Saturday was my first day on the labor deck for my "Labor and Delivery" class. I have to admit I was quite apprehensive, as the extent of my pregnant lady/birthing experience is pretty much limited to being around when my little bro was born, oh, say 20 years ago... not to mention that it seems like having a child is a prerequisite to success in my L&D class...
My fellow student Michelle and I rolled onto the floor at 7am to a "packed house" and several imminent births on the status board. I was psyched when I walked into my first patient's room with my nurse to discover that she was a 16 year old Latina girl. As some of you may know, I am quite certain I want to work with the Spanish speaking population, and I've always loved working with teens, so this was like a double score. She was a very mature young lady who easily allowed you to forget she was so young, until she would smile or laugh or yell out and you saw a mouth full of braces... her boyfriend and mom were there to accompany her through labor. I have never seen someone who looked so nervous and lost as that 16 year old boy did when things got rolling. He needed almost as much encouraging as she did. My second patient was almost the exact opposite- a 35yr old mother, 37 year old father, both of Indian descent. Dad was so excited, so nervous, and as prepared as any guy could be for what he was about to go through.
The process of the two labors themselves is something I will probably never forget. I will save you the gory details and just say that it was at once amazing, terrifying, messy, and fascinating. I felt honored to be a part of such a momentous life occasion for those involved. I must admit I did get a bit teary eyed after the second birth- I couldn't help it! The mom was sobbing and I'm pretty sure the dad was in shock. Afterwords the dad had me show him how to hold the baby (which, mind you, I have done probably all of 5 times in my life...) and he said "no matter how much you prepare for this you just can't ever really imagine what it is like... I have so many images in my head I just can't erase them."
The most interesting part of it all was the fact that the births seemed so unnatural in a way. Both mothers were flat on their backs with so many IV lines, monitors, and wires attached to them they were practically strapped down to the bed. As we have discussed time and again in my L&D lectures, we have medicalized birth to the point that we make it more taxing and difficult on women's bodies than it ever needs to be. Instead of using gravity to our advantage by putting the woman in a vertical position, we force her to remain horizontal. Instead of trusting that the birth will not have complications (as the vast majority don't) we prepare for the worse by putting in unnecessary IV lines and preventing mothers form eating or drinking from the moment they step in the hospital until an hour after they give birth- just in case they MIGHT have to go to the OR for a c-section. Blood pressure cuffs stay on the entire labor and go on every 15 minutes (that thing is annoying when you're perfectly healthy... I can only imagine how obnoxious and constricting that must be when you're laboring).
It should be noted that both my patients were working with a doctor (an OBGYN) as opposed to a midwife. Midwives are well known for their emphasis on alternative birthing methods. I ask, alternative to what? Alternative to what some doctor in 1957 decided was easier for HIM in monitoring his laboring patient- sitting comfortably on a stool in front of a conveniently placed, easily visible woman. What have we done to the ultimate natural process of birth?