A Perspective On Hospital Birth For Healthy Women And Babies

During my first pregnancy, I chose to birth in a midwifery-led unit of a hospital. I wanted an unmedicated, physiological labour and birth. In my heart, I wanted a homebirth; my head, however, won out, doing a superior job of feeding my fears and convincing me I couldn’t do it. Not knowing what to expect, how my body would cope, and the ever-present question, what if something goes wrong?, all contributed to the choice to give birth in a place where I knew help would be at hand should it prove necessary.

As it turns out, though, labour is an extraordinarily powerful, transcendental process in which each and every one of us has the strength and innate wisdom to work through and with. Birth is empowering and beautiful, and fear is our worst enemy. We fear the unknown, but I implore you, you have nothing to fear; our bodies know what to do!

If you’re planning a hospital birth, I learned some things I want to share. In a nutshell, this it; when we give birth in a hospital, we need to be an active participant, to be educated and informed about interventions well before the birth, and also about how our bodies are likely to respond in early labour. Above all, to remember that we are in a ‘just in case’ environment, not a blanket necessary environment. We are not patients who need to be ‘fixed,’ we are strong, capable women who just need the professionals to blend into the background, and to step in only if we ask of them.

I would hope I don’t have to preface this by saying there is no doubt that hospital staff do some amazing work, it’s no secret that they have saved lives of both women and babies in true emergencies, but considering the vast volume of women who choose to give birth in a hospital, I question whether we leave our autonomy at the birthing suite door when we’re in labour. Are we seen by hospital staff as a powerful woman who knows what to do to bring her baby into her arms due to the magic of her physiology and connection with her intuition, or are we seen as a patient who at some point will need intervention, who will not progress if they don’t continue to monitor and examine her? I speak from my experience.

My membranes had ruptured, and contractions started quickly, and at 4 and a half minutes…hang on, we’re supposed to go the hospital once they regulate to 5 minutes!  I remember thinking this, but it was only a fleeting thought, as my body was already just taking over, doing what it needed to do. I anticipated that at this time I’d be feeling anxious, but I felt the opposite; calm and in control, and time seemed to slow right down as my focus turned within.

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Had I have known the contractions would stay at this interval for hours to come, had I have had more knowledge on how my body could respond at this time, and not just the ‘come to the hospital at 5 minutes’ guideline, I would have stayed at home until I felt I’d progressed far enough and then needed to transfer. Why would I have stayed at home longer? So I could connect with my instincts in my own space without interruption and intervention.

The Hospital Birth

photo credit: norfolkdistrict via photopin cc.
…the foreign environment; the birthing suite…

We arrived at the hospital, and were ushered into a birthing suite. I was instructed to lie down on the bed to have a fetal monitor strapped to me. Even at this early stage, everything in me was saying, get off the bed,  it was absolutely the last place I wanted to be, and I had to move! I had to walk and focus on my breathing.

Once it was determined I was in established labour, for a while, we were left alone; just my partner and I, and our soon to be daughter. It was so nice…it wasn’t to last long, though.

The hours to follow would see me surrounded by varying midwives, taking a fetal monitoring between every contraction as I breathed through and managed them in the warmth of the shower. During my last, potent contractions,  I knew that I was ready to start breathing my baby girl down, and my partner recognised it, too. I wanted to push, I was standing, and gravity was working with me beautifully. However, I had to instruct every single muscle fibre in my body to work against its instincts to start bringing my daughter into the world whilst I was told I could not even try to push until I was examined for full dilation.

Struggling from the shower to the bed, every ounce of my attention on not doing what my baby was screaming at me to do. The futile examination proving what I knew, now I was ‘allowed’ to push!

It’s perplexing and upsetting to me that a woman, having experienced back to back contractions, making it clear she is ready to do what her body and baby are telling her to do, can be dismissed as not knowing what is best for her.

This was my experience with hospital birth, and I wholeheartedly wish for it not to be yours. If you’re planning a hospital birth, have a strong advocate with you to reiterate your choices. Perhaps be aware of the fact that you and your birthing partner may be so ‘baby-drunk’ you may not notice or register interventions taking place (this happened to us). I believe this can happen purely due to hospital policies and protocol, or because it has become second-nature for hospital staff to misdiagnose the need for intervention, and this is understandable if they’re not accustomed to seeing women birth physiologically.

photo credit: Joopey via photopin cc
…time constraints…

Another fact to consider is that you have no control over how many other women will be birthing their babies at the same time as you. This places even stricter time constraints on you, and becomes unconducive to allowing the process as your body and baby dictate. This kind of stress can pave the way for ‘failure to progress.’ Do some research on what this means, what you can do to help yourself, and what is likely to be offered to you to augment labour. Have a look at this brilliant little video for a perspective on this term, ‘failure to progress.’

This piece is just another form of education, which is paramount during pregnancy. I wanted to bring to light what you could come up against when birthing within the hospital model; based on my experience, and those of many women speaking up all over the world. Exploring hospital birth in this way was also the motivation for Ricki Lake to create and executive-produce the acclaimed documentary, “The Business of Being Born,” watch the short trailer here. If you’d like to see more, “More Business of Being Born,” was released three years ago. You can watch that short trailer here.

My expectation preceding my first birth, was that I would have nothing to think about other than breathing my baby down the birth canal. I’d made my birth plan abundantly clear, thus, to my perceived knowledge, laid my foundations, and assumed this would be respected and followed. I was told I could birth in whichever position I wished during antenatal appointments, making sure I could be active in labour and birth in an upright position. Obviously, this did not happen.

The lack of respect shown to me, and disregard of my birth plan led me back to my heart – I planned a home water birth the second time around. I knew I could trust my body, baby and the process, and I knew that giving birth in my own space would give me the autonomy and calm my baby and I deserved. My birth was instinctive, intuitive and empowering in the most profound way, and it truly was my birth. 

The Homebirth

photo credit: HoboMama via photopin cc,
…a labouring woman in the comfort of her own space…

My beautiful midwife sat quietly in the corner of the lounge room, observing and trusting. Having established a relationship with her throughout my pregnancy, she knew me and she knew my baby. There was never a need for an internal examination, as she was attuned to my body’s responses, and in tune with her intuition. When it came time to breathe my baby down,  I asked her if she thought I was ready (I wasn’t convinced due to the lack of intensity in comparison to my first birth, though the contractions were again back to back). She softly reminded me that my body knew what what it was doing, and my daughter swam into the world gently, in a cocoon of joy and love.

Even though the midwives at hospital weren’t a display of the sisterhood I’d hoped to experience in the care of women, I know it’s not a representation for all hospital-based midwives. I know there are those who allow the process, who listen to the birthing woman, to her intuition and to their own intuition. The ones who truly work ‘with women,’ as is the meaning of the word, midwife. Working within a hospital as a midwife, present to countless women birthing their babies must be intense, I can understand that, but I question whether hospital protocol speaks for hospital staff, rather than the labouring woman.

You can have an empowered birth in hospital; just be prepared, educated, informed, and go to the hospital as an active participant. If you don’t feel that you’ll be able to voice what you really want,  I would strongly recommend hiring a doula. If you don’t choose birthing support, remind yourself, I’m only here, ‘just in case.’ Make it known that you know what you want, that you’ve already made some informed decisions. Perhaps if we do this up front, it can circumvent the process which leads to interventions, and affirm your stance. For instance, internal examinations are your choice, you have the right to refuse this. Nothing should happen to you unless you ask for it, or consent to it.

Trust Birth,Trust Yourself

…believe in yourself, believe in your ability…

Of course, if like me, Ricki Lake, and more and more women choosing homebirth across the world, if there is even the tiniest spark at the thought of homebirth, explore it and do your research. Replace fear with trust, and never doubt your ability to give birth. To quote the wise and truthful words of the extraordinary Ina May Gaskin, who has been referred to as, “the mother of authentic midwifery,” “We are the only species of mammal that can doubt its capacity to give birth.” Watch a thought-provoking and inspiring talk from her on reducing fear in childbirth here Look towards birth with confidence and excitement! This is your birth; birth belongs to birthing women and their babies…it always has.

In gratitude,

Alison

From The Womb To The World
www.wombtotheworldmusic.com

Thank you for reading my blog post! I welcome your thoughts on it. Share this with someone who may need some encouragement for their impending birth – we all deserve to feel confident and excited about birth!

Was your birthing experience empowering? I’m passionate about sharing positive and empowering birth stories to support pregnant woman; with the intention that hearing these stories affirms their ability and dispels fear.

To read these beautiful stories, or to learn how to submit your story (from any birth setting) to be published on our website, head to www.empoweringbirthstories.com

Thank you for your support!


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10 thoughts on “A Perspective On Hospital Birth For Healthy Women And Babies

  1. Thank you. This is beautifully inspiring for myself.
    I’m about to have my first baby in less than a month.
    I’ve chosen a birthing center with a beautiful team of midwives.

  2. Having birthed at home for the sixth time last February, I appreciate the tone of confidence your voice has in this article. Each birth was as different as the child being birthed and each of the five different midwives was wonderful in their trusting of my intuition. Fear really is the greatest disruption of the birth process- we have a beautiful life changing opportunity with each pregnancy – May we find our way with grace.

    • Thank you so much for feedback, Jessie, and for your support. I’m honoured by your perception of my article. Thank you for sharing the power of your birthing experiences and for reiterating the impediment fear has in the birthing process. Conversely, what intuition, openness and trust allow. Finding our way with grace is my hope, too!

      Gratitude to you,

      Alison

  3. Beautifully written!!! I was inspired to start a blog on birth as well when I had my own children, although I do not have the grace and elegance you show in your writing, haha. I would love to share a portion of this piece and link back for the rest of the story if thats ok with you? And I have alot of info & birth stories if you’d like to use then, just let me know! http://babybeborn.blogspot.com/

    • Hi Kellie!

      My sincerest apologies for the lateness of my response to you! Thank you so much for taking the time to leave me your feedback – it really made my day when I read it!

      It’s lovely to connect with a like-minded woman, and would like to talk with you further. I will send you an email.

      Warm regards,

      Alison xx

  4. I value your sharing. However I do not think all hospital births must be as you describe. I have had both home and hospital births. My last was born in hospital, Hubby and MW at my side. A single nurse joined us for the actual birth. No monitors, No IVs, No pressure, dim lights. A tub, birthing ball, and lovely warm blankets in the room. Everything as led by me. I was relaxed and joyous. Home within hours of the birth.

    • Hi momof3,

      Thank you for your comment.

      I agree with you, not all hospital births play out the way mine did, (as is obvious hearing of your lovely experience,) but many do, and this is what I was highlighting. I also made mention of the fact that the midwifery care I received was not a representation for all hospital-based midwives, but again, it seems to be accurate for many. Perhaps the more women like me speak up and point out the reasons that our birthing experiences became so disempowering, it’s possible that it will reach someone who can make a change to this. Also, as I mentioned, I feel that we need to go to the hospital and make it known that through informed decisions, we already know what we want. Yes, it’s possible that we could go to the hospital and have the supportive experience that you did, but it’s not likely with the volume of women who choose to give birth in hospital and with the policies and protocol which must be adhered to by staff. It’s about being aware of what we ‘could’ come up against and being prepared for it, and all the more wonderful if we’re prepared for it but never have to focus on anything other than our bodies and babies!

      Best regards,

      Alison

  5. Thanks for this and your compassion toward all women and their choices! My only concern is the sentence: “If you don’t feel that you’ll be able to voice what you really want, I would strongly recommend hiring a doula.” Even with the support of a doula, a laboring woman will still have to find her voice and use it. Giving a doula power over your birth choices is no different than giving your doctors or nurses power over your birth choices. A doula who is acting ethically should not be speaking *for* a client, nor should the medical staff be allowing the doula that power. Only a woman can speak for herself and her needs.

    • Hi Jocelyn,

      Thank YOU for your support and feedback.

      With regard to your concern with my comment, if you re-read the the sentences preceding that one, it should become a bit clearer about what I meant. “You can have an empowered birth in hospital; just be prepared, educated, informed, and go to the hospital as an active participant. If you don’t feel that you’ll be able to voice what you really want, I would strongly recommend hiring a doula.” So I’ve pointed out that you need to be an active participant as a birthing woman, but as the doula would be her support, she would encourage the woman to find her courage and use her voice, and the birthing woman may feel stronger in her doula’s presence – perhaps I should have made this clearer, and apologies if it gave the impression that the doula could exert power.

      Best regards,

      Alison

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