My first child was a healthy and uneventful vaginal birth from the medical standpoint. The barrage of restrictions, procedures, and drugs, however, left me in physical and emotional pain, feeling disappointed in myself, disconnected from my baby, and lacking confidence in my ability to meet the challenges of motherhood.
I put my difficulties down to my inadequacies. I assumed everything my caregivers had done had been necessary for my baby’s and my health. When I became pregnant for the second time, though, and began reading and exploring in anticipation of that birth, I discovered that I was wrong. None of the practices and policies that had caused me such distress had been necessary in my case. All had been avoidable.
For my second child, I decided I wanted care that supported the natural process, care that used medical intervention only when that process had gone awry. And I wanted a care provider who saw me as an active participant in all decisions, with concerns, insights, and judgments to be respected as much as their own. I found that person, and as a result, my second birth experience couldn’t have been more different, although it was the more difficult labor.
This time I emerged from the birth feeling on top of the world and for the first time in my life, feeling strong, capable, and loving my body for having done this amazing, challenging, miraculous thing.
After that life-changing experience, I wanted to tell other women what I had learned:
The choices you make can profoundly affect how you end up feeling about yourself, your partner, and your baby.
I decided to train to become a Lamaze teacher, and I began working with a group of activist women and doctors and midwives in my community who were starting a birth resource center and a freestanding birth center. I also began attending births with some of my Lamaze couples and with birth center couples in the role of what would come to be called a doula.
Once I began teaching, I quickly discovered that the women in my classes were in the same boat as I had been during my first pregnancy; they accepted that highly medicalized management was routinely required to ensure a healthy baby. But I knew the research showed that was not the case. This launched me into what has become my life’s work: giving women and birth professionals access to what the research establishes as optimal care in childbirth.
Three books and countless articles, posts, pamphlets, and speaking engagements later, my recognition is as relevant today as when I first began my work more than 35 years ago. The gap—well, more of a chasm really—between optimal care and typical management continues, and women by and large don’t know it is there. My latest project, the Take Charge of Your Birth Series, continues my efforts to help women and birth professionals make informed decisions about care.