When I was pregnant with Tatum, I completely trusted and followed every word of advice my doctor told me. I didn’t ask questions, I didn’t think to look further into any procedures that were being done to me. I accepted that what was going on was correct for me. Don’t get me wrong — doctors are wonderful people to have in our society. I absolutely admire the work that they do for people who truly need it. But looking back, I remember feeling more like I was being treated as though I was ill, rather than going through a natural process that so many women before me have been through. The constant monitoring, checks, and tests made me feel like I couldn’t trust my body to do what it needed to do, and in the end, I was not educated enough or confident in my ability to give birth.
After I had such a medicalized labor and ultimately a surgical c-section birth, I started doing the research and the reading that I should have during my pregnancy with Tatum. The way I had viewed labor and delivery following Tatum’s birth changed drastically. In a matter of a few months, I had done a complete 180 in the way I understood and thought of pregnancy and birth. I was beginning to realize that the journey of pregnancy, labor and birth was so much more than what I had thought. It’s an experience to be embraced and celebrated. I DID have options, I DID have a say in what happens to my body. It was MY birth. Not my doctors, or the nurses, or the anesthesiologist. I was the one that had to live with the decisions that had been made during my labor and delivery, not the hospital staff or my doctor. To them, it was just another day doing their job. For me (and for every other birthing woman), it was a once in a lifetime occurrence.
I have noticed a huge difference between how I feel during this pregnancy and how I felt during my first pregnancy. I’ve informed myself by spending countless hours reading and researching my options. I’ve talked to friends, doulas, yoga teachers and family members. I feel empowered, confident, and educated. I feel how I believe any pregnant woman should feel about pregnancy and impending labor and birth: excited, aware, and ready. I was not ready the first time. I did not expect to succeed. I’m ready now, and I no longer have any fears.
One of the main things that I did to help myself feel in control of my pregnancy and birth is to read and learn about common procedures that happen during prenatal visits and in the hospital while birthing. Again, I do believe that there is a time and a place for these procedures when it is absolutely necessary. But oftentimes, even when a pregnancy and labor is going well, these procedures will be pushed as a necessity and can interrupt what is naturally occurring in the woman’s body. Our bodies, the majority of the time, know what they are doing when it comes to birth. Our babies will come when they’re ready, our bodies will know when it’s time. Our bodies don’t need to be interrupted by checks and exams unless there is a clear issue. Below I’ve listed a few of the routine procedures and tests that I have read in-depth about and have either opted out of on my birth plan or adjusted so that they best suit my wants and needs. As a VBAC hopeful, I want to have as little intervention as possible to allow my body to do what it can naturally do — and avoid the cascade of events that led to my first cesarean.
- Cervix checks – I will not be agreeing to any cervix checks at any time during my pregnancy and possibly during labor. What your cervix is doing during pregnancy and labor is only a very small factor of how you are progressing, and it usually sets women up to feel as though their bodies are not performing the way they should be. Here’s a good link explaining why they aren’t necessary.
- Ultrasounds – I haven’t opted out of having ultrasounds, but I am acutely aware now of how they are not accurate. Weights can be off a pound or two either way (have you or someone you know been induced early due to a baby being “too big?”), amniotic fluid levels can be hard to determine, etc. A really important thing to remember is that ultrasounds are not going to be able to judge exactly what is happening in your uterus and with your baby. Check out this link going over ultrasounds and their purpose/accuracy.
- Membrane sweeping – From the hours of reading, researching and discussing I have done, I have realized that as long as our bodies and our babies are happy and thriving, there is no need to induce labor. Membrane sweeping is not a surefire way to get labor started, and interfering with our bodies before they are ready can cause a host of interventions that are not necessary. Women will go into labor when their baby signals that they are fully developed and ready to arrive (the majority of the time). Some doctors start sweeping membranes as early as 38 weeks, and if your baby is not ready to come yet, this could cause problems. It is best to leave your body to do what it is meant to do. Take a look at this article discussing membrane sweeping and why it is not ideal.
- Letting go of my “due date” – One thing I have been taught in my prenatal yoga class is to let go of my due date and focus on a due week or even a due month. Our due dates are only an estimate, and even when charting conception as I did, you can not be completely certain when it happened. Instead of telling people that I’m due July 5th, I will say that I’m due sometime around the end of June/early July. If it comes to July 5th and there are still no signs of baby, I will not be as focused on that date as I was on my due date with Tatum, and the pressure of inducing labor will not get to me. I understand that my baby will come when ready, and that the due date is not an expiration date.
- Electronic Fetal Monitoring – As a VBAC mama, I understand that while in the hospital they will want to monitor me for signs of uterine rupture, even though the risk of uterine rupture is incredibly low. I am going to stick to my guns and only allow intermittent fetal monitoring rather than continual monitoring. When I was laboring with Tatum, from the moment I arrived at the hospital to the moment they wheeled me into the operating room for my c-section, I had the fetal monitor strapped on my belly. I truly believe this hindered my labor progress, as I was confined to the hospital bed and couldn’t move my body to help labor along. Considering I was a first time mom, labor had begun on its own, and I was having no warning signs of anything, the fact that I was immediately put on the monitors was completely unnecessary. I understand needing to record a few contractions, but for the most part, EFM (electronic fetal monitoring) is not indicative of how well baby is dealing with labor. Here’s a really informative link further discussing EFM.
- The use of pitocin to induce/speed up labor – Pitocin is a synthetic form of oxytocin — what our bodies make to naturally help labor along. Oxytocin that is naturally occurring in our bodies during labor will create its own rhythm and release when needed. When using pitocin, it is on a constant IV drip into the woman’s body that will also confine her to the hospital bed. Pitocin seems to be a common thing for women to receive during their labors, and it is something that I will not be agreeing to during my labor. Pitocin is known to cause intense, non-efficient contractions that can ultimately lead to other medical interventions. Labor is a very intricate thing, and can stop and start again for many reasons. Jumping to pitocin as a cure-all for a labor that may not be progressing according to what your doctor thinks is acceptable could end up in a very difficult labor, other interventions and even a cesarean. Unless it is TRULY needed, I will be avoiding it. Here’s some information regarding pitocin and how it affects the laboring woman.
There are plenty other procedures that I have either adjusted to best suit my needs or have opted out of, but these are a few to get you thinking (if you haven’t already yet!). Next week I will share my birth plan that David and I worked on (this might be especially helpful for moms planning a VBAC) that goes a little more in-depth.
I know that there are a lot of unknowns when it comes to pregnancy and birth. Things may change in an instant — but being prepared and knowledgable about what can happen and what alternatives I can take has been essential for me to build my confidence and to know that my body isn’t broken. It knows exactly what to do.
*This post is not meant to replace the medical advice of your doctor or midwife. If you have any concerns or questions about your pregnancy and labor, please ask your care provider.*