A Time to Trust Your Body
“I remember trying to explain that we are not irresponsible parents and he wasn’t meant to be born in the car!” Kimberly wrote days after my sister-in-law and I had assisted her with the birth of her son in her truck on a street in Milwaukee, WI. Something about the confines of this birth had Kimberly wanting to explain herself. The questions she had regarding the birth of her third child wasn’t for me to answer or judge, yet she felt compelled to give me a reason. What I had witnessed was a strong, self-assured mother doing what mothers do, give birth. In my mind, she and her son were yet another example of how the magnificence of the body needs little assistance during the birthing process. Confirmation of what I had experienced with the births of our children.
For reasons I do not fully understand, birthing has become something to be managed. A medical condition that requires hospitalization. Something to be monitored. In my estimation, birthing has little to do with expertise in vaginal dilation, heart rate monitoring, suctioning post delivery, etc…, but rather, what your body can and will do when called upon to perform this innate mission. What every single woman — mother — is capable of. My husband and I had a goal: do as little as possible to disrupt the birth process. The persistence of medical interventions in the face of scientific evidence, which argues its relevance, may cause more harm than good and is not something we wanted to sign my body up for, or allow our children to experience. Our definition of homebirth did not include bringing the hospital home. It included: giving birth, in our home, with people present whom we loved and trusted. Conditions, which allowed the baby and me to be as free as possible. I often heard from others who have birthed babies or were planning to some day, say, “I would never do that! You and your husband must know what to do! I would be so scared!” My response to these people was “my education or philosophy of life does not affect my physiology, and I am made of the same material you are.” All I truly knew was my body knew what to do. It had been performing this process since the beginning of mankind with millions of women and millions of successful births.
Birthing is like everything else that occurs in our bodies. It is regulated and coordinated by something far more intelligent than what any person has ever accomplished; a neurological, innate process. I knew that in order for my uterus to be able to contract and work in a coordinated rhythm, I needed to stay comfortable, relaxed, allow my parasympathetic nerve system to direct my body and not have anyone interrupt my body’s innate intentions. I knew that if I could trust my body to grow an actual human being without my help, I could also trust it to deliver it, on time, with odds of disaster next to none. I knew birthing was truly a natural health process, not a condition, and this was how I wanted to experience it. So that is what I did.
To prepare for our first home birth, my husband and I sought out a lay-midwife who did not convey a hidden desire to manage our birth. It was 1995 and finding a lay midwife was harder to do than we expected. The midwives we met in town worked with the hospitals and were not allowed to assist at a home birth. We interviewed several lay midwives who would have attended, but all seemed to tell stories of heroics and urgency. We were prepared for a healthy birth and were seeking a midwife who could assist a natural process. We preferred to have no ultrasound, no cervical checks, no forceps, pulley chains or vacuums; we preferred to let birth take its course primarily for the safety of baby and mom. From what we had read, the consensus was the more managing a birthing mother has, the more traumatic and dangerous the birth process is.
We spoke with our midwife about what we visualized; a hands off approach was our goal. One of the stipulations we made very clear with our midwife was we would let our babies come on their own, with no pulling of the neck, shoulder, or any other part of their body. We knew leaving the cord attached until it had completely stopped pulsing was vital to the baby receiving all the immune support it would need to thrive in this world. We also saw the importance of allowing baby to be on my chest immediately after exit, touching mother, hearing her heart beat. During the pregnancy, I was adjusted as needed, faithfully took my prenatal vitamins, ate a proper diet, exercised daily, and continued to see patients. Belly measurements and blood pressures were on target. Essentially my pregnancies were much like most reasonably healthy women, uneventful.
In the early morning of the day our first son was born, we called our midwife. Accustomed to first mother’s false alarms, she asked my husband to describe what I was doing. I had been having a few contractions, feeling confident this was going to be a snap! As he relayed the scene, my body suddenly began to shake and shudder. While conveying this in a relaxed manner, she informed him she was on her way. John and I walked up and down the block in the moonlight with a light rain falling. My senses seemed sharp. I could smell new fallen rain on the autumn leaves. The outline of the trees in the dark and the cool wind was observed with vividness that I had never before experienced. It felt as if we were the only two people on the planet. I was feeling very confident we had made the right choice; “this is cool, why don’t more women do this?” As it was, I had not yet entered the actual productive part of labor. I have read that nearly 40% of planned home births of first time moms transport to the hospital. I was about to experience what I believe to be one of the reasons why. To set the context, I had spent considerable time on the Internet and reading books describing personal birth stories, successful birthing in bliss. I had read about pain and did not expect to be overwhelmed, I read of relaxed mothers’ descriptions of pain during labor as if it was incidental. It seems there is a bit of a difference between reading about climbing a mountain and actually climbing said mountain. Every birth is like a fingerprint, entirely unique. The descriptions of the births assisted by Ina May Gaskin on the farm broke through many of the notions I held about birth. I read what I could about safe, easy, healthy outcomes. So it came as a little bit of a surprise to me when I learned with my first birth that no matter what kind of physical, mental, and spiritual preparation I had, escaping the pain was not my destiny. Nonetheless, based on the intensity I was absolutely positive there was something wrong. I was sure that everything I had learned up until now about pain was when it hurt there may be a problem. My midwife seemed, much to my dismay, far too calm for the circumstance from my perspective. She just stated calmly and firmly, “Judy you will get this baby out.” Two powerful contractions later, this time with active participation from me, he was out. The pain did pass; an infinitesimal moment in the big picture. I had experienced this, and would move through it next time. Pain was not cause for a complete change in direction. Our broad shouldered, eight pound four ounce baby boy entered the world four hours after our midwife arrived that early morning.
Two years later we were planning another home birth. I had considered a pool birth; the whole idea was so alluring. John asked me how a human being born underwater had anything to do with natural. “We aren’t dolphins,” he said. While the bathtub was very soothing with my first labor, there was a point I wanted to get out. On the night our second child was born, having no indications of impending labor, I decided to go for a swim with our first son, my sister, and niece. While swimming, small contractions began, and by 6:00 p.m. my sister said I needed to exit the pool. Apparently my nonchalant attitude did not impress her. When we arrived home she told John, “Call the midwife now if you want her here, either way you are having a baby tonight.” Our midwife arrived an hour after the call. There was no hesitation this time, I recognized the hurt, I knew it would pass, and I had been here before. My point of view changed my experience. The second time, everything seemed easier. Our second child was seven pounds eight ounces, gave two little grunt-like cries and wanted to nurse. Allowing the process to move forward without resistance worked much better. We cleared everyone out of the house and drifted off to sleep, plus one.
Our third pregnancy was different from the very beginning. With the two previous births, Braxton Hicks contractions, were subtle in comparison to these early and powerful blasts. They were coming a bit intense, and early. Our due date had been estimated at or around December 8th. For much of the previous month and a half I had rested to slow contractions in the late afternoons. I had never before been pregnant and caring for two very active children; our second was still nursing; I had plenty of reasons to explain away any internal concern. It was during our last visit with the midwife, a week before the birth, she could not hear a heartbeat. We were not using a Doppler to hear the heartbeat, and she asked if I had felt the baby move. I thought I had. When she left we knew something was not right. Long story short, I know there is a difference between knowing something and truly understanding. That night I delivered our third baby boy, at home, born still. He had a neural tube defect, hydrocephaly, which doomed him from his first trimester. He weighed a little over six pounds and was perfect in every other sense. At his visitation another home birthing mother suggested that I should have put the cause of baby Ian’s death in the obituary — I could be scaring other mothers away from home birth. Funny. I had never thought the purpose of our private family decision was to influence others. Death and life happen — no matter where you are. Sometimes babies just don’t make it. Our choice to home birth had little to do with wanting to control nature, or influence another family’s personal choice.
Our fourth baby was born in the spring, at home with a short labor lasting thirty-five minutes from start to baby. The boys were off swimming, John caught her, and she was perfect, seven pounds six ounces. Most of the time birthing is not all that complicated and there really isn’t much to write about.
Kimberly and her husband had been planning a home birth, but weeks earlier had decided a hospital birth would be safer due to a complicating condition, placenta previa. That afternoon she and her husband had left for the hospital, but were unable to arrive on time. My sister-in-law and I met them shortly after they pulled onto Lincoln Memorial Drive. Baby Lincoln would be born perfect and healthy. The story made national news; perhaps viewers considered how lovely this story was, beyond the ‘surprise’ value. Pregnancy, and birthing are well orchestrated through the coordination of this mysterious thing called life, wherever you birth.
Neurosurgery. 1980 Jan;6(1):39-44. Cunningham FG et al, “Dystocia Due to Pelvic Contraction”, Williams Obstetrics, Nineteenth Ed 1989 The Webster Technique: A chiropractic technique with obstetric implications. Journal of Manipulative and Physiological
John & Judy Soborowicz practice chiropractic and nutrition at Active Health and enjoy writing, researching and lecturing on topics concerning chiropractic, healthcare and experiences they have gained along the way.