Sunday, May 21, 2006

I think they're going to come by to revoke my "girl" card soon

I bought a pair of shoes this week. I think I buy shoes about twice a year, if that often. For the past few years I've been living in black Saucony walking shoes because of a persistent case of plantar fasciitis. They're not attractive, and they mean I don't often wear skirts or dresses, but they mean I can walk around in comfort and do my job.

So: new shoes. They're Merrells, and they're comfy and somewhat more attractive than black sneakers.

For me a shoe purchase is blogworthy because I buy shoes about once or twice a year, and am just baffled by the people -- usually women -- who spend a significant part of their disposable incomes on footwear. I don't get a lot of the stuff that women are supposed to be into. I'd rather have a canoe from the Mountain Equipment Co-Op than, say, a diamond ring.

I do wear makeup sometimes, but I don't feel like I can't leave the house without any. I shave my pits right now because I'm trying to stay active and my sense of smell is so heightened by the pregnancy that I was grossing myself out by the end of the day. But I still feel, often, that I'm, well, a bit of a freak.

At the fitness class last Wednesday, I found myself yet again the resident alien. Many of the women (there are about 20) were comparing notes about what products are best for numbing the skin before waxing. It didn't seem to occur to anyone that it was even possible to just go ahead and let the hair grow. It was just accepted that it's a woman's lot to submit herself to pain to meet a standard of beauty.

But when it comes to actually giving birth to all these babies, I seem to be the only one even considering a home birth with midwives. Midwifery is traditional women's wisdom, handed down over hundreds of years. It expresses faith in women's ability to handle a normal, low-risk birth without medical intervention instead of treating it as a terribly risky event that requires hospitalization and often surgery. It shows a respect for women, our ability to handle pain, and our ability to make informed choices that the obstetrical model of birth often just doesn't. It requires women to take a great deal of responsibility for their children well before they are born. And it's a way for women to connect with each other on the deepest of levels.

And yet those of us who want a natural birth in a familiar place are often considered almost criminally irresponsible. We are consciously rejecting the deepseated belief that the most advanced technology must be the best option available. Many people who hold this belief find challenges to it to be misguided and even threatening. (My aunt, married to a formerly practicing obstetrician and herself certified as a childbirth educator 20 years ago, has already started warning my mother about what an ill-informed, dangerous decision Mr. Krapsnart and I are making.) We're also considered a little crazy for being willing to open ourselves to pain in order to bring a baby into the world.

The conversation among the educated, motivated pregnant women at the fitness class invariably turns to doctors and hospitals and epidurals and episiotomies and caesarians (with, of course, the occasional foray toward Brazilian waxes. Pain for beauty's sake is, apparently, perfectly acceptable, but pain in childbirth is to be scrupulously avoided, even when the verdict is that 24 hours of labour are far, far preferable to 24 hours of waxing). Midwives and home birth are rarely mentioned, and when they are, they're afterthoughts.

If I speak up, I get Looks, and the occasional "Wow, you're brave." If I'm silent, I seethe.

I know I'm painting in very broad strokes here, and I know that I don't know the instructor (who, again, is fabulously well informed) or the women in my class well enough to do so yet. But so far (after three classes) I haven't found anyone else who's working with midwives, so I think I'm not completely wrong to consider myself an exception to the norm, both in the class and in the society at large.

My body and my baby are no different from those of most of my classmates; why are these women -- and so many others -- so convinced that birth isn't something they can do without needles and knives? And why do I feel so alienated for having faith in us?


Amber said...

You should meet my friend Celine. She's had six kids at home, and she's a caring, strong, fun and amazing woman. She's also only a year older than me, which is kind of scary.

You two are making a great decision. I can't wait to meet your baby!

Anonymous said...

I'm both against waxing and for epidurals. I see that as an entirely consistent position.

I'm all for choice of every kind, and I can more than understand how some obstetricians might be as obnoxious and limiting as any other doctor, but it seems another option (I mean, for some people) might be to find an obstetrician who uses all the modern-tech stuff...and listens. To necessarily go from "this doctor doesn't respect me" to "I'll go the pain route" seems, well, to be throwing the baby out with the bathwater, so to speak.

I mean, I'm talking out my arse, and I think anyone who wants to use a midwife should use a midwife, but I've actually heard that these days women who opt for painkillers are made to feel selfish. That's wrong.

And, not for nuffin', but as for the "girly" stuff, I remember a certain someone in high school even musing about being a model someday...

Emily said...

Heh. I think I've always known deep down that I'm too fat and short to be a model. And I probably mused in elementary school about being a princess. Musing about stuff 20+ years ago doesn't make me suck at it any less now, though.

I know there's a continuum between the most tech-worshipping obstetricians and the most low-tech "have your baby while meditating in an ashram" midwives. One of my best friends had a baby four years ago, and had done everything she could to avoid a c-section, but ended up having to have one anyway because her son was big and breech. She can't say enough about how kind the doctor was, and how much respect he showed for her birth plan.

I'm skeptical of elective epidurals because I've been reading a lot about them, and it seems that their use can lead to many other unnecessary and even dangerous interventions. Epidurals slow down labour and can interfere with the baby's heart rate, thereby prompting doctors to assume that the fetus is in distress and to act accordingly, with forceps, vacuum delivery, and even c-sections. They can also cause fevers in the mother, prompting doctors to use unneeded antibiotics for her and the baby just in case. Often they necessitate the use of a urinary catheter, which can cause a UTI, which is just what you want when you're sleep-deprived, freaking out about having a new baby in the house, and trying to get the kid to breastfeed.

I've been in mild labour once before, when I lost our first baby at nine weeks. It hurts like hell (and I didn't dilate to 10cm or have a baby squeeze out that time). If a woman wants painkillers, she shouldn't feel guilty about it; it's possible I'll be screaming for them in the fall. I don't know.

But being exposed to the midwifery model of care has made me feel very strongly that women should understand their options and make informed choices instead of just handing all the responsibility over to a doctor. It's well documented that a lot of what obstetricians do is not founded in evidence-based research, and women have a right to know what the risks and effects of medical intervention are.

Moxie said...

Hi. I've had two babies (both unmedicated, one at home) and yes, you will be screaming for an epidural at a certain point in the labor. But if you have attendants around you who've been there for enough unmedicated births they'll help you past it. If I do it again I know I'll go unmedicated (barring strange emergencies) and if at all possible at home.

The real problem with medicalization of birth, as I see it, is that it makes normal unmedicated birth abnormal. You have to fight not to have pain meds or to dare not to have an OB. And OBs are getting pressure to do a certain number of c-sections or else their malpractice insurance goes up. Insurance companies would rather have them doing sections "to be safe" (snort) than to allow women's bodies a little longer or a better position to push their babies out.

Good for you. I hope your homebirth is short and boring and not any more painful than normal.

Ji Hyang Sunim said...

Something else we have in common: with my haircut, clothing-- and, yes, Merrill sneakers which I buy once a year (a way of tending to plantar fascia)-- I am very little girly. In fact, I haven't worn makeup since the last time we were together at Wellesley :-)

Good luck with the delivery!

Anonymous said...

The resident Sister-To-Krapsnart is coming in late to this, but in all fairness to our Auntie, she and our uncle have seen their fair share of routine pregnancies, labors, and births go horribly wrong, in a heartbeat, so her fear is understandable. Which is not to say that everyone isn't wishing the happiest, healthiest, most routine pregnancy, labor, and birth to you. Trust me, there are countless fingers crossed, including many you will never know personally.

However, to those who have experienced the emergencies first hand, it's a scary prospect to know real emergency care is 10 minutes away, if it's needed.

That said, I have a terribly good feeling about this spawn, and I can't wait to be the Auntie myself. :-D

Emily said...

Hey you --

If it's at all reassuring, the midwives will bring with them 80% of the emergency equipment that a hospital would have, and they are trained and more than capable in its use. And I am seeing more and more documentation about the effects of obstetrical interference on normal labour: many of the emergencies are actually caused by medical intervention. I'll include references about this in my upcoming post on home birth.

Thanks for the comment and your concern; I know you'll be an excellent aunt. Love from here.