Welcome To Our Empowerment Issue
By Dr. Elliot Berlin | DC
If I’ve learned anything from the past ten years working in the world of pregnancy and birth (and as a husband and father of four!), it’s that pregnancy brings out a lot of emotions. Two of those emotions, although conflicting, very often co-exist: excitement and fear.
Excitement is only natural. A new family member is on the way! Many times I hear “I’ve dreamed about being a mother since I was a little girl,” or “our neighbors probably heard us screaming when that test came back positive!” Excitement leads to enthusiasm, and a keen interest in learning everything about the process of pregnancy and birth.
Fear is a very different emotion, but one that is partly natural - after all, we humans are no different from many of our relatives in the natural world in our instinct to protect our young - but more often, the fear I see is clearly the result of outside influences. Those influences tell us that pregnancy is riddled with risks, complications and discomforts, and birth is so dangerous and painful that women would be crazy to attempt it without help from modern technology and highly skilled surgeons.
In today’s culture, women don’t deliver their babies; doctors deliver babies. Watch the average TV show or movie about birth and you’re in for some serious drama - what’s a birth without a water breaking in a public place, a panicked rush to the hospital, and a woman screaming in complete and utter agony? What’s a birth without a decelerating fetal heart rate, and a team of surgeons declaring “we need to get this baby out, and NOW”?
I’ll tell you what it is: normal. There’s a reason the average birth doesn’t make it to TV or the movies - while it may be the single most incredible moment in the life of the new parent or parents, there’s usually not nearly enough drama involved to keep an audience watching. Women have been birthing without a room full of machines, a drawerful of drugs and surgeons sharpening their scalpels for thousands of years. Women still birth today without those things. It’s great to have those things when they are necessary, but the evidence suggests they are harmful when overused.
In my experience, women who feel more fear than excitement trend towards having birth “done for them,” resulting in a higher number of interventions and often less euphoria after birth; women with more excitement than fear appear to be in the driver’s seat, usually birthing their baby in an environment where they feel the most safe, the most free, and encouraged by the people they have carefully selected to support them. For some women, that safe environment is a hospital, while for others, it’s home.
These empowered women know the facts, and trust the ability of their minds and bodies to deliver the healthy child they have grown and nurtured from conception, on their own. Empowered women investigate all their options before deciding where they feel most comfortable birthing; they seek out care providers who instil them with courage and positivity, and they prepare for birth knowing the journey will be intense, but also knowing they are up for the challenge.
Hailey Murray, the Managing Editor of this year’s guide, is no hippie - if only you could see how ruthlessly she fact-checks every sentence in the guide! We met when she was a patient of mine, expecting her first son, and she had infinitely more excitement than fear - she was firmly in the driver’s seat. As Hailey puts it, “I know I have modern medicine to thank for my life. I had multiple cutting-edge heart surgeries in my late teens and early twenties to correct a heart condition that could easily have killed me, and when it’s allergy season, I’m popping a pill almost every day! My husband wasn’t comfortable with me birthing outside a hospital because of my medical history, but it never even occurred to me to birth any way but completely naturally unless there was a true emergency - I labored in the hospital for sixteen hours with a doula for support, and there was pain, but it was pain with a purpose. It was pain that signified progress. I even have photographic proof that I was smiling, cracking jokes and kissing my husband in between pushes - I was high as a kite, but it was all 100% natural. My body and my baby worked together exactly as they were designed to do.”
All over Los Angeles, women like Hailey are reclaiming their power to birth how they want to birth. They are frustrated with the high rates of intervention that have led to one-third of babies arriving via cesarean. And the market has responded; today you have more choices than ever, including multiple top-notch hospitals, an explosion of freestanding birth centers, and a resurgence in the number of home births. We have “traditional” obstetricians who deliver in hospitals and midwives who deliver in homes, but we also have obstetricians who’ll attend home births and midwives who practice in hospitals.
In order to be empowered, you need accurate information; not information skewed to instill fear. With accurate information you can make informed choices, and find providers and birth spaces that will put you on the path to your idea of success. Our mission at Informed Pregnancy® is to compile and deliver that information in print, online and through other media including documentaries, podcasts, childbirth education workshops and classes and live events.
One of those projects, a documentary called Heads Up: the Disappearing art of Vaginal Breech Delivery, will hopefully be available online as you read this. One of the many real-life mothers featured in Heads Up is Kimberly Van Der Beek. At 37 weeks, Kimberly and her husband James discovered her second baby, Joshua, was breech, and also learned that her obstetrician would not attempt a vaginal breech delivery under any circumstances. Kimberly came to me, and I tried my best to restore maximal pelvic function to give her baby space to turn naturally, but Joshua had his own ideas about how he wanted to be born. Kimberly went with her instincts, and did all the research she could to become truly informed about the safety of vaginal breech delivery. She also sought out an obstetrician who routinely delivers breech babies, who confirmed that she was a good candidate. With all the ‘boxes checked,’ Kimberley changed her birth plan completely - she hired the new obstetrician and delivered Joshua breech, at home, with no “emergency” involved.
Her words are so true to our ‘Empowerment Issue’ that I won’t even try to substitute my own - “when Joshua was born, that wasn’t the triumphant moment for me. That was just magic and peace. I think my triumphant moment was when I decided to do something I believed in.”
I hope as you read the pages of this magazine, you’ll find yourself feeling more knowledgeable, empowered, excited, and ready to face any mountain you have to climb to have your own triumphant moment - and much, much less afraid.
For more information on the documentaries, podcasts and live events visit InformedPregnancy.com or “like” Informed Pregnancy on Facebook.