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Gaining Control Over Childbirth?

Alexandra Grablewski

I was close to tears as I read Taffy Brodesser-Akner’s article, ”Who Controls Childbirth -- Expectant Moms or Doctors?” on MSNBC. The piece addresses her very traumatic first birth experience, which ended with a C-section, followed by a year of coping with post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, and anger. She is pregnant with her second child as she writes, and talks about her fear of another horrific experience, and her attempts to “take back” her first birth.

Although I escaped the PTSD and the severity of depression that Brodesser-Akner experienced, I, too, had a rather traumatic experience in the hospital during the birth of my son, Ben, as I alluded to in an earlier post about homebirth. Fortunately, I didn’t need a C-section in the end, but most everything else I had wanted as part of labor and delivery flew out the window.

I had hoped for a drug-free, relatively calm delivery (I had an OB I liked and a doula I loved: what could go wrong, right?). What I got instead was an epidural (by choice, after being tethered to a fetal monitor and not allowed to move from the bed – as per hospital policy, despite no medical need for anything beyond intermittent monitoring), Pitocin, fourth-degree tearing, an episiotomy that finally healed only after the birth of my second son (two years later), and loads of attitude from the nursing staff and residents in response to my desire to even try laboring without pain medication. I also felt completely ignored by my OB who spent just a handful of minutes with me during the day (not surprising, I know) and who gave me an episiotomy (which led to yet more tearing) despite my repeated pleas to avoid one.

And while I didn’t take for granted that I had had a healthy baby, I couldn’t escape the feeling that there was something missing; it wasn’t a good birth experience, I felt defeated by it. As much as I’d heard how empowering birthing could be, my experience had been exactly the opposite. A “good birth,” in my opinion, goes beyond having a healthy baby – it’s feeling respected and part of the process, regardless of where one delivers the baby. Some may say that that’s too much to ask for – a doctor’s job is just to give you a live, healthy baby at the end of it all. But I feel that there can and should be more to it than that, as isn’t one’s desire for a healthy baby a given?

To that end, when I was pregnant with my second son, Henry, I was determined to do more than just hope for a positive birth experience. For me, that meant steering clear of a hospital unless being there was medically necessary. And I do know how lucky I am that I had a healthy pregnancy and access to the kinds of information to help me make such a different experience possible. Ultimately, Henry was born at home with the help of two supportive and kind midwives and a doula who not only handed me a healthy little boy, but helped to heal a wound that ran far deeper than that episiotomy. I would never claim to have controlled childbirth, as Brodesser-Akner asks in the title of her article, but I felt like I at least got to participate fully this time around.

Moms and moms-to-be, what do you think? Should expectant moms have more of a say in how they deliver, or do doctors know best? Was your birth experience everything you hoped it would be?