A Call to Labor

Meet my daughter – the big baby. The one that would surely clock in at over 10 lbs. She was called “fat,” “macrosomic” and “chubby” before she ever graced this world with her adorable presence. Unfortunately for the doctor, the big baby card didn’t fly with me, so I started getting told about cord prolapse, dystocia, and stillbirth until my confidence in my own instinct was worn down and I agreed to go in for induction, which resulted in two, yep two, inductions, and a repeat cesarean. I was told the cards were stacked against me, but the biggest card was losing my faith in myself.

Connected Daughter arrived after several bags of I.V. fluid and who knows how much pitocin, weighing 8 lbs, 11 oz on her due date. By the next day, her weight was down to 8 lbs 4 oz, which I believe would have been her birth weight (Henci Goer discusses how intravenous fluids artificially inflate birth weight.) So much for that big baby I was sure I could birth vaginally if I was just left well enough alone.

Despite education, my birth didn’t go as planned, and I will be the first to admit there were risk factors, but three months later there is one thing that haunts me. My decision to allow them to induce me. In that moment I gave over control. Something I regret. Control is something so many caregivers believe they need. Even caring, informed caregivers fall victim to this need for control. And the easiest way to ensure control over birth is to induce labor.

I’m still kicking myself for giving up control over what may be the most important aspect of birth – the start of labor. Because that decision instantly removed all hopes for normal birth. Normal birth cannot begin with induction.

I should pause for a moment and say that there is a place for induction. There are truly situations that develop that require this intervention, and I do believe women should try for that before electing for a cesarean. However, truly necessary inductions are about as rare as truly emergency c-sections. No one ever needed to be induced for a big baby, or discomfort, or getting too close to their due date.

We’re being sold on induction in this country by physicians who want to control the spontaneous process of birth. Take a moment and ask yourself how many times you remember hearing of a woman going into labor recently. Now how many times have you heard of a woman being induced?

The desire to induce isn’t part of some maniacal ill will toward women by doctors. I think that somewhere we’ve started to believe that women’s bodies have forgotten how to birth babies. Instead of laboring in birth, we’re laboring under the false assumption that fetal monitors, pitocin, I.V.s, hospital beds, and sterile rooms are necessary for birth. The reality is that doctors have forgotten how to attend birth. Many of them never even learned how. Because a birth attendant needs to know one thing: what normal birth looks like. When we were interviewing midwives, we met with CPM Anita Woods, former President of ICAN, and she said something that has always stuck with me. The FBI doesn’t learn how to spot counterfeit money by studying counterfeit money. They learn by studying the real thing. They can spot counterfeit money because they know, really know, what the real thing looks like. A good birth attendant works the same way. They are so well-versed in normal birth that they can spot a problem days, weeks, sometimes months in advance. By becoming so quick to induce, doctors no longer have that knowledge. Instead of treating birth as a normal, natural event, it’s a crisis from the get go. The most important thing we can do to change birth practice in America is to stop inducing pregnant women. We must get back to the normal process of childbirth. Doctors need to see normal birth and women need to experience it.

Recently I posted a piece on Coping with Birth Disappointment. It’s been by far the most read piece on my site. What a bittersweet accomplishment. I’m so glad I could offer encouragement to women struggling with birth disappointment, but so sad to see how many women it affects. In America, we so often treat the symptoms without curing the cause of a problem. I hope my thoughts on birth disappointment touched women dealing with it, but it is my duty as a birth advocate to take this issue a step further.

What I’m proposing is radical, because not only do I believe that we must stop inducing women, I believe me must stop patronizing physicians who actively use unnecessary interventions. It’s a simple economic principle. If you want to see results, hurt them in the pocketbook. Obstetricians need to realize that lip service to changing ideology is not enough and that we will hold them accountable for their decisions if we hope to teach them the patience necessary to stand back and observe birth. We have to get birth back to normal if they are ever going to learn what truly normal birth is, only then will they be able to differentiate between high-risk, emergency situations and the process of birth.

Now I realize this is all such a lovely, impractical idea. After all, am I asking you to fire your OB and hope everything goes a-okay? Not at all. I’m suggesting you find a provider who has seen normal birth, who has studied it, who attends and promotes it. Find a midwife. And if you’re an OB reading this, I’m asking that you consider how important this truly is. I’m asking for the humility in a profession of arrogance to recognize how you are failing your patients, and then I ask you to go find a midwife and do a real internship. Learn how to let birth happen.

Above all else, if you are expecting or trying to conceive, get to know your body. Listen to it. Nourish it. Marvel at its complexity. Revel in your cycles, your fluids, your twinges and feelings. Rediscover your own awesome, natural power. So that when the moment comes you know your body as well as an old friend whose sentences you finish, and you know the right decision, because truly you are the person most qualified then to make it.

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Jennifer Albin is a write-at-home mom to a precocious three year-old and a bubbly seven month old. She holds advanced degrees in Literature and Women’s Studies and spends most of her time advocating for natural parenting and cesarean awareness. She is the founder and editor of Connected Mom.

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6 Responses to A Call to Labor

  1. Maman A Droit  

    I unfortunately *had* to be induced and eventually have a c-section because of arbitrary deadlines set for how long after your water breaks a baby must be delivered. It was frustrating & disappointing, and I definitely think doctors take advantage of women at a super vulnerable time, when they’re exhausted and hungry/thirsty and in pain and worried about whether their baby will be okay.
    The really bad news is that there aren’t any good options for ob care around me. The office I used, who believes in “active” (interventionist) labor management is also the only supposedly VBAC friendly office. What should women do who don’t have a natural-friendly ob available?

  2. Jenn - Connected Mom  

    My answer would be to look for a midwife and consider homebirths. Check with the AABC and look for birth centers (http://www.birthcenters.org/find-a-birth-center/) in your area. And if you aren’t comfortable birthing at home or you want the hospital, then hire a doula to support you. And remember you can say no to your doctor. I wish I had.

  3. Semi-crunchy Mama  

    What a great post. I intend to share it with all my pregnant friends.

    I had an OB for my daughter’s birth and we started seeing her with my son as well. It was scary to switch care to a MW at 34weeks pregnant, but I really feel that switching allowed us to have a normal birth experience. No way would that OB have let me labor for as long as I did with a high leak in my water bag. I wish we would’ve listened to our hearts and switched much earlier, but it’s never too late!

  4. Juanita  

    I am so thankful that I never had an induced labor although I did find out after I had my now 4 year old daughter that they put pitocin in my IV drip which I didn’t know at the time. Military hospitals are great. I did however have an emergency C section with my last baby. After 5 babies my abdomen wall got very laxed and the was sideways. His shoulder and hand were in the cervix and they could of tried to move him up and position him but I took the hit in the health so that way he didn’t have to chance any kind of pain or injury. I think too many people feel c sections are the easy way out. They don’t have to endure the pain and what they don’t realize is how much faster you can get back to your daily life with a vaginal birth instead of a c section. I am so grateful for this post and more people speaking out about it.

  5. Lauren  

    I had an actual big baby (11 lbs, 13 oz), and for that reason I’m so glad I did go with a low-intervention midwifery team. I never had an ultrasound, so there was no inkling he was so large, which meant there wasn’t that pressure to start labor by a certain date. I’ll be going with a midwife again this time and hope for another gloriously big baby. ;) Thanks for sharing your story and your call to action.

  6. Envija

    I was told I’d have a 12lb baby if I didn’t induce labor 2 weeks before EDD. I was to be induced on July 3rd, but I said no way. My baby boy was born July 13th at 8lbs 9oz. No pitocin! I am so glad I never gave up control and trusted my body and my baby.

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