Why UNattended Childbirth advocates scare me

In the summer of 1998, you may have thought I was a great candidate for a “natural” birth. Maybe even an unattended one, although maybe not out in the woods. I hate bugs.

I’d had two spontaneous vaginal deliveries, both of them at 42 weeks, of large babies– one 9lbs and the other one 8lbs 15oz.  I was 41 weeks along with a healthy pregnancy and 5 cm dilated, 80% effaced. My baby had “dropped” a month before, and each week my OB was frankly disbelieving that I hadn’t gone into labor yet. I was 24 years old. My blood pressure was perfect, I’d gained a moderate amount of weight, and I was active and kept busy chasing around my 5 year old and 3 year old daughters.

I opted, at 41 weeks, to be induced. My 3 year old daughter had recently been diagnosed with autism and I was frankly exhausted. She slept about 2 hours a night, which meant I only slept two hours a night, too. It was summer in Texas, and I felt like I was walking around with a bowling ball on my perineum. I was sure that I’d go into labor within another week, and I’d strenuously fought against being induced with my previous two post-dates pregnancies, but I was too tired to deal with another week. My doctor suggested simply breaking my water and letting my body figure out the rest. After all, I was so dilated already, it surely wouldn’t take long. My first labor had only taken eight hours and my second labor was over and done in only four.

So I went into the nice comfortable labor and delivery ward, very modern and cozy, and my doctor broke my water. And then I walked around the halls for an hour, hoping that my mild contractions would turn into something real. They petered out, however, and by 7am I wasn’t contracting at all. So they gave me a very small dose of Pitocin. Within an hour, they shut off the Pit because my body had remembered what it was supposed to do and I was in labor for real.

My labor was reasonably quick after that– 3 hours later I was ready to push. I pushed three times and the baby’s head emerged– just like my second daughter had done.

And then the baby’s shoulders got stuck.

There are moments of true terror in life– this was one of those moments. The doctor and the nurses leapt into action, hauling me into the positions to dislodge a shoulder dystocia, one of the nurses leaping up on my belly, the doctor manipulating the baby’s head this way and that. The atmosphere was suddenly deathly serious.

After a few minutes, probably no more than five or six, each of which seemed nightmarishly long, they finally wrestled my son out of his deadlock with my pelvis. They handed me my healthy, blessedly alive 9lb 5oz newborn son and sewed up a minor tear that only took two stitches to close. We went home the next day, happy and alive.

If I’d been at home, unattended, I can only imagine what would have happened. My son would likely have died. I’d have had a real possibility of death myself. There were no signs such as “turtling” of the baby’s head– he was so low in my pelvis that he was practically out already by the time it came to push. He wasn’t significantly larger than my other babies had been and was, in fact, a week “younger” than they’d been. I was able to get up and move around during labor, I didn’t just lay flat on my back. There was no warning that this was going to happen.

That’s why I get shivers down my spine when women say they want an unattended birth or a birth attended only by their spouse or mother or doula. You just don’t know. Intuition only takes you so far. And blind luck isn’t on your side . . . just play poker for a while and see.

Responsible midwives are a different story. Birthing centers are a different story. But the story of a woman giving birth alone in the freaking woods is a horror story in the making.

Don’t forget the hard-won advances we’ve made and the women who died from the lack of trained and educated assistance. There are still women dying in this world simply from the lack of proper medical care– either because there isn’t any in their region or they can’t afford it. How silly would it be to add to their numbers simply because one was convinced that “nature” knows best. Nature is red in tooth and claw, lest we forget.

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