Joining me is Michelle, a pregnant mother of 4 who has experience with natural birth, home birth, and loss. She brings a unique perspective to the concept of what is “qualified” care.
You can read more about Michelle and her story over at My Journey to Healing Birth. But now, here was our exchange.
Elizabeth: What role do you feel your faith or philosophies, religious or otherwise, played in the grieving and acceptance of your loss?
Michelle: For me my religion played a huge role in my grieving process as well as accepting it. I am a Muslim convert (meaning that I was not brought up as a Muslim). Prior to getting pregnant that time I ran across a story of the Prophet Muhammad that says:
“By the One in Whose hand is my soul, truly the miscarried child will certainly drag its mother with its umbilical cord to Paradise, provided one expects recompense [for sabr (patience)].”
One of the fundamentals of faith in my religion is acceptance of the decree of the Creator. This means accepting the good and the bad because He is the one who controls what happens to us all. If I were to take the route of being angry at what happened it would equate to me being angry that my Lord allowed it to happen.
I also recently ran across a different story of the Prophet which states:
The Messenger of Allah (sal Allahu alaihi wa sallam) said: “When a person’s child dies, Allah the Most High asks His angels, ‘Have you taken out the life of the child of My slave?’* They reply in the affirmative. He then asks, ‘Have you taken the fruit of his heart?’ They reply in the affirmative. Thereupon he asks, ‘What has My slave said?’ They say: ‘He has praised You and said: Inna lillahi wa inna ilaihi raji’un (We belong to Allah and to Him we shall be returned).’ Allah says: ‘Build a house for My slave in Jannah (Paradise) and name it Bait-ul-Hamd (the House of Praise).’”
So yes my religion and my faith play a huge role in my acceptance and my ability to move forward from my loss. I see it as a blessing and as a mercy not as something worthy of anger.
And faith, in my opinion, is not knowing everything will always be good. It is knowing that no matter what happens everything will be ok.
Elizabeth: How do you feel this differs from others who have lashed out at you in relation to your own loss?
Michelle: I think that if you have reached a level of peace within yourself you will not find it necessary to tear down those that are at peace. I think in some ways they are still in pain over what happened to them. It could be their perspectives are different from mine. It could be that those around them have encouraged anger rather than forgiveness. I know from my own experience many in my family wanted me to be mad and if I was easily influenced by them I could have easily gone down that road instead.
Elizabeth: Do you feel these individuals are fit to help counsel others?
Michelle: I think it is always comforting to have people that can relate to you in terms of what it is like to lose your baby. So on one hand I think it is necessary. On the other hand there has to be a balance in that not every individual will grieve the same way. We are all different. If you take a person under your wing and try to push your own pain onto theirs as a means of making yourself feel better this isn’t healthy for either individual. Special care must be taken into account when you are dealing with emotions like grief. Especially when it is new.
Elizabeth: What impact do you feel an individual who has not fully healed themselves would have in connecting with and mentoring those just fresh in their grief?
Michelle: As I stated above I think this is something that has the potential to do more harm than good. Everyone is at different levels in grief, however one must try to be empathetic to others experiences and realize that theirs is their own and no two situations are equal. I think it’s good to have those who just say I understand and leave it at that. Spreading venom though based on their own loss is not healthy for anyone. I just ran across a quote today that pretty much sums it up: “Resentment is like drinking poison and hoping the other person dies.” — St. Augustine. Being mad about something you have no control over will not harm those you are mad at it will harm you the angry one.
Elizabeth: Discuss a little about what happened in your birth when you experienced your loss, and tell us why you do not feel the midwives were at fault.
Michelle: First I want to state that I had a strong instinct that this baby would never make it out of my womb alive. I had this feeling long before I decided to homebirth. It was that feeling actually that drove my decision. I needed to have a peaceful pregnancy if that was all I was going to get. I also was threatened with a tubal ligation by the OBs and I knew if this baby didn’t make it I would be devastated if I would never be able to have any more kids.
As for what happened in my birth, my labor was perfect and beautiful. I progressed nicely and there was no stall of labor at all. Every time heart-tones were checked he sounded perfect. I began to feel pressure and the need to push and I was checked only to find there was still a lip of cervix left. Heart rate was checked again and he was fine. My midwife broke my water to see if that would help get rid of my cervix. There was no indication at that time that the baby had any trouble. It wasn’t long before I really needed to push. I am unsure of how long I pushed before things went wrong. I know it wasn’t a long time though (it wasn’t even an hour). I had pushed the baby down to where he was essentially crowning and at that time heart-tones were checked and not found. When I heard that I immediately pushed with all of my might to birth him. His head was born and then my contractions stopped and I could not get the rest of him out. 911 was also called before the head was born. Once they arrived I had another contraction and was able to birth the body and he was born lifeless.
I did not ever feel that my midwife was negligent. The minute there was a sign of trouble she called 911 and did everything she could to get the baby out. I want to mention that I am not convinced that shoulder dystocia was what caused his death. I truly feel that it was the other way around. There is an excerpt in the book Spiritual Midwifery that touches on how hard it was to birth a stillborn baby because the mom couldn’t feel any energy from her baby. Babies must be active participants in the birth process meaning once the head is born the baby must rotate its body for the shoulders to be born. In my case my baby had a loss of heart-tones prior to delivery of the head so once his head was born he was no longer participating.
Elizabeth: Do you feel you had quality care? How qualified were your midwives, and what made them qualified? What were their credentials?
Michelle: Without a doubt I had quality care. In fact the care I received from her was a million times better than the care I have received from OBs. She had been a midwife for well over 30 years. She had personal connections with Jeannine Parvati Baker, Gloria Lemay, and many other highly regarded midwives. In all honesty though I chose her because of faith. I had trusted in the Almighty to give me a sign that this was the right path for me. I knew when I contacted her she had retired. What sealed the deal for me was finding out her home she purchased to retire in was literally 2 streets away from me. She was put on my doorstep. How could I ignore that sign? She was exactly what I needed in my life at that time and exactly what I needed for that birth. I have never had a single regret about choosing her and I am still very close to her. In fact every time I see people trash a midwife that attended a birth with a negative outcome it makes me think of her. Because they are still people and whether or not people believe it or not the loss affects them too.
I have used all three types of midwifery care. My first midwife was a lay midwife, my second was a CPM, and my third was a CNM (she is still my midwife this time also). All planned homebirths. The care I have received from all three of them have been equal in terms of quality so “titles” to me mean nothing. 🙂
Elizabeth: Do you believe that any time a baby passes away, it is due to insufficient care?
Michelle: Not at all and this goes for whatever place of birth you choose. Are there negligent providers (both midwives and OBs)? Absolutely. Does that mean every single one of them are negligent? No it doesn’t. In fact I would even venture to say that at times it could be as simple as making the wrong choice and not necessarily negligence. I think it is important to remember that doctors and midwives are people and therefore are not perfect. They do make mistakes. Most try their best to give the care you want while keeping everyone safe. Sometimes things do happen so fast there is nothing you can do. Other times they are totally negligent. But one must have the ability to separate the two.
Elizabeth: What brought you to natural birth in the first place ? Were you “indoctrinated” by any “cult”, and do you subscribe to any NCB “dogma”?
Michelle: I have actually always been “natural” minded. I had planned a natural childbirth with my first baby long before I was ever on the internet or knew anything about the world of the web. It unfortunately ended in a bullied unnecessary c-section.
Elizabeth: Exactly. That’s just like me– I didn’t need any indoctrination, it was just something I was pulled toward without regard for how anyone else felt about it. I wasn’t even aware there was a club, nevermind cult. I didn’t get an unnecessary C-section, though… I wound up getting induced and taking the epidural. How did all that affect you?
Michelle: This only furthered my desire for natural childbirth because I had seen what the opposite was and for me it was ugly.
Elizabeth: Same here.
Michelle: I tried again for a natural childbirth the second time only to end up with a c-section again. My loss was my first and only un-medicated birth and it was amazing. I loved every second of my labor. My 4th and 5th baby were also planned homebirths that ended up hospital births with epidurals and I really disliked them both. It was the one thing that I was disappointed over because I missed out on what I had the first natural birth. Hopefully I will finally have that “perfect birth” this time around 🙂.
I was never coerced into natural childbirth. I was drawn to it. I don’t know that I subscribe to any NCB dogma however I will suggest and encourage natural childbirth over non natural childbirth. Only because it is better for mother and baby overall to avoid unnatural chemicals into the body. I do however respect what other people choose. Like I said I have only had one natural un-medicated birth. I know sometimes the benefit of getting pain meds may outweigh the harm.
Elizabeth: I’ve said before how grateful I was for the epidural, but I’m like you– having been through both versions, I do not recommend the medical way.
When getting care from a doctor or midwife, mentor or counselor, how important is it to research the individual and feel like you truly know them very well beforehand? Or can we ever really know everything about our providers?
Michelle: I think it is important to for sure ask questions not only about them to others but ask them point blank to their face. I think that the relationship between a midwife and her client may differ from an OB and client simply because of the amount of time spent together prior to the birth. I don’t think we can know everything and I am not sure we really have the right to know every single thing about them. What I really feel about this is that we should all trust our instincts. If it doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t. I think as a society we have been somewhat trained to ignore our instincts and just do what other people tell us.
Elizabeth: To anyone out there grieving hard, enraged, and blaming natural childbirth in general for their loss, what would you like to say to them, or what would you want them to know?
Michelle: Honestly when I see people so full of anger over their loss I feel really sad for them. I wish they could let go of the anger and embrace what they have. I know it’s hard. I know it hurts. But being rage-filled only makes you feel worse not better. It hurts you not the one you are mad at. As I said earlier “Resentment is like drinking poison and hoping the other person dies.” — St. Augustine. I think society has made us feel like we have to blame someone/something for death rather than acknowledging that death is part of the cycle of life. There isn’t always an explanation or a reason.