This article is originally written for Glam-O-Mamas Blog
Recently a member of Gentle Birth in the Philippines community posted a question asking if her birth could be still considered gentle even if she used an epidural anesthesia during labor and was feeling respected and supported in her choice to do so. This question is a great starting point for a discussion on the meaning of gentle birth and what needs to be considered if a mother chooses to have one.
If you look at birth practices there is a huge spectrum of possible experiences a mother can choose from ranging all way from unassisted births “in the wild” to midwife attended (water) home births to fully medicated births under a strict supervision of a medical team in the hospital. Aside from the location factor what matters is who else is there to support the mother and what kind of approach (and mood!) they bring into birth, as in all these settings birth can be potentially either the most exhilarating and empowering event in a mother’s life or it can turn out to be a manifestation of obstetric violence (yes, there is such a thing).
Research shows that 1 in 4 women are feeling haunted by their birth experience describing the event as traumatic. According to a 1995 study by dr. William Emerson, 95% of all births in the United States are considered traumatic, 50% rated as "moderate," and 45% as "severe" trauma. It affects all of us. The trend is very similar in the rest of the world, especially in the countries that derive inspiration from the US medical system.
It is rarely talked about but the childbirth trauma and the consequent lingering Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) even in its mildest form is a very common problem in cultures where birth is recognized as a potentially dangerous event. This caution may seem unwarranted if access to the state of the art medical care is available. But as it turns out that living in a high-tech society is no guarantee you won’t have a traumatic childbirth. When deliveries are difficult and medical staff disrespectful, negative memories of birth can cast a shadow over the postnatal period.
Getting back to the question of what makes a gentle birth and taking into account the perspective of the human rights of a birthing mother, the birth can be gentle when the mother’s rights are respected and her birth preferences are met by her birth attendants. Her birth plan may include the details on the kind of interventions she chooses to have (or not to have any at all!) and who she would like to have by her side as a support team.
However, this is not all. There is one major piece of life puzzle that revolves around birth and is crucially important to understand and consider for the sake of our next generations. Namely, that there is a direct correlation between the way we were born and the subconscious behavioral and emotional patterns in our adult lives. This is due to the mechanism called “limbic imprint”
The excerpt from the article by Elena Toletti-Vladimirova explains wonderfully this mechanism at work:
How to ensure a gentle birth for the child?
The answer to this is also very straightforward – not to mess up with the natural physiological process of birth. No medical intervention passes without consequences, especially when they are done routinely without a true indication. Birthing gently means to choose a birth practice that aligns to the maximum with what nature intended for the mother and child to go through in the birthing process reserving medical interventions to the cases when they are truly needed.
What points to consider when planning a gentle birth?
1. Get inspired. Read real life accounts of gentle birth stories and professional reflections written by the champions of natural birth. Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth is a long time favorite and on the top of the list of natural birth books. Also check out the titles by Sarah Buckley, Michel Odent, Pam England, Sheila Kitzinger and Carl Jones.
2. Refrain from watching mainstream media birth shows. Their portrayal of birth is highly inaccurate and honestly quite distressing. Usually a birth is presented as an emergency waiting to happen and birthing women are to be immediately rescued from their own bodies. This is absurd. It is high time to start changing this erroneous perception of female bodies!
3. Instead equip yourself with knowledge! Open up to new sources of information. Get access and watch films such as Orgasmic Birth, Birth as We Know It, The Business of Being Born and Microbirth The whole new world of pleasurable, ecstatic, sensual and joyful birthing will open up for you!
4. Know well the physiology of labour and birth. Study a menu of multiple procedures done in the hospitals and learn their pros and cons. Be empowered with facts, particularly on the cons! Taking a natural birth preparation class will take you there. Check out the childbirth preparation classes run by Birth Times and Birthing is a Blessing.
5. Find a care-provider that will listen to you and support your wishes. This is very important! A supportive care-provider is 90% of your success to have a natural and gentle birth, your body will do the rest. Ask your care-provider critical questions. Listen carefully. If you see any red flags, switch ASAP. It is never too late! It is your birth and you do not owe it to anyone except to yourself.
7. Have a birth plan and stick to it! A doula will help you to have your birth preferences respected.
8. Trust your body and refrain from medical interventions unless they are truly necessary. Go all way natural. No unnecessary ultrasounds, cervical exams, continuous fetal monitoring, epidural etc. One intervention leads to another once you start on that winding path. Having an epidural doubles the chance of having a C-section for labour dystocia.
9. If you are to have a surgical delivery via C-section for certain reasons or due to circumstances insist on the protocol that support a gentle Cesarean birth.
10. Have a firm plan for postnatal procedures. Ensure your baby is immediately placed on your chest skin to skin and stays there for an extended period of time. Exercise delayed cord clamping, ideally do not touch it for at least one hour. Consider doing a lotus or semi-lotus birth. By all means breastfeed your baby.
I hope this is helpful and will inspire you to envision and work towards a gentle birth that you deserve. To conclude I would like to once again go back to the word of wisdom, the most powerful birth mantra – “Peace begins at birth”. One peaceful gentle birth at a time creates a lifetime of peace.