Okay my blog heading may reference "our heroine" but that's just my nod to classic tales of adventure and discovery and growth, like Tom Jones. Because I'm a nerd, that's why.
But I had a funny experience at the hair salon last week... oh holy monkeys my kid knows when I'm trying to write, this or my novel, because she invariably awakes just when I get going... oh, okay, she nodded back off to sleep... phew! Anyway my mom was holding Tiny Face for me while I had my first hair cut since before that five month old was born! So everyone sees The Cutest Baby of All Time and Perhaps Even Longer and of course we're chatting about her as I get my shampoo and cut... and I don't offer the information but the question is asked and I answer honestly: I had a natural birth. No, not just not a cesarean section ("natural" is not a euphemism for vaginal!), no drugs. That's right, no epidural. Nope.
And it starts.
"Wow, NONE? You're hardcore! You're a hero!"
Hmm. This is a whole topic of debate, I know: What is a Hero? It came up after 9-11 of course, and we debate it and read arguments and the like in my ninth grade English class and even with my AP seniors when we read Beowulf (Oh yes, I teach English when I'm not on mommy leave; please don't judge me, because ) . Joseph Campbell and all that, and then firefighters and "my mom" or "Rosa Parks," and all that.
But when I consider my birth choices (and they were carefully researched and thought out choices, not simply going along with what I've seen on TV or what my first rather horrendous OB told me), being a hero didn't factor into it at all.
Okay now she is awake and I'll be back to explain what the heck I mean!
((((Okay, sorry! Tiny Face has had a bad cold and is just over it! Okay, where was I?...)))
Ah, yes! What DID factor into it was this: selfishness. Yup, I'm selfish. I read that epidurals affect the baby and can stay in her system for weeks, and can affect breastfeeding and more. I read that epidurals can slow down birthing and even stall it, leading to a C-section, and I read that the infant mortality rate triples with a C-section. I read that epidurals can cause a low fever and then you and the baby have to get IV antibiotics because it might be an infection, and again this could cause folks to start watching the clock and to push to towards a C-section. I read that epidurals have a surprisingly high rate of failing to work completely, and that you only get it when the anesthesiologist is available, and after several centimeters anyway, and they let it wear off for pushing, so you better have coping strategies ready anyway. I read that they also have a surprisingly high rate of causing complications for the mother, such as back pain, headaches, and so forth.
I read good things, too. I read that when birth is allowed to unfold naturally, without interventions that research show do not improve outcomes for mom or baby, and without watching of the clock and pressure to "make progress," and without doctors changing on you and nurses asking about pain and being tied to a bed and beeping machines... it tends not to stall. I read that if you remove the idea that birth is scary and painful in a damaging way that your body will remain relaxed and it will hurt less and move faster. I read that moving around into the positions that intuitively feel good will move things along, and help prevent tearing. I read that having a doula tends to reduce complications. I read that birth is not a medical event like being sick or injured, but something we women are beautifully designed to perform.
Well, I'm selfish. I don't want lasting complications from birth, or tearing. Ick. And I don't want my baby starting life pumped full of drugs. I don't want my baby placed in any more risk than comes with just entering and living life. $And, baby, I am SOLD on the idea of less pain!
So yeah, it wasn't heroics that led me to my natural birth. It was just reading the statistics on difference choices (and discovering, hey, they ARE choices, not mandates) and seeing which was less likely to hurt my baby and myself. It was a purely pragmatic issue.
Now, I can go all into how the actual experience ended up being revelatory and empowering and a major life event that I believe is essential to my being a woman... but while the salon is kind of hippie-slanted, the stylists there that day definitely were not, so I just stuck to the facts. And the facts are very straightforward here. Don't get me started on the USA's woeful infant mortality and mother mortality rates, or how no one seems to care that mothers are treated so shabbily... at my birth I was treated like a woman, not a patient or a womb/vagina/incubator, or as secondary to all the fancy machines at our disposal in this wonderful day and age, or to the potential lawsuits that also feature so importantly in doctors' decisions this day and age! But sticking just to the bald facts, my choice was clear. I'm all for women making the choice they feel is best for them (and I'm grateful we have medical resources available for true emergencies--but most births aren't and using them then can create complications rather than forestall them), but I feel that the information just can't be making it to all of them. And I'm an educator, so spreading information is sort of important to me. I know I was very grateful for the women who turned me on to the books and other resources that shared the facts with me.
Including my mom, because she's my hero!