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The One Kind of Birth Story That Really Makes Me Cringe

Everyone loves a birth story, but there's a certain variety I keep hearing that makes me kind of cringe. It goes a little something like this: "So I planned to have a natural birth, and I labored at the hospital for a while but then when I was seven centimeters dilated the nurse warned me that the pain was going to be really, really bad. She said, 'I know you want to have a natural birth and all, but I'm not sure why you want to have a natural birth,' so we talked about it and I ended up having an epidural. Then my labor stalled a bit and I had some Pitocin to get it moving. Anyway it all worked out and here's my baby!"

Sound familiar? Look, obviously every birth is a beautiful thing in a big-picture kind of way, and if a mom wants pain medication, that's totally her choice. That's a-okay. But doctors and nurses should not be the ones stepping in and scaring women into epidurals—or other interventions—when those women have explicitly stated that they hope and plan to avoid them. Especially when those women are in the throes of transition and need, above all else, a birth team to support and encourage their natural birth plans.

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Now, I know many mamas who've had successful natural births in hospital settings. But many of those women have made those natural births happen by sticking ardently to their guns in the face of resistance on the part doctors, nurses or other members of the hospital staff. (And let's face it – not all laboring moms, especially first-timers, feel empowered to stick to their guns when what they're really trying to focus on is having a baby.) One mom I know was pressured by the on-call doctor to have a C-section for no medical reason except that her birth was "taking too long." (Heard that one before, right?) The nurse told her on the DL that, in fact, she was progressing just fine and the doctor simply wanted to get home in time for dinner. The mom refused the surgery, walked around the room a bit and delivered a healthy baby the old-fashioned way within an hour.

Other moms I know have had the c-sections and then wondered later if they really were necessary or not. In fact, too many of these stories end with the C-section, or the Pitocin or the pain drugs or whatever. And while every one of these moms was overjoyed to meet her baby, this pushing of interventions still matters. It matters to them and it matters to us.

It matters because our birthing system is the most expensive in the world, and the American maternal death rates are twice what they were in 2000. There are differing opinions as to why American birth outcomes are so dismal, but it's a fact that interventions beget more interventions and interventions during labor and delivery increase risk. If a woman has stated that she wants to avoid interventions, medical teams should do everything within their power to honor those wishes.

And while every one of these moms was overjoyed to meet her baby, this pushing of interventions still matters. It matters to them and it matters to us.

A birth plan, while not set in stone, matters. Yes, the maxim "a healthy baby is what counts" is true—and birth plans sometimes need to be abandoned for that cause—but, generally speaking, natural births are planned the way they are with the baby's health foremost in a mama's mind. If interventions are used to save a life or avert an emergency, that's great; that's what they're for. But their overuse has far-reaching consequences that affect children and families long after they've been discharged from the hospital with an ostensibly clean bill of health.

As women research their options and make choices—whether they want to skip the epidural, whether they prefer not to have their baby bathed once he or she is born, whether they want to decline the standard antibiotics in the event of being Group B Strep positive but having had a pretty fast labor—many of these choices are made in the interests of their babies' health, specifically. Veering from a natural birth plan without medical necessity can undermine not only a mother's preferences but the purpose behind those preferences—her baby's health—as well.

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After having one unnecessarily high-intervention birth the first time around, I opted for a natural birth with my second son. I initially planned to do this in a hospital but it became increasingly obvious that I'd be working against a lot of push-back so I switched halfway through my pregnancy to a midwife's care, and had my baby at home, intervention-free. It was an exhilarating and yet very peaceful experience, and although my labor was super fast and intense (like, two hours total) I can say confidently that having a birth team that was as invested in my commitment to a natural birth as I was made all the difference in my belief in my own ability to do the thing at all. I can't really imagine how different the experience would have been had someone stopped me for a cautionary conversation about pain, and offered potential alternatives, at seven centimeters dilated.

On the upside, many hospitals are beginning to introduce midwife teams onto their staffs. I hope this trend will continue and will mean that moms who make plans for birthing naturally in hospitals will find themselves fully supported in doing so when having that support counts the most.

Did a doctor or nurse talk you out of your birth plan?

Image via Twenty20/chrissiec4kes

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