I was honored to speak at the Birth Empowerment Dialogue (BED) Conference again this year and focused on a topic that has become even more important in Nebraska as our birth options continue to be limited by policies, procedures and fear. Read on to confront your perspectives about who is “in charge” of your birth.
“The moment you take responsibility for everything in your life is the moment you can change anything in your life.” Hal Elrod
We apply this reasoning to our health, our relationships and our education. But somehow, we’ve stopped short of applying it to our pregnancies and births.
How can we leave one of the most defining moments of our lives up to chance or strangers?
Is it possible to break through the current culture of hidden experiences, hushed stories and fear to take steps to own our pregnancy and birth decisions? How can we maintain our autonomy throughout our experience? After supporting dozens of births, witnessing multiple complications and countless variations, I’ve identified what I believe is the most defining quality to a satisfying birth and what brings power to your journey beyond the birth room. And that is simply: personal responsibility.
We have forgotten what our ancestors instinctively knew. There was no one to save them from their birth experiences. They alone were responsible. But, in today’s birth culture, we want our babies to be well and healthy and so we have been trained to trust experts outside of ourselves with the hoped-for outcome. But, we have forgotten our place. Our place of our own education, intuition and active participation as we welcome our babies into the world!
If you’re wondering how responsibility relates to birth, all you have to do is hear the definitions of the word:
- being the person who caused something to happen
- a duty or task that you are required or expected to do
- the ability to act independently and make decisions without authorization.
Using these definitions, I can point you to the path of owning your experience and claiming responsibility for your birth.
1. Responsibility in birth is being the person who caused something to happen.
When a woman educates herself and trusts that her body will work, the first and most important step is causing (or in this case) waiting for her body to cause the birth process to begin! We are each individuals with unique qualities – how can we say that all births must fall into a certain range on the calendar or especially by a certain date? It’s time to recognize the credit due your body and respect it enough to allow IT to decide when labor should begin.
If we remove the responsibility of beginning labor from ourselves, it must be transferred somewhere. When that happens, a care provider has to assume the responsibility for us with devices, medications and techniques. These tools are meant to mimic the mysterious labor process but the delicate dance of hormones, environment and mental state can never be duplicated.
The first step to holding our birth responsibility is watching and waiting. We must learn to navigate a “due month” instead of a due date. And embrace the time of unknown beginnings as an important part of our birth process. Can you trust that your body is smart – designed specifically for this amazing event? If you can, then you move on to the next level of birth responsibility:
2. Responsibility in birth is recognizing this as a duty or task that you are required or expected to do.
Now labor begins. The time of preparation is over. You learned all about the sights, smells and sounds of birth. You read the books and readied your mind and emotions for the experience. But, even with all this, no one can do this thing for you. It is YOUR time.
And this will be the hardest decision you make for your birth – to do the work and do it alone. Of course you can be supported and you can be encouraged, but if you want the responsibility, you must embrace all of it. The hard parts, the resting parts, the impossible parts and the joyful parts! If you dull even one of these pieces, you dull all the rest. If you numb the pain, the joy is lessened. If you only rest, you miss the rewards of the work. The process of labor exists for a reason! If you experience one part to its maximum, you experience them all to the full!
When your entire experience is sharp and clear – with all the highs and lows intact – you’ll learn something about yourself: that you’re strong, you’re powerful and probably intimidating. My husband, who had already known me throughout 15 years of dating and marriage, admitted he was more than a little scared of me after the birth of our first baby. And I understand, I was a little scared of myself!
And when we birth unhindered, raw and powerful, we have leaped the Tower of Impossibility. Impossible became possible! Difficult is do-able! Because now we’ve had an experience that overshadowed them all! “A baby should not come out of there! I knew I couldn’t do it but I did! Because I did that, I can do anything!”
Now we have entered the third level of responsibility…
3. Responsibility in birth is the ability to act independently and make decisions without authorization.
This is the most intense and probably the most sobering definition of all. Because, if you embrace this definition for yourself, you claim not only total authority over your birth but freedom from any expectations the mainstream culture tries to put on you. You sit very confidently in your ownership and now you are totally free. Sometimes this freedom is unfamiliar to us because we have never even considered it:
- freedom to decline routine prenatal testing?
- freedom to not undergo an ultrasound screening?
- freedom to birth a baby vaginally after a previous cesarean (or two, or three?)
- freedom to birth a baby in an “unusual” position (without stirrups or vagina spotlights?)
- freedom to birth at home?
- freedom to let your body decide the length of your pregnancy?
Some of these topics may have caused your internal alarm to sound (Danger! Danger!) We have been so conditioned over just the last century to accept only one version of a safe pregnancy and birth. But there are other ways – if we choose them. We can hold responsibility for our birth by individualizing our own experience with care providers we trust and who trust us.
How do I know this is possible? What authority do I have to talk about responsibility and freedom from a one-size-fits all system? Because I actually did it. I claimed my ownership and didn’t turn back. I wanted specific options for my birth and I knew that my status as a cesarean mom would hinder those options. So I began creating my own reality – from scratch. I embraced the trust that my body would cause labor to happen all on it’s own. I looked at the amazing task in front of me and held it firmly as MINE – I would do it, all of it. And I acted independently, all the while holding my own authority over my experience. Whatever happened, it was on me. It wasn’t easy, it wasn’t cheap, and it certainly wasn’t popular, but was it worth it?
Well, I’ll leave that for you to decide…