Give in to the urge; it’s only natural.
This post brought to you by The Healthy Birth Blog Carnival. The topic is Lamaze International’s Healthy Birth Practice #5 (of 6): Avoid giving birth on your back, and follow your body’s urges to push. (By the way, I put a comma in there because the grammar was bothering me. I read it as “avoid giving birth on your back AND avoid following your body’s urge to push.” I could be wrong.)
I wasn’t supposed to go into labor with Animal and Mineral.
I wasn’t supposed to go into labor because I was only 34 weeks pregnant; I had never felt so much as a twinge of a braxton-hicks contraction, and my body didn’t seem ready to have two babies. Still, I was being induced (for, in my opinion, medically appropriate reasons) in two parts. I was only on part one (Cervidil) when something started to hurt.
I was surprised by that; Cervidil was not supposed to hurt. Part two (Pitocin) is what’s supposed to hurt. Cervidil just makes you ripe.
Even though I wasn’t supposed to be, I was in labor.
How did you know? I just knew. I’ve given birth to four children, and despite my most fervent wishes, I’ve never mistaken labor for something else. I’ve always experienced painful contractions as my cervix opened and my babies prepared for take-off, then I’ve always felt the urge to push.
With Animal and Mineral, I had epidural anesthesia as soon as the “is this supposed to hurt?” became “wow, this really hurts.” From that moment, I was flat on my back until they were born. (Luckily “until they were born” was about an hour after I got that needle into my back. And, if I’d known that — if I’d had any inkling that my body goes from 3cm to complete in less than an hour — which it would do for the next two labors — I never would have gotten that epidural.)
I remember it vividly, even though it’s been over seven years: my water broke with baby A (Mineral) and suddenly I was seized with an impossibly strong urge to push.
How did you know? I knew with even more urgency than before, when I’d known that I was in labor. Maybe labor wasn’t labor; maybe labor was the stomach flu, but this was pushing.
And the doctor, or nurse, or whoever was in the room, said “Don’t push!”
“Don’t push” ranks high on my list of “obnoxious things people say to pregnant women.” (It’s a long list, by the way.) It was like being thrown into the middle of the ocean and told not to swim. Or seeing “The Blair Witch Project” without screaming.
“Don’t push. Don’t push!”
I pushed. Actually, I always maintain that I, myself, did not willfully push. I didn’t have to. My body pushed for me, and Mineral was out. Soon after his birth, my water broke (spontaneously again, in a huge wave all over the doctors and nurses) with Animal, and my body pushed him out too. (That time, the doctors and nurses told me to push; when my water had broken his foot had slid out. He was a foot-first breech, he was nearly twice as big as Mineral, and he was born vaginally.)
For a million reasons, I was impressed with my body. But pushing was the most surprising part of the whole adventure. I could not believe that my body had done that for me — had given birth to two children, in fairly rapid succession — without any assistance from my brain. It was awesomely primal, that experience. It taught me that women are made to give birth vaginally. Even with an epidural, even with twins, even with a foot-first baby, even flat on my back — all those conditions that practically screamed for cesarean surgery — my body gave birth.
Years later, as a doula, I saw the opposite. My client pushed for over four hours, sweating and breaking blood vessels in her face and being told she couldn’t eat anything except ice chips.
At our postpartum appointment, she told me that not once in those four hours had she felt the urge to push. She’d never felt that her body had to push out this baby, the way I’d felt it with Mineral and then Animal (and years later, with The Informant and My Masterpiece). She’d pushed, and she’d gotten the baby out — thankfully, without any physical assistance — but she had never felt the urge.
While she wasn’t completely flat on her back, the fact that she’d been in a hospital bed probably didn’t aid her. The uterus is a muscle, which is how it can push a baby out without any assistance from a mom, but gravity helps.
While pregnant with The Informant — after Mineral and Animal, before seeing my client push for hours — I spent a lot of time on my left side, stretching my right leg. Can you picture that? I’d lay in bed on my left side, bringing my right knee up, and dream about her. I couldn’t wait give birth at a Birth Center, I couldn’t wait to meet her, I couldn’t wait to not be pregnant anymore, and be done with heartburn and hemorrhoids and skin tags and –
During her birth, when I felt the urge to push, I immediately went into that pregnancy position. The one I’d been inadvertently practicing for 9 months. Pushing her out was much more comfortable than with Animal and Mineral — nobody told me not to push her out. I didn’t have an epidural or the confines of a hospital bed. I had a Certified Nurse Midwife in a Birth Center, and then I had my first daughter.
By the time I had My Masterpiece, I’d perfected the art of pushing. She was born in our bedroom, in a birth pool. As soon as I felt that urge I squatted and caught her, and brought her to my chest. She was the fastest pushing phase; the entire labor didn’t last more than 90 minutes.
I do not feel completely disheartened when I see women pushing flat on her back, because I know women can do it. It’s not gravity friendly, it’s not mom- or baby-friendly — although according to Dr. Michel Odent it’s very doctor-friendly — and I’d never give birth that way by choice — but I know it can work.
I do, however, feel totally disheartened when I see a woman being forced to push out a baby that her body clearly isn’t ready or willing to push out. Particularly in a hospital that has a no-food-or-drink-while-in-labor policy, the mom who has been pushing for hours is likely to get dehydrated or malnourished — or even just plain defeated — and end up with an assisted delivery — or cesarean surgery. All because she wasn’t allowed to follow her body’s natural urges.
I believe that birth is natural. Giving birth in a position that feels right to you is natural. Following your body’s urges to push is natural. Flat on your back, being told what to do — or not do — is not natural. It’s not normal. In fact, I think it’s kind of crazy and weird.
Want to learn more about health pregnancy, birth, and beyond? Check out Amy Romano’s blog, Science and Sensibility.