Be the Change (or “The Big Announcement”)

sorenbirth23I believe that birth works.

I believe that women’s bodies are designed to birth babies.

I also believe that the more meddling we do during pregnancy and birth can completely disrupt the function and design of birth.

As a doula, I’ve helped 75 babies arrive earthside. A few of those births were free of fear and free of unnecessary interventions (or meddling), but many had some sort of disturbance to the natural process. A few of those births did require medical intervention to save a mom or a baby, but most of the disruptions were driven by procedures, policies, or projected fear that – at the root of it all – are meant to merely mitigate liability and ensure profits for a medical business.

The common birth system – medical and hospital based – is failing women and their babies. The common procedures that 99% of pregnancies encounter place nearly insurmountable hurdles in a woman’s path. These create obstacles to breastfeeding, parenting and even confidence in our own bodies’ designs. And the numbers of deaths of both mothers and babies are INCREASING in our country – despite the fact that we spend the most money of any country in the world on pregnancy and birth care.

Many families don’t recognize the failures in our system. We’re so often told to turn over our wishes and our own research to the experts’ opinions and experience – and many parents feel more comfortable doing just that. But, often after a birth, I end up saying, “I’m so sorry” over and over – apologizing for what others did to a family because of an unnecessary policy or procedure. And, you know what? I’m tired and hurt. I’m tired of being a witness – a helpless bystander – to the effects of this system and I’m hurting right alongside the people I come to care deeply for as we prepare for their births.

“Today, our very survival depends on our ability to stay awake, to adjust to new ideas, to remain vigilant and to face the challenge of change.” – Martin Luther King, Jr.

The more I observe our current birth climate, the more I study physiological birth, and as I look back at the history of birth, the more I am convinced that what we accept as normal birth today is more flawed than we can fully identify. In less than one century, the delicate hormonal birth process has shifted from how women birthed for millennia. The fact that modern women can birth in a room full of strangers, under bright lights and flooded with chemicals shows how amazing our human resilience and adaptation is – but also shows are far our culture has shifted from what should be a sacred and divinely orchestrated time.

There are so many views on how to fix our current situation:
“Let’s make hospitals more supportive to ‘natural’ birth!” or “We need to do something to make sure women are treated like human beings during this process!” or “We should be advocating for access to any and all options for every woman during her pregnancy and birthing times!” or “Every woman should have a doula!” “More education! Let’s teach women how to ‘work the system!'” And on and on.

But, these “Band-aids” are not the answer. If we rip them off, we reveal the real problem: a huge disconnect between the desires of many women and the training of their care providers.

Most providers operate from a medical mindset (the body is a machine that we have to prevent from malfunctioning by doing “xyz”). This requires a lot of doing, testing, checking, monitoring, charting and graphing; which in turn leads to managing, controlling, and ultimately “saving” a woman and/or her baby during the birth experience. A provider who has been trained in this way is ill-equipped to support an normal, physiological birth: it goes against every fiber of their well-trained minds to sit by and watch a woman birth her baby.

And so, a woman who wants an undisturbed or natural birth is often stuck in our current culture. She wants support for normal and reassurance that she’s doing great, but she doesn’t want the fight that will inevitably come when she turns down a test, a procedure or a vaginal exam. And so, for the sake of the only support available, she agrees to the test she doesn’t want, the procedure that makes her anxiety spike or the vaginal exam that triggers deep-buried fears.

Why doesn’t she just say no? Because: A PREGNANT WOMAN HAS THE MOST VESTED INTEREST IN HER OWN BABY! If told something is “best” for our babies, we will do it; unless we know intuitively (and often through loads of alternative research), that there is a better way. Unfortunately, what we’re often told is “best” is merely tradition that hasn’t been tested or proven to provide better outcomes for women or their babies. And the “best” procedures are very typically quick & dirty replacements for true provider/woman relationships.

Deep down in my spirit, I’ve felt for years that there should be something more. There has to be something better for women and their babies than this conveyor belt of appointments, tests, inductions and procedures. Why should learn how to navigate and work a system that is failing us so enormously? Birth is a pivotal life event that women only experience (at most) a handful of times – and often only once or twice. It sets the stage for bonding with, connection to and nourishment for their babies that are essential to parenting and even for relating to each other as human beings.

So I have researched, prayed, and searched my heart. I continued to support women as they birthed – even if it was through tears or anger at the injustice of the circumstances they endured. Then, I found the courage to embrace a new (but ancient) way for myself. I birthed my third child at home and my world was blown apart. I’m still reeling from that experience two years later. God revealed things to me about myself, His design for birth and how the commonly used medical system has failed women, babies and families.

After that birth, I tried to resume my typical doula role but couldn’t shake the sadness. A friend of mine had told me, “Once you have a homebirth, it’ll ruin you for any other kind of birth,” and in a way, she was right. Not because homebirth is the best option for every woman today, but because I had a fully supportive pregnancy and birth team around me for that birth. They really trusted me, my decisions and loved me through every step of my journey. I had relationship with every person present when my baby emerged from my body and knew they all were there for me and my family in that sacred moment of growth.

Then, my last pregnancy was anything but typical. I dived deeper into what pregnancy and birth meant to me. I was my own care provider. I talked with friends (who are also experts in pregnancy and birth), listened to my body, searched the wisdom of God who created me and my baby, cried (a lot), prepared physically and mentally, and in the end, had the most surprising birth experience. I was taken aback by the power and intensity of the labor but, in hindsight, every detail and decision I made now makes sense. I felt very lost much of the time, but I now can clearly see God’s hand guiding me as I walked that incredibly unknown path.

Now I know, I can’t go back to the “old doula role.” My perspective has shifted to dramatically and offering women anything less than holistic, healthy, undisturbed, relational support is no longer my path.

Every woman deserves to be the expert in her own pregnancy and birth with trusted guidance along the way.

And so, my role in birth support will be shifting dramatically.

With as much time and effort as I can give, I will be heading down a controversial path.  As soon as I am able, I will begin my full immersion into traditional midwifery training. My goal is to reach a place in my education and experience where I can fully be “with women” through support, encouragement, nutrition and above all, relationship. This type of bond has a history spanning thousands of years and has been proven again and again to be the best way a woman enters this mysterious role of “motherhood” with assurance, courage and strong community connections.

Although I have my calling, the way continues to be filled with questions. Education, gaining experience, finding mentors, navigating legalities and still giving my family the best part of me all weigh heavy on my mind… but my hope is greater than that weight! I have peace in my spirit when I think of the possibilities available to women when (not if!) relational pregnancy and birth support become the norm in our area. And I know I can’t turn my back on the issue any longer. I’ve tried to step back, tried to do a little instead of a lot, and said, “never again!” but it is not time for me to be done!  The work is too great and too essential to the future of our families.

You may be concerned about my choice and I understand. But, if you know me at all, you know I’m a pretty serious, level-headed woman. I’ve never been described as “reckless, thrill-seeker, or risk-taker.” I never leap before I look and, believe me, this leap has taken years of looking over. But, my spirit says, the time is now.

I encourage you to look to the future with me!  Women are not made this way by accident – there’s a Supreme and divine fingerprint on our bodies and on birth that we’ve been blinded to for much too long. I pray we learn to trust our God-given design and begin to see the miracles that can and do happen when we trust our Creator’s plan.

I want us to find the place when birth is normal again, where women believe the birth process is supernaturally designed, where unbiased support for this amazing life event is commonplace, and where women trust their bodies and their babies again.

I hope you’ll come along with me –  it’s going to be an amazing ride!

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