intricate human being with preferences and fears.
I then dove head-first in my research to find the right midwife. I had a list of questions about their emotional competence, background, education level, and plan for action if any unexpected complications arose (one lovely resource that guided me through this process was the Birthful podcast.) I soon stumbled upon a birth center in San Luis Obispo, CA, near the hospital, and it turned out that my midwife was not an average Jane midwife; she was a doctor. She worked alongside a nurse-midwife/lactation consultant (who also practices in the hospital setting).
For those of you who are curious (if not, skip on over), there are four different types of midwives:
- Certified Nurse Midwife (CNM). These are nurses who also completed graduate-level work to become certified nurse-midwives. Generally, they practice in hospitals.
- Certified Midwife (CM). They are only available in select states on the East Coast. These midwives have a bachelor’s degree in something other than nursing; therefore, they are required to complete additional course work and meet the same standards and pass the same exam as a CNM. Essentially, they don’t have a background in nursing.
- Certified Professional Midwife (CPM). These were once called your traditional midwives. They are trained through an accredited midwifery school or through apprenticeship. They must pass a standardized examination and practicum.
- Traditional midwife: These are un-credentialed midwives who prefer to be outside the system. They generally only attend home births. This category of midwives is very uncommon in the U.S.
Trust me when I say I wasn’t looking for a hippie midwife that is anti-medicine. I simply wanted a balance between a natural birth and absolute necessary medical treatment. Therefore, I knew this birth center, and team of midwives were for me, my husband, and our baby-to-be.
Thankfully, my husband didn’t show any resistance to the birth center idea. I contribute this to him being raised in Africa, where out-of- the- hospital births are historically a norm, not a taboo.
I recently heard a story from my Ugandan friend that every now and again, she sees a woman riding on the back of a bike gripping onto her precious newborn baby just hours after giving birth. First of all, ouch! Can you imagine riding home on a bumpy, unpaved dirt road after giving birth? And second, what about all that stress we, Americans, put on using car seats?!? Ha-ha, nope, not a thing, not a concern, just do what you gotta do, mama. This visual put things back into perspective for me and reminded me of a woman’s innate strength and the daily grind women go through to provide, protect and nurture their loved ones. If a dear Ugandan woman can do that, I can surely do this.
Before it starts to sound like I am looking for some sort of recognition for choosing an alternative birth, I want to be very clear about my motivation for this approach… it is 100% driven by fear of modern medicine (sadly), not inner courage. I am willing to pay out of pocket expenses for a birth-center birth rather than a hospital birth covered by insurance JUST to continue feeding my unhealthy avoidant behavior. So yea, I am envious of women who are fearless of childbirth in the hospital setting. But since I’m on a different journey, I am thankful for everything I have learned so far to prepare my mind and body for this highly athletic and mentally challenging event of natural childbirth. The more I do my research, the more I find this route very empowering and full of benefits for both baby and me.
With all that being said, my midwives have not granted all of my wishes. In fact, they have pushed me to face many of my fears, but in the most loving, gentle, and understanding way. My primary midwife and I compromised on giving one blood draw at 30 weeks instead of three different blood draws throughout the pregnancy. And let me tell you, when 30 weeks arrived, there were literally blood, sweat, and (shamefully) tears. Still, I’m glad I did it under her care because I witnessed her level of emotional competence, and I grew one step closer to overcoming this out-of-proportion, silly fear of needles. And of course, the needle didn’t hurt (it never does, huh? it’s just the anticipation of it).
Anyway, this birth center approach has been a form of therapy for me. I am facing my fears with women who are willing to guide and push me to extents that they know I can handle. I also feel as if this upcoming childbirth is not some traumatic event that is happening to me, but instead, I am an active participant in it, and I’m choosing how things are about to go down (or at least I’m choosing my inner and outer environment). But above all, the greatest benefit for me, as an introvert, is that I’ve had 7 + months to warm up to the women who will be seeing me in my most vulnerable state. There will be no last-minute change of plans on the delivery day of meeting a new doctor. There won’t be anyone I have to catch up on my birth wishes. There won’t be anyone trying to persuade me into using unnecessary medical interventions, and there certainly won’t be any rush to have my baby before a shift change. My midwives signed up to be by my side for the entire process of labor and delivery.
But all in all, I am trying to keep my head in reality rather than fantasy land (my favorite Lauryn Hill quote, “See, fantasy is what people want, but reality is what they need.”) I know there’s always a chance that I could end up delivering in the hospital as this journey unfolds. Nevertheless, I am grateful for the opportunity to attempt a birth-center birth, to experience the strength of my body and mind, to be fully coherent during one of God’s greatest miracles, and to feel the spectrum of emotions and physical output as this little one inside of me meets the world for the very first time. At this point, I wouldn’t want to experience childbirth any other way. At least, that’s what I say now… I’ll keep you updated on the post-baby thoughts.