I can’t say for sure what I expect the experience of pregnancy and childbirth to be like, but Iris Marion Young provided a compelling description in Pregnant Embodiment. Young writes that “the pregnant woman experiences herself as a source and participant in a creative process… she is this process, this change. … Each day, each week, she looks at herself for signs for transformation.” Young uses words of empowerment in this description, and this is what I hope to experience in pregnancy.
So what makes a good birth? Anne Drapkin Lyerly argues in “Shame, Gender, and Birth” that a good birth has elements of agency, dignity, and connectedness. While I agree with her analysis, I would add one more element that must be elevated when considering a good birth – a healthy baby and a healing, if not healthy, mother. Ultimately, I believe that this trumps the other elements. Of course, I hope to have agency in my birthing experience, but would I be willing to give up that agency in an emergency situation? Yes. However, I’m also very leery of fixating too much on the possibility of an emergency situation occurring. The mind and body are connected, maybe even more so in pregnancy. I believe in the power of the mind. Although I’m sure I’ll have fears about pregnancy, I do not want those fears to overcome my experience.
I expressed my interest in a natural birth with a midwife in class on Monday and it got me thinking about why I distrust the medical model so much. First of all, I think it could be related to my own birth on Dec. 30, 1986. I was an unplanned pregnancy, the fourth child to my schoolteacher parents, and doctors told them that my mother probably would not get pregnancy after their second child. I was in my mother’s womb for the 1986 Hands Across America project, in which both of my parents participated. What exactly took place at the hospital during my birth, I do not know, but I do know this – the doctor used a vacuum to suck my little body out of my mother, a procedure that my mother didn’t want. I always joke that the doctor did that because he didn’t want to work on the New Year’s holiday, but I say it with some suspicion that that might have been the case. And if there’s one thing I don’t want to experience during childbirth, it is the doctor deeming something “medically necessary” for his own convenience.
Yes, I said “his” convenience. Here is another big reason I am distrustful of obstetricians. My first OB was a nice enough older man. He did my first pap smears and my first colposcopy when one of my pap smears came back with abnormal cells. But I was never really comfortable with him. He’d ask me about college, trying to make small talk while he felt my breasts for lumps. That’s the only thing I remember ever talking to him about. I never asked questions then because I didn’t know what I was supposed to be asking. That doctor eventually closed his office and moved out of state, leaving me to find another OB. (And unaware of a condition that I should have known about.) But by that point, I had different insurance benefits, so I made my way to Planned Parenthood and fell into my next OB, another middle aged man. This time, I knew what questions to ask. I asked about all birth control methods. I asked about my abnormal pap and the steps I needed to take to avoid one in the future. But was I comfortable with my new doctor? Not especially.
After Planned Parenthood sent me to another doctor to have a colposcopy done, my insurance company informed me that none of it would be covered because I didn’t have permission from Ohio University to go to that doctor. I learned to pay more attention to my insurance plan, and last year, I went to Hudson Health Care for my annual exam, this time following the insurance company’s orders. Here, I had a female doctor for the first time, but she didn’t seem very interested in my medical history or in talking about what I wanted to talk about. She did the exam, wrote me a prescription for a birth control pill that she knew was being discontinued, and sent me on my way. I later went back to Planned Parenthood to get the birth control. I can’t say I ever intentionally chose my doctor myself. I went to the first doctor because my mother went there, but I always thought that having a female doctor would be a better fit for me. Now, I know it’s not just any female doctor. It’s the right doctor for me, someone I will have to find after my insurance company stops telling me who to see and when to see them. If I have a lack of agency when choosing my doctor, what would make me think that I would have agency in childbirth with that doctor (if that doctor was even on duty when I went into labor)?
I began researching midwifery last year and I think that’s the route for me. The midwifery model is based in part on connectedness. Midwives are expected to truly get to know the families they are working with. I want to spend time with the person who will help me delivery my baby. I want to get to know that person and be comfortable with her. My older sister recently decided that after she gets a two-year nursing degree, she wants to study midwifery. I was in the room when she had two out of three of her children. I didn’t see that experience as gross or scary, like our society wants us to see it. I saw it as a miracle, one of the most amazing experiences of my life. My sister didn’t have the “perfect” birthing experience, but it helped me understand what can happen during labor and after delivery, how doctors can take advantage of the mother instead of listening to her desires. At the very least, I will have a birth plan and contingency plans so I can remind my doctor who exactly is doing this delivery – not him/her, not technology, but me and my baby.