On Sunday I went to see the play "Birth," by Karen Brody. A coworker was making her acting debut in the play, and I wanted to support her.

"Birth" is comprised of eight birth stories, ranging from the beautiful and the amazing to the ludicrous and the enraging. One mother goes on about how much her body rocks, and another mother goes from the drugged birth model to natural home births, while another is pressured into having a C-section when there is nothing wrong with her and the baby, and still another is given an episiotomy (having her vagina cut to "accomodate" the baby's head) against her will. All of the stories are real stories, and the purpose of the play and the Be Bold organization is to show how hard it can be for low-risk, pregnant women to have positive birth experiences in a hospital or medical setting.

The play was very moving, and I actually found myself crying in a few places. While I don't plan on having children, I've been exposed to enough births to see that these eight stories are representative of a disturbingly large number of birth stories. Women are often treated like they couldn't possibly have any idea what is going on with their bodies when they are the ones carrying babies. Doctors, male and female alike, are way too likely to suggest medical intervention when none is needed. Women can be treated like pregnancy is an illness that they have to cure, instead of a baby needing to be born.

I am overwhelmingly pro-choice. This, for me, applies to the choice of whether to have a baby or not AND the choice of how to have the baby. While I've been a feminist pretty much as long as I could think about such things, I didn't think a whole lot about actual birth until my sister got pregnant at 18.

My sister was with her long-term boyfriend, and for all intents and purposes, they were married. They owned property together, cars, etc. And yet, whenever I was with my pregnant sister, she would get the sidelong glances from just about everyone who noted how young she was. They didn't know her story at all, but they judged nonetheless.

She pretty much listened to her doctor when it came to childbirth. She was young, a bit scared, and she wasn't terribly informed about her choices. She was due on December 18th, so I finished up my college finals early and came home. I have heard since that a lot of first-time moms can go way past their due dates with no labor - it's normal, and not dangerous. But I didn't know this at the time, and neither did my sister. She was induced 4 days later (medical intervention #1). She opted for the epidural, and so we got to see her puking up a bright green substance. We were all hanging out in her room, me, my mother, her boyfriend and some of his family. The nurse would come in and, without warning, throw my sister's covers back, exposing her to all of us - I didn't need to see that much of my sister.

After a time, we were told that the baby was being slammed into my sister's pelvis, and this could hurt him. An emergency C-section was performed, and the baby was born on December 23rd. Of course, now I wonder whether the C-section was necessary, or whether the doctors were worried about missing any Christmas activities. I know more than one woman who was scared into having major surgery performed on them.

For my sister's second child, she actually had an after-C-section vaginal birth. I wasn't present for this birth, but my mom was. And my sister later told me this horrifying tidbit - she had asked her doctor if she could have her tubes tied after the birth, because she only wanted two children. She was told no, because she was too young, and what if one of her children died? Wouldn't she want a back-up child? SERIOUSLY.

End of discussion, as far as the doctor was concerned.

Not long after her second child, my sister had a miscarriage. She was sad and cried. I told her that the human body will often reject a fetus if it's conceived too soon after a baby is born - I knew this, but was the first one to let my sister know. Apparently the doctors she saw didn't think this was important information, so they didn't bother telling her, leaving her wondering what she'd done wrong, to miscarry the baby.

For my sister's third child, with a different boyfriend (now her fiance - again, they're practically married already), she was told flat-out at the beginning of the pregnancy that she was not allowed to have the baby vaginally. Even though she'd had a vaginal birth after a C-section, the C-section meant that she could never have a vaginal birth again. She was pissed, but didn't argue too much.

When she went into labor and went to the hospital, she again asked for an epidural. The nurse who performed the epidural was new and obviously untrained, and stabbed my sister eight times in the back before hitting the right spot. My sister showed me the bruises, which lasted for weeks.

But at least my sister was finally able to have her tubes tied.

Now, again, I plan on having no children. I can't imagine what kind of rage bomb I'd turn into in the face of condescending doctors, being treated like cattle or like a bad dog instead of a human being, having my well-thought out choices ignored in favor of what's convenient for other people.

It happens more than you think.

There is a Birth Survey going on now. If you've given birth in the last three years, you can talk about your experiences, learn about local options, give feedback about doctors, hospitals, midwives, doulas, etc. That survey is here: The Birth Survey



Iowa Vegan said…
This makes me scared for my sister, who is having a baby in March. I know of other people who have been induced for no good reason and I don't really understand the purpose. Just let the damn baby come out when it's ready!
Literary Auntie said…
Yeah, and I heard that an induced pregnancy is more likely to need other interventions, like a C-section or an episiotomy.

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