Giving Birth During Natural Disasters

27 08 2012

The Tropical Storm Isaac path that people are eying today brings to mind an issue most of us don’t think much about: giving birth during a natural disaster. Specifically, of course, I am thinking of events which cause isolation (such as tropical storms or hurricanes) and cut you off from modern convenience. Thinking back to events like Hurricane Katrina, I am sure giving birth during something as arduous as that could feel like giving birth in a war-torn third world country, and probably would contribute to a huge dose of physical and psychological trauma for a new mother. With a little careful planning and forethought, however, it doesn’t have to be that way.

If you had to give birth by yourself, with limited resources, and no access to medical care, could you do it? Better yet, would you be calm enough to not experience the worst day of your life? This is another example of why it truly pays to be prepared for an unassisted birth.

Hurricane Charley in Florida created a situation where a hospital lost power, and thus the ability to enact their typical interventions on laboring patients. The results, to the surprise of the nurses on staff, were better and healthier births. Story as recalled in the book Pushed, by Jennifer Block.

A lot of people talk about the irresponsibility of freebirth (birth without a medical attendant) like it is the height of stupidity, but they easily sympathize with women who accidentally found themselves birthing unassisted. Why is that? You can’t blame a mother who wanted to get medical care and could not, right? Wrong. You could. Now before anyone accuses me of more blame-the-victim mentality, I am not at all accusing mothers who’ve been in that situation of being reckless. After all, it could have easily been me in my younger years. What I am saying, though, is there is a heavy value to the Boy Scout motto “be prepared”. A woman who has an intentional and prepared UC is most certainly not more reckless than a woman who was caught off guard and accidentally gives birth by herself frantically. That makes no sense, so it’s time for us to take responsibility and arm ourselves with knowledge so that we can be as capable as possible.

Women who accidentally UC (have unassisted childbirth) find themselves usually at least a little panicked. There is usually at least some sense of frenzy. And of course, during a labor, being calm and making rational decisions and letting birth flow smoothly is far preferable to and more advantageous than fear-based chaos. The person who is cool and collected and knows how to handle themselves is better equipped to have a healthy birth in the absence of pros (hurricane or no hurricane).

So, what would you do if you had to give birth during a hurricane or tropical storm?

Some people say that storms cause a rise in births. Other natural events associated with the start of labor include full moons.

First, let us hopefully assume you have a stable shelter, or have found stable shelter. And let us hopefully assume you are disease-free and free of certain very difficult medical conditions. Let’s assume that you are, for most intents and purposes, safe and healthy and that your baby is as well.

Next, remain calm. Do not panic. It would greatly help you if you had read Emergency Childbirth: A Manual beforehand. Answers to specific questions about how to handle different birth scenarios can be found there. Click that link and print it out and you can have it. It’s free. This store is great, by the way, but this freebie is an excellent resource for sure. It’s supposed to be so easy a child could understand it. In fact, I’m going to read it with my children as part of their education. If you hadn’t read it beforehand, having it ON hand can still help– the book has quick jump-to points that summarize almost every birth scenario and how to carefully handle it until help arrives. Good for refreshing your birth partner in the moment if something unexpected occurs.

If you can control it, be in a dwelling that has plenty of fresh, clean water. I live in Florida so the Hurricane Isaac path was on my radar, but I still stock up anyway on canned food and bottled water. You do not have to be a Floridian to have a safety net like this. Water will be essential for keeping hydrated and for cleanliness. If you can safely create a flame, you’ll be able to boil water for any sterilization purposes you may require. Even during a tropical storm, labor can be quite hot, especially in the summer in a humid climate and without AC or power to your shelter. Have water to keep damp washcloths on hand and make the situation more bearable.

A pregnant woman after a storm in Haiti.

For people who have wells and septic, remember that power outages could be lack of access to running water and toilet use. Do what you have to do. Labor will not last forever so if you have to soil things such as a toilet that cannot flush or even a bath tub, go for it and try not to dwell on it. It’s temporary and can be dealt with afterward. So, attempt to designate an area or areas for easy and hygienic bathroom use and then put it out of your mind. Letting troubling thoughts bother you during labor will not make anything easier. It won’t give you a running toilet, running water, or make the power come back on, and it won’t bring an ambulance through flooded streets or a doctor to your doorstep.

In case of threat of tornadoes and hopefully being in a stable dwelling, allow the mother to labor in a central location in the shelter away from windows. For many buildings this will be a hallway or a bathroom. Try to give her space and privacy as this will ease the birth process for her. Be within earshot and discreetly check in frequently. Keep others from intruding in her birth space.

Survival should not be limited to people who believe in UC and freebirth, and for that reason, removing fear in UC and freebirth is essential.

People often ask about birth supplies and what you need for a homebirth. The truth is, birth just happens. Even with the bare minimum, even in the middle of a storm, even without permission or handy supplies or a perfectly clean environment, you will more than likely just give birth. Therefore, do not let a lack of a medical bag scare you. Making birth as comfortable and safe as possible doesn’t have to be a major hardship.

I recommend having on hand plenty of buckets (various uses), clean towels (not immaculate, not pretty, not perfect, just CLEAN), a knife or scissors (out of children’s reach), and a lighter or 3 with plenty of lighter fluid. Blankets for the mother and newborn are also very important. Please have a few flashlights with extra batteries. Have a fully charged cell phone or two on hand (take care of that before power loss) in case you actually get reception if and when needed. Preserve the power by not using phones unless completely necessary. You may find it useful to have the disposable Lysol disinfectant wipes for surfaces type of product on hand. Not a usual natural parenting recommendation, and I understand that.

These things may make life easier, but life will happen without them. Remember that keeping mother safe and healthy by adhering to natural birth physiology needs will be crucial for the newborn’s survival. If you do not have infant formula on hand nor running water or available water to mix it with, the newborn will need their mother to nurse.

You don’t not need to wait for a storm, hurricane, blizzard, or natural disaster to leave you feeling stranded and helpless to start wondering how to properly manage a solo birth. Eliminate the threat of birth taking you by surprise in any set of circumstances by understanding birth physiology, read more, panic less, and make it out alive.

Feminism and Overcompensating

24 08 2012

When you’re driving down the road, you suddenly notice a turtle. You’re going too fast to have noticed it this late. You have to make a quick choice. Can you swerve to avoid it? Will you be forced to run over it? If you over-correct, you wind up in a ditch. Will you end up sacrificing yourself in the process of trying to save something else?

When it comes to feminism, and maybe any other fight for equality, we had to prove we were just as good as any man. What that meant in a certain time and place was sort of shedding all that was typically isolated for women. This meant getting a job, demanding equal pay. It meant burning your bra. For some of us, it meant shunning make up and heels and skirts, and saying no to beauty regimens such as shaving our underarms and legs. It meant being a free traveler of the world, not tethered to home and kitchen. We became proud of our liberation, proud of not having to cook or clean. Proud of not having kids.

The baddest bitches can kick ass AND listen to their inner goddess. This is not an either/or equation, hard or soft, dominant or submissive. We are whole people, regardless of sex. Achieving that personal balance displays great knowledge of self. Be whatever you want to be, without limits.

We wanted to be taken seriously and had to show that we were capable in all ways of filling the same roles as men.

Because we were told what being a woman was– being a submissive domestic type, having children– we had to reject that on some level to rise.

But that doesn’t mean we can’t have our cake and eat it too. It’s a new day. While we still struggle with sexism in politics and some of the world around us, we’ve made many great strides and have more privilege than before. We do have biological drives and emotional wants, and it’s okay if we heed those.

We can’t deny our biology. It calls us to certain ways. Not all of us, not all of the time, but generally speaking it is there and we shouldn’t feel embarrassment to wish to honor it. It feels good for a reason. It helps us provide a balance and keep life flowing on this Earth. It’s both universal in concept and also not one-size-fits-all. There is a harmony and a balance that we often neglect in our quest to prove ourselves and be victorious. It is that which I lament, and not the degree to which a feminist is maternal. We don’t have to fight so hard to be honest with ourselves and others about who we are, is what I’m saying. Otherwise, all our fighting may be a symptom of an identity issue we are having (as individuals or as a people).

We don’t have to overcompensate or over-correct in the same way we used to. We needed desperately to dodge something to a degree that no longer makes sense for our place and time. This time, if we over-correct in the middle of the road, it could do us in.

Instead of mocking it, we need to encourage naturalism and following one’s drives. It’s in our hearts and in our survival.

If your drive is to be at home and breastfeed and raise children, to bake bread, and to sew,  how can we shame women for that? How can we guilt them by relaying that they are not successful females because they have no career or “ambition”? What if their ambitions are much more earthy than what we have labeled “achievement”?

At the same time, if a woman genuinely has no interest in babies and home-making and frilly dresses and other stereotypically-female things, the path paved by so-called radical feminism should allow her to do that with more freedom than before, and more power to her.

If a woman wants to make money and have a family, she can balance that in any number of ways, and should do it in whichever way sits best with her soul.

Sexism, to me, is about telling a gender what they have to do. Overcompensating, to me, is taking your goal so far that you don’t recognize when you’ve hit a certain tier that allows for more relaxation… suddenly they’ve got you overgeneralizing your own sex. They’ve got you warring with your own sex. Suddenly you’ve become the thing you hate.

We see this in natural birth arguments. Some people feel that the woman-as-a-goddess archetype circulated by natural birth advocates– especially those who are male– is sexist. They think it’s to get women to take the pain, almost as if she deserves it in their eyes. That it is the male dominant point of view to deny women pain relief as some mastermind plot to keep them in their place falls short. Why?

Because the reverse happens. Most women experiencing a truly natural birth have an awakening, empowering experience. It is a fulfillment of something that perhaps cannot be explained properly in words. When they reject the drugged experience and are able to have their own birth, they realize a power unlike any other force on this planet. For some, it is transcendent. They are truly like gods or goddesses of creation, more powerful than anything, including any man. When you believe you know more than and can achieve a miracle beyond that of a man singing your praises, I think that is worlds less sexist than someone (even if they are female) telling me I can’t do it on my own. A belief in me that I have personally watched live up to its hype is unmatched, true, and full of reverence. To not have that faith in me and what resulted was condescending, patronizing, dehumanizing, and damaging. Take your pick.

The woman’s biological rite of passage is denied when we manage her birth needlessly. When we offer “mercy” as the default for every birth, when we tell her just how it’s going to be, we’ve infantilized her and taken her authority and power. When her biological process of labor is disrupted with chemicals and an unnatural environment, her body may become confused on a biological level. You can chalk it up to oxytocin reduction, but it’s probably more complex than that…

Accusing people who believe in not jumping to the epidural of sexism for lack of mercy would be like if there were a pill for stopping your period forever, and you accused people who were against that of being sexist.

What, like we can’t handle our periods (or birth)? Like we are just poor little babies that always need a big strong man to rescue us? Like we are so desperate for you to stop what our biology has been waiting for that you want us to ignore all the side effects and potential damage your “remedy” may cause?

If you stopped a woman from menstruating out of “mercy”, I can guarantee her body would feel confused. It would show signs of hormonal changes, and she may feel out of balance in a variety of ways. Suppressing a natural biological function because you are impatient or it is an inconvenience will undoubtedly have some sort of consequence which may outweigh whatever good you think your cure has attained. The connection between brain and body is undeniable. It is not feminist to hate natural birth, and the psychological impact is heavy on our society and on womankind. By denying what we are made of is not feminist, not politically correct, not scientific. It is medical male domination– the antithesis of the movement. It is overcompensating, over-correcting. There does come a time in the day when it is safe to put the torch down and reflect and ponder our next move, and that time is upon us now.

You’ll know feminism is working when we are able to come full circle and fulfill biological maternal drives while being considered just as successful and legitimate as any man going to work in an office for a paycheck.

Success should be determined by the level of personal satisfaction one feels in their life status or pursuits, regardless of gender identification. Success is to be determined by whether one is following their heart and achieving their individual purpose, not their duty or obligation by gender. It comes from a felt connection between body, mind, soul, and heart. Take one out of the equation and you have a confused person, throwing stones at reflections of themselves.

Over-correcting in feminism reminds me a lot of the overcompensation in midwifery. It’s almost the same thing. Man came in and dominated with obstetrics, called midwifery folk-stuff and charlatanism. Then midwives fought, and fought, and fought to be as professional as they could be, to be respected. In order to become more respected and prove themselves, they had to show more and more that they had medical aptitude, to be taken seriously and not viewed as witches. The next thing you know, midwives are doing the same things as doctors– same procedures, same policies, same standards and adopting the same outlooks on birth: totally clinical. Suddenly you’re not the same thing you were fighting for anymore. You fought so hard to be equal that you lost touch with the initial calling. To not heed that is no success for your kind, it’s the success of the dominant. In this case, that would be males or medicine, but it’s a system, and not you, and not your femininity. It doesn’t honor or trust your body or wisdom… it still condescends that you need them and are in essence inferior.

In our fights for freedom, we mustn’t lose ourselves. Keep tabs on it, keep in touch. You can be a radical feminist and a homemaker at the same time. You can be a real midwife without being a doctor.