From Birth Trauma to Empowered Birth

Bloom Birth Photography

Bloom Birth Photography

A mother from England

After two normal births which I had, nonetheless, suffered all the standard interventions of conventional obstetrics, I was determined that my third delivery would be different. If all went well, I was prepared to find a midwife and insist on a home birth. But an ultrasound scan confirmed that the baby was breech at thirty-four weeks, and no one was confident that it would turn. The doctor at the local hospital suggested that a date be decided upon for me to be induced and said that an epidural and forceps would be used. If that didn’t work, I understood that cesareans were quite common for breech babies.

The old depression returned. I had desperately wanted this baby’s birth to be natural, and there was no choice of hospital other than the same one that had all the associations of the last confinement, when I had felt that the baby had been taken from me. On that occasion, as I was stitched, asked the doctor, “Why are we less efficient in childbirth than animals?” I already felt that the birth had been ruined for me, and I was troubled by the amount of “routine” intervention in what I had considered to be a normal physiological event. His response was “It’s an entirely different matter for animals.” He implied that women are not efficient in childbirth. I had seen this doctor at prenatal visits and he seemed to have understood my wishes for the birth. Despite this, he had managed my labor for his own convenience, and my nervous system felt shattered for months afterward. I had postpartum depression that I knew was not simply hormonal in origin. I felt cheated almost to the point of grieving. Yet now my hopes for a better experience seemed doomed. This was to be, to my mind, another “factory” baby.

I had heard about Pithiviers; I knew that women traveled there from other countries. However, I could hardly envisage it as a real possibility for me –I was by now thirty-seven weeks pregnant. Still, I rang Dr. Odent a few days later, when I had decided that I would regret it forever if I did not gather my strength and make an effort to go to Pithiviers. I asked if I could come. He said, “Why not?’ When I said that the baby was breech, he replied, “It makes no difference.” I immediately felt confident and energetic about the proposed journey.

My husband and I knew very well that time would be short if an emergency arose. Set against this risk was the inevitable recurrence of my depression; before we made the decision to go to Pithiviers, it had already started again. I knew that I could not relive the depression that I experienced after my last confinement and expect to function as a wife and mother to three young children. At my last prenatal check in England, I was nearly in despair as the nurse explained, with the aid of a doll, how breech babies are delivered. I heard myself protesting as never before in my three pregnancies. I said to my doctor, “If you send me to that hospital again, that will finish me.” The nurse made me feel ashamed, exclaiming, “If that baby could hear you talking!” I suddenly realized that I really had rejected “the system” for the first time in my life. I no longer cared who thought I was making a fuss. I had previously been so polite and helpful to all the medical personnel, and it had got me nowhere –even my own children had been born for me, and this was probably my last chance to take what life has to offer. I just had to take responsibility for myself for a change, and Pithiviers offered an alternative that attracted me. Even its distance from home appealed to me. I felt a certain animal longing to get away from it all, to have privacy from the people I knew and to find a special place to give birth. I had to get to Pithiviers before labor began. This baby was going to be mine and safely mine. I said to my doctor, “Things are changing, though, aren’t they?” “Yes” he replied, “but that is in a foreign country.” My husband informed him later that that was exactly where we were going.

Ironically this story occurred over 30 years ago, but could easily be a story from today. Printed in Dr. Michel Odent's book 'Birth Reborn: What childbirth should be', it really demonstrates how far obstetrics has failed to evolve in the last few decades. It also reinforces the fact that an empowered birth doesn't depend on whether or not a birth occurred "naturally". In fact, we do never hear the ending of this story in the book. Maybe this family did end up having a natural breech birth at Pithiviers Hospital. Maybe the baby turned in the last week of pregnancy and was born LOA. Or maybe the mother ended up with a caesarean after all. But none of these factors would determine whether or not they had an empowered birth. 

An empowered birth matters not so much on the physical process that occurs, but on the way a woman is made to feel during her labour and birth. Pithiviers gave this family the confidence to take responsibility for their birth and their baby. They were able to stand up for what they wanted. They felt they had choices. They were treated with respect. 

That is the basis for empowered birth. 

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