Birth Photography: The Elephant in the Room

5 09 2016

elephantI’m about to liken birth photography to pornography.

Now if you haven’t already accepted certain basic principles of birth physiology, you’re probably not going to appreciate this post. More details on what those are can be found here, and here.

If you’re still with me, you may be one of those who this is best geared for:  a very specific kind of freebirther, the fringe of the fringe, the most primitive. Hello sister.

I know it seems like I’m once again here to rain on your parades, but as we acknowledge that birth is part of the sexual continuum, and that birth has been hijacked by people who pretend to be helpers who don’t belong there and endanger us, it would behoove us to acknowledge that we are not fully unindoctrinated while we are still allowing outsiders into that sacred, private space out of a fear that we would miss out on something desirable as influenced by current social norms. What we end up really missing out on is a whole lot more.

After all, many people still birth in hospitals partly out of a fear of missing out on some things, certain things they have come to expect. Certain indignations normalized.

A small example:  I remember one of the things I believed I would “miss” was feeling like I was on vacation. Staying in a bed in a room, having food brought to me, being expected to rest, taking a break from the normal routines… That gets easier to break up with when you face that this kind of “vacation” is really a recovery from trauma the likes of which you won’t experience if you stay home and do it yourself. Most of us don’t chop off our arms to get a vacation, either. Well, not if we’re healthy of mind, anyway. Not to mention the fact that you can rest and be waited on at home, too; even though it doesn’t feel like “going away”, your baby belongs at home and your nest is the most appropriate place to nestle.

We’re so used to expecting certain things and having certain norms that we hesitate to part with them or we want to incorporate them into experience, like a tradition. But how many traditions are actually fads? This era holds that birth pictures and video are not to be missed out on, like wedding video and pictures. Only the photographer usually doesn’t stay to capture the wedding night, which birth is honestly much more like. And that’s the (big) difference.

When I say birth is part of the sexual continuum, I’m pointing out something that most natural birthers already acknowledge. That is that the life cycle starts with sex, ideally preceded by two people with excellent chemistry falling in love and having lots of trust (maximum oxytocin overload, pleasurable life, healthy setup for the future). And that is an act that is carried on by two people and two people only. For the act of creation and furthering of the species, this example takes a man and a woman. For them to feel fully secure and give in to the moment and all the beautiful chemical reactions awaiting them, they need to feel privacy.

(Voyeurism is not a part of this chain; it is a socially developed kink. I’m trying to get back to our roots, not away from.)

The people– but I’m going to focus specifically on the woman– need to feel that their guard can be completely let down in order to fully give in to feeling the way they are feeling with each other. That is the only way they can really be free. Part of this primal act being so guarded could be partly due to our instinct to be aware of predators. We would be especially vulnerable to an outside attack in these sensitive moments. It also may have to do with bonding, as anything that would interfere with or leech off of man-to-woman bonding in intercourse threatens the future of the family. The oxytocin in that moment is the seed, spark, foundation of deep trust and sense of love, that promises a strong attachment and furthers the survival and protection of any offspring yet to come. The more solidified and respected that bond, the higher the chances of success for our species on the whole.

(On a spiritual and romantic level, I also feel the privacy is extremely validated, but I will return to focus on the physical to be basic, fundamental, and not digress. I don’t have time to explain my philosophy to you right now, nor do I think everyone might care.)

What naturally follows, if impregnated, is birth. The emergence of the new life from the same portal through which the possibility of life had to enter. And the state of mind of the woman laboring or birthing is similar in that the thinking mind is shut off, giving way to the primitive mind and instinct and body taking over, and that any outsiders to this event are viewed as intruders– which will either hinder her response, endanger it/her, or temporarily stop the process altogether. Birth involves an altered state of consciousness, when allowed to proceed naturally. Birth is perhaps the most vulnerable naturally occurring moment to a human life and we are wired to be aware of the presence of those who do not belong in order to protect ourselves and our young. The same people at the sexual union are the people who are good candidates to be present at the birth. No more, and maybe less. To violate that puts the woman in fight-or-flight mode. There are plenty of references in literature to just how this is harmful to labor and you can read more about it and the Fear Tension Pain Cycle in books like Childbirth Without Fear, and Unassisted Childbirth.

As an aside, Michel Odent has given some great notes on how a man should behave *if* he is invited into the birth space, even if a woman trusts and loves him. Read any of his works and especially Birth and Breastfeeding for more information.

When the primitive, physiological self is allowed to take over for the thinking mind, without fear, in the absence of any intrusion, in sex and in childbirth, the result is ease, satisfaction, proper release of oxytocin for bonding and love and pleasure with whomever the deserving and receiving partner or life mate is, if around. This works for woman to man in intercourse, and man and woman and baby in childbirth, as the culmination of their act of love and the solidifying of the family unit. This was nature’s plan for human longevity, and it’s the brilliance of its design. It is built into us. A strong unit is formed, and strong tribes may form.

A woman needs to be able to tap into that deep place within herself that without societally-based fears and expectations, the likes of which are imposed on all of us regarding birth from a very young age. And she can’t do that as long as you are selling her products. She can’t do that when you’re telling her there is still something modern she will need, something extra and more than what she is that she should want, something she will regret not adding in because other mothers have it and it’s so important, and keep her further and further away from her original design and function. You’re keeping her from her purest and truest self and essence, and if you succeed, she will never know it in this life. Her body is an astounding work of creation, moreso than any camera ever could be. And we hinder that. Because we are delighted by the modern marvel more than the organic miracle. We keep reaching for shiny distractions and no longer respect when it is time to put those away.

In some parallel universe somewhere, there is orgasm/conception photography, for the same reasons as we do birth photographs now.

I look at birth video and photography much in the same way I would look at the concept of artistic orgasm photography. I appreciate the interest in capturing a moment. I appreciate the reverence for the look on the woman’s face, the awe in her rawness. And if I were watching someone have actual sex on video, even if “tastefully done”, I would have to admit it is really pushing it in terms of being a form of pornography.

Because… I’m not supposed to be there. This is private. I may be interested, I may be intrigued, but this is not for me to watch. Those are not my moments, those are not my chemicals. I’m an intruder, and this belongs to someone else. This is sacred.

And you can photograph sex and birth all you like, but you will never truly capture the reality of what the moment would look like if you were not there at all.

Imagine if the things people say about birth photography were said about intercourse photography?

“They’re a real pro, you won’t even know they’re there.”

“They silently stay out of the way and blend in with the background.”

“We have a mutual acquaintance that can really vouch for them, so I trust them.”

“The photographer is my sister.”

“You will be so lost in the moment, you will have no awareness that they’re even in the room. And you’ll be so ‘busy’ you won’t even care at that point.”

What about this is not creepy?

I know birth and sex are not perfectly synonymous, but that’s not the point. The point is that the woman is tapped into the same states of being with her body producing some of the same hormones, functions and effects, having the same physiological needs to make the effort a success. You can spoil one just as easily as you can spoil the other, with these wrong attitudes towards the acts.

And if you honestly believe when looking at any birth photos or vids (or ones of sex….) that what you are viewing would be exactly the same without the extra people and the cameras, you’re lying to yourself. Men who watch porn also think they are watching reality. Granted, pornography is often consciously a performance, while being taped in birth becomes more of subconsciously performing. You are not seeing an unhindered woman. The camera will always add the element of observation or performance, however subtle or inconspicuous it seems to the observer/observed. You are not getting the fullest, unbridled, wild, natural person who is free from being studied, judged, or captured. (Even just think about the language… she is “captured” on film. She is subdued, watched, controlled.) The woman will always be aware somewhere in her consciousness of your presence, because her primitive mind is keen and sharp to detect this as a rule, as a defense mechanism innate to her, and it *will* have an impact on her. And that impact is restraint and tension.

Here is the part where someone chimes in, “You don’t know me. Not all women are the same. Everyone has different needs.” Wrong. All women *are* the same. Let’s look at the hierarchy of needs.


I imagine the resulting photograph keepsakes contribute to the tier entitled “Esteem”.

First we acknowledge that birth is a physiological, physical event. You don’t birth with your personality or your brain, you birth with your body. You are an animal. Then let’s address that the primal body is the one tasked with giving birth as it does instinctively, when not held back or restrained. Then let’s observe that stimulation of the thinking mind, or neocortex, keeps one from dropping deep into primal brain activity, and that the neocortex is stimulated by having company. In this we must admit that the presence of others serves functionally to restrain the primal woman, keeping her in the worst state of consciousness for an easy birth.

Now tell me you deny this and that you’re built differently from other women.

“But humans are social animals! I am a very social person!”

Your baby whom you are giving birth to is a person. This is an interaction between you and they. And sometimes, your partner, if invited to the birth space. These are all people.

What more in the way of social do you require?

You may be a social butterfly, but please note this is a psychological trait and not a primal one. Your primal self is the one giving birth, the one you need to honor, the one for whom all obstacles must get out of the way. If you glance again at the hierarchy of needs, you will note that physiology and safety are first, they are the foundation, and they are of utmost importance. Love and belonging to which I’ll assume the psychological wish to be surrounded by people owes itself, is secondary to those things. (Ironically, if you honor the physiological foundation first, you will find a deepening and intensifying of love due to all the oxytocin shared in earnest between you.)

Our physiology as women is the same. Our needs for safety as laboring mammals are the same: quiet, darkness, solitude, warmth. You can’t claim a psychological preference supersedes these. It is akin to saying, “But I really like the water!” to explain that you can be submerged and don’t need to breathe. You are not superhuman, your body is not made differently. We have basic needs. We need to breathe, we need to eat, we need to sleep, we need to not be obstructed or injured. Once those basic needs are covered, then we are able to move up to other less pressing wants, frequently formed by the thinking mind and not the primal one, such as being social.

If a woman’s psychological urges are so strong that she must obey those first, due to trauma, conditioning, or lack of awareness of the severity of these issues on our bodies, she will choose to be surrounded at birth. This is why I advise anyone trying to freebirth to conquer your psychological issues before birth, and ideally, before pregnancy.

I excuse these the same way I excuse elective Cesareans. Our trauma and where we are at in dealing with it will determine which choices we feel ready to make. For that I have sympathy, but with strong preference to trying to get women helped before their inclinations lead to more physical harm. In short, we all work with what we’ve got.

Your rational mind wants to be in control and will always find a way, always find fear and excuses. You cannot bargain with instinct, though. Instinct will be there whether you like it or not and you will not be able to rationalize with it. I recommend getting out of its way.

And not denying it.

To me birth vids and photography are like the big, voyeuristic, creepy, pervy, obstructing, restraining, intrusive elephant in the room. And elephants are apparently midwives, so that’s fitting.

When most natural birthers are looking at birth photos and vids and picking on things like,

“Oh, that baby is wearing a hat! Poor thing!”

“Look, they cut the cord right away.”

“OMG, how many hands are on that mama? And take off those gloves!”

Or even positive things like,

“Oh look, daddy caught!”

“What a fierce, strong mama in that birth pool.”

“I love your faces! You did it!”

“This is what birth is supposed to look like.”

No it’s not. You weren’t supposed to be there. You are getting a happy, joyous, or victorious fragment of her at best. You are viewing a fraction of her depth and what she would normally be capable of. And yes, even that fraction is beautiful to us, but our pleasure through her is ill-gained and of no importance. What she really deserved matters more. So I wince, like some of you wince and feel triggered when you see unnecessary Cesarean photos.

What repeats in my mind while even agreeing with their comments is, “have you noticed yet there was a camera/photographer there?” How much better might it have been for the mother and her baby if they weren’t some kind of show on display for us? As nice as it may be to have keepsake photos your baby’s delivery, might you be cheating yourselves when it comes to feeling something much more pure and unfiltered? Something potentially pain-free, non-injurious, untraumatized, and even ecstatic? Do you want to be one of those women who says immediately after, “I want to do it again”?

Another way birth is like sex.

The continuum of life, of sex, wants us to be rewarded. Our brains are supposed to feel good about these activities because this supports continuation of the species. Birth, like sex, is not “supposed” to be painful and we should stop promoting that it inherently is. Our pain is frequently connected to fear and control. We and our process and how we perceive it has been controlled and ideas fed to us and we are ruled and overcome by fear. I can only assume that, removing all this, our births would be mostly pleasurable. We will never know because even modern empowered women do not live in a vacuum. All of us are overcoming hostile influences. I want us to keep breaking away from these conventions so that one day our daughters might know this answer.

“And what about you, Elizabeth? Are you so perfect? You didn’t want photos and videos of your births?”

No, I fucked up, too. That’s why I’m here. My whole story is one of fucking it up, then getting it right, and then getting it a little bit more right, some more. If I can keep you from doing what I did and having to learn the hard way, that’s my dream.

My first birth in the hospital I videotaped and there were pictures. All kinds of people were in the room, strange men saw my ass, I vomited on people and cried. Bright lights and hooked up to machines, opiates and vaginal trauma… and I’m sure the recordings were negligible in influence after all that. But I’ve got it on record.

Birth 2 was too traumatic to have any recording devices out. I spent part of it in an ambulance, hoping to lose consciousness. Strange men saw my ass again.

My third birth when I was way more awakened, I went solo. I attempted to record video because I didn’t yet know any better, and the device failed to record, but it still acted as an “observing eye”. I was photographed in early labor which I suppose isn’t that bad while contractions are light. (In the sex analogy, this might be being photographed in a kiss.) I wanted to be alone through most of labor and only allowed pictures after the baby emerged in the pool. (Yes, I do think after-birth pictures in limitation are okay, and in the sex analogy, may be akin to an after-orgasm photo. Risque, a peek into something private, but still discrete. The body has done the hardest work after the moment of birth but you still want to be mindful not to disturb the mother in the third stage because she is still affected by needless interference and chatter.) This was an amazing birth and I do not doubt it could have been even more amazing without mechanical watching eyes. But the picture of me lifting my son out of the water of the birth pool and having achieved this triumph myself is one of the most beautiful images I’ve ever seen and may be my favorite picture of all time. You can see it on the back of my book, In Search of the Perfect Birth.

Birth 4 I knew better and we attempted no recording device and saved pictures for after baby was born. I cherish these because for the first time ever, the reveal of the sex was a complete shock and surprise (literally the opposite of what I thought I knew), and this moment and reaction was caught in a photo. Up until the pushing, this was also my absolute easiest and most manageable birth yet. Dark, solitude, warmth, relative quiet… it was downright blissful during most of it.

I wish you all the same successes and even beyond. We’re all waking up from the trappings of this machine.

When You Don’t Want to be Pregnant Anymore…

19 02 2015

Psychologically, I think if we say things to ourselves like, “I’m 43 weeks pregnant today,” there is often an element of “enough already” to that expression. If you factor in a sense of dread (or god forbid, fear) towards the labor itself, you’ve got yourself a recipe for psyching yourself out. It’s a self-sabotage in the making.

I remember about a year ago today I was wondering just how “overdue” my baby would be. “He” had already surprised me in being 5 days past my already late estimate (and would later surprise me by being a “she”). I’m usually right, so why was my calculation off? I waited an additional two weeks past when I thought the baby would arrive before she actually came… which she chose spontaneously, of course. It was possibly my longest pregnancy, depending on what method you use to measure it. Even though I had always guessed better than the medical professionals regarding my body (and certainly had this time… they would have felt I was at least a full 20 days past my due date at the time of birth), I was at peace with being wrong. I got off facebook and the internet, and I waited. I waited with the wisdom that the magic of nature summoning me into that birth space at its own right time was not something I wanted to miss. I had experienced it before and knew I would not go back to artificial ways again.

For mothers finding themselves in this familiar spot, I advise nesting according to instinct, retreat, and meditation. Trusting in your body’s and baby’s wisdom can seem counter to everything popular culture has instilled in us all. It can take some work to resist that. You may feel simply tired.

So what I’m saying is, maybe don’t care too hard how far along you are (it is an arbitrary number, after all), and try not to mentally grade what you feel is bound to happen to you when labor does finally occur, because if you don’t give yourself a chance to be wrong in the most beautiful way, it’s a missed experience/opportunity and an action possibly taken out of impatience and fear. Give yourself a chance! We are supposed to encourage and inspire one another, so hopefully we can create more hype around that natural beauty than hype around faulty preconceptions that dominate our birthing culture.

As someone who people listen to on the topic of birth, looking for knowledge and inspiration, I would be remiss to not say these things to you. I’m not going to lie to you and tell you that any choice is equal to any other choice just to make you feel better. You are a warrior woman and you are an earth mother, a goddess. You are powerful and you can do this. You know what is best for your body and baby and sometimes you just need encouragement to see it through in a world that wants to divert you to a lesser path, so I want to be that voice for you in case you are hearing it nowhere else:  You deserve to have a pregnancy and childbirth at peace with the natural order, and without fear.

For more about the way the baby leads the way in choosing its own birth date:

Length of human pregnancies vary by as much as five weeks
Fetal lung protein release triggers labor to begin


To the Birth Activist Who’s Really a Birth Passivist

25 04 2013

All births are not created equal. I think you probably know that.

Yet, you have the soft spine to falter under societal pressure, to pat every woman on the head, and tell her well enough is well enough. “Hey babe, however you say you feel, is how you feel! And that’s all that matters!

But that’s not all that matters. No, not by a long shot.

Because with women… there are things we don’t say. There are things we tell ourselves which are not true. There are things we don’t know because no one had the balls to tell us. And maybe once, a long ways back, when you were fresh in your pain and knowledge, you told someone the truth. You waved goodbye to that the moment you chose to try to please the majority of women. Trying to be all-inclusive reduces what is potent in your message.

Women… we’re strong, we carry the burdens of the world on our shoulders. We cry in silent pain, we have a tortured collective consciousness. We have a lot of messages we are met with daily that gives us vague encouragements to keep on keepin’ on. Of course those have a place, have some value. We need sisterhood, right? We need support, right?


What is sisterhood? What is support? What are they, actually?

Is it the moment I tell you that if you want your abusive relationship, that’s all that matters? Is it if I make you comfortable for one fleeting instant, when I help encourage your complacency so you can resist change, or is it when I help you pack your bag to leave?

Is it when I speak as generally as possible, to avoid offending a larger crowd? Or is it when I tell you that when I was in the same position, the only thing that healed was to walk away from the crowd?

So, to the Birth Activist who is really more of a Birth Passivist… women don’t need to hear what you think they want to hear. We are inundated with positive, bland messages… the sort of feelgood shtick that sometimes keeps us trapped indefinitely. Women don’t need limbo.

If you want to make some waves, it’s okay to rock the boat. It isn’t empowering to placate, to condescend. The truth is offensive. If you want to put power back in the hands of your sisters, you can count on offending a hell of a lot of people who aren’t ready for that kind of responsibility for which you advocate.

And if YOU aren’t ready for that kind of responsibility, don’t pretend to be something you are not. Birth Activist!? You’re not a birth activist if you approve of just about anything. You see… not all births are equal. And yes… I am sure you must know that, which is why you bother talking about birth at all. Not every woman needs that head-pat and smile you’ve started dishing out, to be praised up and down just for being special, just for breathing, just for modestly trying. We have enough of the “you’re good enough” in society. We have friends for that. We have posters of cats for that.

What we need you for is to give women that jolt of energy, that kick in the ass, to know they can do better. They aren’t getting that from their neighbor down the street, their sister-in-law, or the dentist. Their bff since high school doesn’t understand about “birth freedom” or why her friend still cries about an induction. If you tell her there’s nothing wrong with these norms, what good are you? Do your fucking job. Birth Activist, you are not everyone’s girlfriend.

And, you do not achieve the kind of change you say you’re about by kindly implying that maybe women ask for some power, ask a few questions of medical staff as they meekly submit a soon-to-be-ignored birth plan, or bargain birth needs with their husbands. You achieve that by telling them exactly what they are capable of and how to avoid the same god damn mistakes that got you where you were, or where I was, when we were in pain. You might be their only lifesaver, so fucking act like it.

As a birth activist, the goal should be to end suffering. Not perpetuate it. Not condone it. Not look at a shiny coat of paint slapped on a tragedy and mirror the smiles.

If you want women to be brave and face their births with courage and strength, and dignity, quit convincing them that anything that happens to them is okay. It’s not. It’s not okay. And just because they feel their junked up birth was necessary today… doesn’t mean they can keep pretending they feel okay about it tomorrow. And, when they awaken from that dream, guess who they’re going to remember telling them how amazing the status quo was? You.

Every baby is wonderful. If we get a good outcome for the child, we all celebrate. This much is true.

No, not every birth is special, magical, good. Not all births are equal. Not at all.

Make Memories & Make it Count

13 03 2013

As I approach the two year anniversary of my UC, thoughts turn to the future child we intend to have.

Parents of multiple children– have you ever felt like you really wanted to make sure you were making the most out of these times in your life, before they pass you by?

We have three children already, and we will probably have one more. And you know, it’s funny… looking back on three different pregnancies and three different births, even three different parenting experiences– all really different and unique in their own ways– we have experienced so much diversity in the way things have gone. And I’m so grateful for that! The richness of experience gives me the understanding of a little bit of everything. It helps me know what works best for me, and in a way, truly live.

So, here is a list of things I’ve never done that I’m wondering whether they’d be worth it to experience next time, since this will be possibly my last chance. Some of them I’m almost sure to do, and others are really iffy, but worth considering.

  1. Not take a pregnancy test (just know naturally that I am growing a baby inside me).
  2. Have an unassisted pregnancy (none of the unnecessary prodding or testing, except probably a mid-pregnancy ultrasound to watch for any conditions which may require medical intervention). Just have a stress-free pregnancy where I look after myself and enjoy the ride.
  3. Not announce my pregnancy to anyone. Just let people discover when I’ve got a baby.
  4. Take pregnancy announcement photos with a professional photographer.
  5. Get my pregnant belly painted, and/or get henna.
  6. Not have any kind of shower or blessing; maybe have a celebration party instead (before or after birth)
  7. Get people to donate frozen meals for after birth instead of making a registry or wish list for me and baby.
  8. Finally baby-wear!

    found at Healthy Mama Info

    I’d really like to try an Ergo Baby Carrier.

  9. Get Hypnobabies and see if it really works to eliminate pain in labor.
  10. Join a due date club.
  11. Blog through my whole pregnancy and birth, and open up, be myself and more personal. Let the readers/fans take the journey with me.
  12. Form a special due date club just for people “due” around the same time I am, for readers/followers of ISOTPB. Give presents, exchange birth beads for birth necklaces, etc.
  13. Be much more physically active during pregnancy.
  14. Really not find out the sex this time (and not accidentally observe it during ultrasound).
  15. Be open with most people about my intentions to birth unassisted before it actually happens.
  16. Not set up a crib this time around. Last time we hardly used it.
  17. Share my pregnancy journey with private birth support groups that I trust.
  18. Get adorable newborn photos with a professional photographer. You know, the kind with props and owl hats, that look like they belong in magazines.
  19. Announce my pregnancy right away, to everyone.
  20. Let everyone in on the name right away (rather than keeping it a secret until birth).
  21. Give everyone a fake baby name the whole pregnancy. >:)

Those are just a few of the things off the top of my head that I have thought about. But here’s the thing– when you’ve had a few kids, and you know that time in your life could be drawing to a close, you have to make it count. These are the memories we will look back on when we’re old with so much fondness, and I want to make sure that I’ve done everything that I really want to do in these departments before that chapter closes.

This is an exciting and thoughtful time, full of possibility and planning.  🙂

Letters About Birth #2 (Midwives): Your Voice Counts Day

21 11 2012

Your Voice Counts Day is a day going around the internet on which, for Thanksgiving, we are supposed to submit letters to our caregivers regarding our labors. We mail or hand them in to let them know how terrific or horrible our experiences were in the hopes that it raises awareness for the level of treatment we are receiving. I’ll be doing mine here, in a series of 3.

The reason I hesitate to actually send these consists of several reasons. One, I believe that mainstream people will disregard me. Two, many people are mentioned, and it isn’t overall praise or blame for the whole, and some are nameless.

Image by Flickr: Wonderlane. Contains a parable on the Buddha and praise/blame.

Three, some of these people already know how I feel. Four, at the end of the day, I’m not sure if this is more for me, or for them. Or maybe it’s for you. It’s not that I think I can’t make a difference, but it’s about too much wasted effort in one direction that feels like barking at the wind. Anyway, this series will stand here, and maybe it will help you, or maybe those people will actually find their way here and it will matter to them.

Just like in my book, names have been anonymized in part or completely to protect real identities. For those who read my book, this may be a nice accompaniment, but it’s not a prerequisite to appreciate this.

Dear D & L, LK, & Hospital Staff,

You are the main reason I do not believe in midwives anymore. I went this route which was meant to include homebirth because, inexplicably, I still believed in myself and my body. The prior hospital experience had crushed my spirit and proven me wrong, yet something inside me would not let go of the idea that I was meant for this and it was attainable and preferable. My experience with you I believed would empower me, and instead it sent me further into the abyss.

I don’t know if I can “blame” you. I think all in all there is a system problem, and you (just like all health care workers, including doctors) probably truly want to help people, and feel you do so every day. Just like OBs, you receive praise and adoration for your great works, but through my eyes it is not without its casualties.

After “40 weeks”, I had to undergo the hospital non-stress tests, even though the due date was not based on my body’s rhythms, but on flawed measurement tools. One flawed measuring tool, the ultrasound, indicated my fluid *might* be low. I wish you had listened to me and not these tests or guidelines. I was fine, the baby was fine, yet talk of induction began. You knew I didn’t want this. Yet you gave me less than 24 hours to drink water and take baths to replenish fluid you can’t even measure right or I was going to be admitted to the hospital for mandatory induction? I wish you hadn’t given me that ultimatum. It was dehumanizing.

I had waited forever for you, LK. I was hungry and angry at the thought of my birth being dictated to me. I didn’t even know you, we hadn’t met. You came to check my dilation when I was ready to walk out the door after so many hours. I never do that, by the way. I’m a good and obedient patient, to my own detriment. But you arrived just after my husband told them we were leaving… I guess that prompted you to drop whatever was keeping you and check me out. What I thought was just a dilation check became you stirring my membranes. I remember you saying, “I’m just going to stir things around down there,” with your fingers inserted already. I remember the pain, and I remember I said, “Okay,” not yet understanding what that meant, as it was happening. I thought you were being rough, because cervical checks were not always this painful. Then it was clear. You were doing me a favor, supposedly. You were trying to stir the membranes to manually induce labor, to “give” me the homebirth I wanted in time, before being coerced into a hospital induction.

I was furious after I left, when I understood what was happening to me. I didn’t want your “help”! I didn’t want to be induced at all! I wanted this baby to choose their own birthday! Don’t any of you get that? Why would you ever do that without making sure the person gave their full consent? I felt violated. You had done something to my body in a position of trust that was against my will. Later I was spotting blood and losing my plug. Even though membrane stirring is not proven to start labor (and is proven to introduce bacteria, cause pain, and create spotting), you did the practice on me anyway without my agreement in an act of trying to be *merciful* to me. You were wrong.

On the way home I called you, D, to tell you. I was out of breath, struggling with words, but obviously upset. I said that LK’s “help” was “not cool”. You agreed… because you had just been to a birth and were so tired, you wanted a chance to catch up on your sleep first before my baby came! D, that’s not at all the problem. I felt like an animal while everyone but me manipulated my body and made choices about it for me, without my consent.

The rage I felt that night, I cannot describe to you. I paced. I ranted. I processed. I confided in you, I trusted you, so I brainstormed out loud with you on the phone my plots. “We could just say I went into labor, and that the homebirth was still on, and that later on we figured it was false labor. We could just keep doing that until it’s the real thing, and they’ll never have to check or admit me or try to induce. ” After all, “false” labor happens all the time. As much as I hate lying, I was willing to do it to save myself. You told me D, that we couldn’t do that, and that if I tried to do that you would no longer be allowed to care for me.

No longer allowed! I would be completely without assistance for labor, simply because I told the hospital something which could or could not be truthful and no one would have any way of knowing. Except you, D, of course, if you were privy to this confidential choice by me. But you would admit it, or tell. I guess you would be scared… scared if something went wrong, it would come back on you, I would blame or sue you. Well, I wouldn’t have. I wouldn’t. I know you don’t know that, but I wouldn’t. I’m honorable. All I wanted was a healthy birth, and one that didn’t traumatize anyone, but that isn’t what I got. You were lawsuit-free but it broke me. It changed my life and caused a giant scar inside of me. It almost altered the future of my family. The consequences of these things are so much more severe than legal troubles or even job or money loss. It’s so much deeper than that. What was at stake for me was greater.

So that night, as more of an act of protest, I had sex to induce labor. I didn’t want even THIS manner of induction, but I had to take matters into my own hands. I had to feel in control again. Other people would NOT tell me what to do with my body, would not put their hands in or on me to make anything happen that I didn’t consent to. I did it because I wasn’t going to let anyone push me into a corner. I did it because if anything was going to induce me, it was going to be me. Immediately after, contractions began. I’ll never know for sure if it was the stressing rage I felt, the membrane stirring, the intercourse, or any combo of these, or maybe even none of these at all… but it seems like labor was indeed “induced” and that I may have been the one to effectively create it. That is bittersweet, because I will never know, and because I was put in a position to do something I didn’t want, but at least I was still in the driver’s seat and not going to let them take it away from me. I was going to have this baby naturally and at home. I would NOT be going to the hospital this time!

But that didn’t happen. I called you D, in the early morning, to let you know I was excited to be contracting all night and this was the day. I was feeling good. Sleep was nice. Labor so far was easy. I called D first because I was scared that you, L, would be too hands-on even though you were my primary. You were closer to me and you had asked to be called before D and we went against that. At the time we thought that D would give us more choices and more time. D after all had been the “fade into the woodwork” one, which I truly sensed I needed. When you were both here, it was intense. I was in hard labor. I needed to be alone but you wouldn’t leave me alone! Getting on my back for a check was excruciating but you “made” me anyway. Why? I was *this* close to having the baby! Let me do my thing, please. I was stripping off my clothing right in front of you, didn’t you notice I was almost there? If I tightened up, I’m sure it was the tension of being around people, being in painful positions, and submitting to checks.

Then that damn meconium showed up (possibly normal, possibly due to the stress), and you “had” to transfer me. Ugh! Legally, maybe you did, I don’t know. But it sucks. I know now that it is NOT an emergency, and while I know you would not want to be held liable if anything were to happen as a result, or maybe you’d get in trouble with the state or the hospital if anyone found out, this was even worse for me. This was the worst day of my life. I had to put on clothing, because the ambulance was coming. You might as well have asked me to tap dance. I had to crawl down the hall covered in piss, fluid, and blood because you thought the paramedics couldn’t fit the stretcher down my hall. If that’s true, DAMN, it still was an ordeal. Twenty minutes felt like an eternity. Could you have dragged me? Maybe you thought this was my last shot to be alone, my last shot to have the baby at home, and if so, I do appreciate that. It felt like I was in Hell, it was torture, and I’m not being dramatic. I wish you would have left me alone completely and let me labor in peace. I would have had a great birth and produced a healthy baby for you in no time. I wouldn’t have lost faith in myself and carried recurring memories with me to haunt me.

I needed quiet and solitude, and trust in me and my body and my instinct. I hope you can give more of that to other women you help. I hope you will take that away from my story. Some women don’t need to be encouraged or touched or told how good they are doing. Some women need to just be left the fuck alone, or it is like you are killing them just to be there. But that’s just the labor aspect. We do not need to be held hostage by the legalities of an archaic maternity system. We don’t need to be threatened into submission.

To the female paramedic, thank you so much for honoring my wishes and being a gentle spirit. You were so respectful and I could feel your mercy, and you let me lay on my side like I needed. I felt your kindness and gentleness. I wish I was in a position then to say so to you. I wanted to write you a letter and I did send a message to the hospital, so I hope it got to you. You made a huge difference.

To whoever covered me with a blanket when we entered the hospital doors, THANK YOU. My eyes were closed but I still didn’t appreciate my ass hanging out. That was very considerate and meant a lot.

In the hospital, the baby was right there. He came right away. No meconium aspiration, of course. Good fluid amount. Everything okay. He was perfect, sturdy as an ox (is that an expression?), and as angry as I felt inside. Just as soon as they were taking him away to check him, they were giving him right back. My husband and daughter missed the birth. My husband missed the birth of his first son.

I had a million strangers around me holding my legs, prepping the room in a hurry, and LK, you were there to deliver. You told me (ha!) to put my chin to my chest and push, and not to make any noise. As if you had any control at that point! Had you never seen the involuntary fury of a woman delivering without drugs? I did the opposite. I couldn’t have listened to you if I wanted to. I couldn’t have even tried. I DID make noise and I put my chin away from my chest, and I wasn’t pushing on your command, I was pushing because my body could do nothing else. You and your nurses were rough with the matter of placenta delivery and subsequent uterine massage. Your pitocin afterwards for bleeding was bullshit and unnecessary and only added to my pain. The aftershocks were hard. If you thought my blood loss was excessive, don’t do things that make people bleed. Please read more about a relaxed and natural third stage delivery. Thanks for not sewing me up too tight, even though I could feel you stitching me. You are an example to me of how just because a practitioner is a woman does not mean they are delicate.

Midwives: I know you have lives of your own and professions to protect, but you are supposed to be “with woman”. Who knows what I need better:  me, or the state of Florida? I needed you to believe in me and without you I no longer believed in myself. I gave my body and my trust over to you, and I deserved your trust in return. To understand horror truly and deep in your soul is a rare thing and should be rarer.

Hospital — please teach your staff how to handle with courtesy the patients. After what for me had been a horrific day, I needed sleep. I was in a lot of pain and trying to find the right meds to let me breastfeed but also sleep, and baby occasionally woke to be nursed. People calling me to demand I choose something from the menu waking me and the newborn up is not necessary. Please train your staff in appropriate behavior or hire people who are good with people.

I get shit for this one occasionally. People who’ve read my book or an excerpt act like I’m some diva slapping a tray out of someone’s hand, thinking myself precious.  No. Talk about missing the point because you feel like it. Like I’ve said before, I’m a timid patient and customer. I’m the type that can’t even send food back at a restaurant if something is wrong with it. All things in perspective. Those people don’t really deserve a response, but in the spirit of defending myself, let me clarify.

So– I’m in tons of pain with a newborn, and we are both trying to rest after the worst day of my life. It’s 6 am or so and still pretty dark when the phone startles me out of an already fragile sleep. Groggy and worn, I can barely detect the mumbling on the other side of the phone that I fumbled just picking up. “Huh,” I was like. And the lady on the other end, with an obvious chip on her shoulder and I’m guessing no clue what my state of health or mind was, yelled back, “Watchoo WANT for breakfuss??” I was at a loss for words. “I don’t even know what you have.” I said. Then she started listing shit off a menu. I had to interrupt her. “We’ll just get something to eat later.” I said, and hung up. That’s all paraphrased of course, ’cause that was like 3 years ago, but I trust that’s pretty accurate (albeit condensed).

Now, I’ve given birth at a hospital before. I’ve never had someone call me up at the crack of dawn just to ask me about food (and, it didn’t happen again, during my stay there), and with an attitude like I was inconveniencing them. People quietly enter and exit your room, to check on you and your health, to check on the baby. People don’t loudly make fusses or wake you out of needed sleep. Maybe my previous hospital was better, had more of a clue. If people want food, they’ll go get it or fill out a little paper or something, or call for it by phone or by nurse. If they’re in recovery, they don’t want to be dialed up over cheerios. That was all I meant.

Some have said, “it’s not their job to know what you’ve been through.” Oh, isn’t it? But apparently it is their job to call up every room and take orders? That’s an odd job duty. In fact, part of the reason I always thought nurses took care of our food for us was they knew how we were doing, what kind of allergies we had, what kind of medication we were on, etc. It’s not their job to know? So you mean to say if they call up a room with a coma patient, and the phone rings endlessly but no one picks up, that’s a smooth running operation– a hospital that really has their shit together? Whatever. The point is, if hospital staff (including cafeteria workers) have access to any recovering patient, yes they absolutely should know the patient’s status or condition before trying to engage them in anything. Don’t have access to reach me or affect me if you don’t know my condition or needs. That seems reasonable. And nothing they do should be jolting or disturbing, in the hospital, of all places! That’s how people get better.

So yeah, I was pissed that I got woken up and pissed for my baby too, big deal. (lol) And for the record, I never bitched anyone out about it, I just described my frustration over it in my book about my births, so excuse the hell out of me for recounting the memory. >:) *End rant*.

One more thing, Hospital. You “let” me go home early, because, you know, I wanted that homebirth, after all. How kind, right? Let me tell you something. If you have a hospital experience, the recovery and being taken care of is sometimes the best part. I think that very concept is what keeps some people from homebirthing at all. In my mind, how I felt, I needed that recovery. I had a scary and painful experience and had already had the lesser parts of the hospital birth experience; the upside was supposed to be the “vacation”. It was well earned, that’s for sure. Even though this hospital was sub-par compared to my last, I’ll be honest… I was reluctant to go home. I was hurt. I was sensitive. I needed the rest, the break, needed to be babied, and you cut me loose. Leave it up to the patient next time. They might actually want or need the standard stay.

Everyone, overall the fuss made over me was unnecessary and the commotion gave me an excruciatingly painful labor like nothing I would ever wish on anyone, and the psychological damage I am still astounded today that I had the strength to heal. Birth became my enemy that day, not just because I didn’t get what I envisioned, but because the pain itself was felt in the most terrible way as to test the very limits of what one thinks they are capable of enduring (and has no choice not to). And now I know it didn’t have to. The damage that implies is so utterly tremendous I cannot convey this with words. Birth doesn’t have to be anything at all like that. That birth was not special, not dangerous, but it was made so.  I know you feel you help a lot of people, but the standards and procedures are so very flawed. Care needs to be individualized to the woman, not based on arbitrary bullshit. Attentiveness to up to date science (not to be mistaken for “medicine”, which is its own category and a business) including acknowledging that we are mammals with specific needs and responses in labor is critical! Those MUST be honored and worked with, not against, or we are hurting women and babies. Please know that even if I’m only reflecting 1% of those you see, of every 99 women you help, you may be brutalizing 1. I have a feeling my story resonates with more than 1%, though.

I don’t want you to think I hate you, because I don’t. We’re all doing what we have to do and what we think is right, right…? Things have to change, though.

Sincerely, Elizabeth

Your Birth Story: What it Does & Doesn’t Mean

19 11 2012

Your birth story can only account for what is possible, not impossible.

People are selfish. Human beings are consistently driven by ego, and one of those qualities includes making their story the end-all-be-all, final gospel word on certain subjects. I can be a very self-centered person and obviously believe my story can help people. I think all of our stories “prove” a lot of different things. I think anecdote is important. What it’s not, however, is a way to define everyone else’s lives, stories, or to justifiably command their beliefs. Conditioning, nature, and experience will shape these for us– they cannot effectively be imposed. Your story is not the only story that means anything.

My wife and child would have died if not for that life saving intervention from the doctor, so don’t you tell me doctors are doing wrong!

Oh, really… Well, I am happy for you, but I didn’t realize your story meant that mine didn’t happen.

Not even just men, but all people. Hmm…

When I hear the term “birth rape” I think it is such a disrespect. I was raped, and I don’t appreciate anything else being called rape.

Oh, I see. Because you were one of many to have experienced sexual abuse, you are now allowed to sit on a panel that judges what is and isn’t rape for other people, including women who were victims of actual sexual penetration rape who also describe their own labor experiences as “birth rape”. Because your rape gave you authority over all.

I am a nurse and I am hurt that you claim that nurses have abused patients! I bust my butt to save lives every day!

One, thank you for your work. Two, you do not speak for all nurses. Three, what if I told you that things you were taught help people might actually sometimes cause harm? What if I were one of those people who were unintentionally or even intentionally harmed? Would you be willing to learn with an open heart and mind what those things are which cause damage? Would you listen knowing that if you believed me, it would change how you view the world, yourself, your own profession?

Homebirth is ridiculous. I’m lucky I’m so smart and had my baby in the hospital. He needed oxygen and actually suffers today from not having had enough oxygen at birth, so at home he surely would have died, MORONS. Enjoy killing your babies!

I’m sorry you are dealing with a stressful situation. I really mean that. It sucks to face hardship with our babies. We all wish our children had only the best of health. Maybe the pride you feel over doing the “right” thing can be helpful if you are trying to cope with something very difficult, but many of us know that bad situations such as oxygen deprivation can be created in hospitals. Some would argue that you may have had a safer experience at home. Things like drug augmentation, the effect of mother’s position, prolonged labor, premature lungs, premature cord clamping… a variety of things in the hospital (and even at home) are interventions which can damage. Say a baby is in distress during labor and needs to come out now in order to be safe and healthy. Many situations in hospital can actually be causing the distress. That’s just one example. Who really knows for sure? But can this one experience mean you understand what is true and right for everyone, all the time? We all do what we feel is best, in the moment. Every situation is individual. What saves you can kill someone else. Don’t assume you understand it all. Attacking others for a choice you should feel very secure about doesn’t help anyone. And, it doesn’t prove your case.

A good healthy response to most stories and beliefs is, “Maybe that’s true, or maybe it didn’t actually happen the way that it would seem.” I don’t know about you, but when I hear a story, I hear from my heart and my mind. My logic and skepticism provides doubt where I feel intellectually unsure about what is presented, and I will do further research if I need to satisfy that curiosity. My heart will feel for them, employing my empathy and sympathy. Even if logically I do not agree, my heart understands what emotions may be painting the picture. I say, if I were in their shoes, maybe I’d agree. Can’t we all do this?

Our experiences can be so powerful for us, we take them to heart– too much. They become defining features of our identity. What that means is, when someone else’s experience comes in and seems to contradict that, our fragile identities become threatened. Our egos will not stand for that. That’s when people pop in with stories that are somehow supposed to put others in their places and shut them up, only it doesn’t. Because believe it or not, other people have stories too, that to them seem equally powerful.

I’m not immune. Like most humans I struggle with ego and identity every day. I’m an argumentative person and admit that argument stems mainly from identification with labels and forms. Who am I, without my tragedy? What worth am I, without my knowledge or cause? These things keep us trapped. To truly understand, to have right knowledge, we will exercise compassion. The best thing we can try to do is understand each other and give each other room.

Anecdote is not useless, however. It can be helpful to serve to warn others who face similar hurdles.They should serve to help our fellow man avoid undue suffering.

Everything *seems* impossible, until you’ve experienced it.

We should be trying to lessen the suffering in the world, not add to it.

Our stories and anecdotes can help enlighten us so we can take the appropriate next steps on our individual paths. Collections of anecdotes can be considered research, and all anecdote is in some regard evidence. When we use our own story as a means to discredit all other stories which also carry their own weight and power, we are living in our own reality. It’s false. It’s delusional and denial. Your story can tell people what is possible, can suggest what is and isn’t probable, but it cannot negate the details felt by others to tell the world what is impossible.