3. Giving Nature a Place in My Body

(This is Part III of the “My Natural Birth” series – read Part I, Part II and Part IV)

Natural birth? Are you out of your mind?

So I am pregnant, trying to deal with the psychological pain of the past, and struggling to explain my powerful desire for a natural birth. Then I stumble upon yet another (a third?) self-contradiction. I hit on it in a letter to a friend:

Of childbirth I am not scared, surprisingly. I envision and foresee a natural and uncomplicated delivery. […] But just as I foresee an easy delivery, I foresee an emotional, heavy-duty first couple of weeks, or months even. Funny, I used to have such confidence in my mind, and be so terribly insecure about my body. Now it’s just the opposite!

I was the young woman with the oversized sweaters, the blotchy skin, the timid glance. No, not too much make-up, rather none at all. My body never felt right to me, and though I never really abused it, I had my share of junk food, diet Coke, unused gym hours, “vitamin” pills and Tylenol.

My body is a temple

The moment we knew we were pregnant we switched to organic food and banished all allopathic medicines and chemical cleaners from the house. We started introducing more fruits, more walking. But it wasn’t until I was 5 months pregnant that I realized: my body is a temple! It is growing a baby quite independently from my worry-riddled mind, taking care of it and itself without any help from me thank you very much!

I had found a great source of confidence, and confidence is what I needed. And the funny thing is: I found it not in my proud mind, my principles, my education, my articulacy, all the qualities of my personality that I had been cultivating, anxiously, in deference to my feeling misunderstood. I found it not in “myself”, that free-will, mindful and control-freak me. I found it in nature.

The residing spirits: “me”, and nature

The body by itself, as the temple, is just mechanics, chemistry – like a temple building is just bricks and mortar… until a spirit comes to reside in it. But who is “embodied” in my body?

The “voluntary” part of the body is ruled by “me”: my soul, my mind, the “higher part” of my brain, take your pick, whatever you want to call it.

Another part of it, all those “involuntary” bodily functions that underpin life at its most basic, isn’t ruled by “me”, but it is therefore not rule-less. On the contrary, nature rules it, much more strictly than “I” ever could. That is the body that was feeding my confidence: the place where nature rules.

Sensing my baby

Consider this: I am growing a baby but for a long time I – my “mind-me,” my “voluntary-body-me” – can’t be aware of it. I may feel depleted, queasy, hungry, out of sorts, but I can’t directly sense the baby in my womb.

At first it’s an abstract idea embodied only by a line on the EPT. Then the midwife or doctor tells me “it’s the size of a peach!” How unfair: she has felt it, touched it with her gloriously sensitive fingertips, but I still can’t sense a thing. Then I actually see it with my own eyes, on the ultrasound, but it’s just a picture on a screen. The eye’s caress of the image is an intellectual experience, not a tactile, truly sensuous one.

The bloating “helps,” though it still makes me feel the baby through many layers of flesh. It’s not until the first big kick that I “know” that I’m pregnant, know it in the full sense of:

an intellectual truth + a bodily experience = knowledge

Until that moment – 16 to 22 weeks into my pregnancy – my body has spun a growing brain, a beating heart, lungs and bones, arms and legs, a nest of intestines, eyes and a tongue, skin, hair and nails, vocal cord… a human being.

All I’ve done is made some decisions: which medical professional to trust, to eat healthier food, to work on “myself”…

Nature takes care of it

Once I realized this, realized it to the point of awe, I understood that my pregnancy and my birth were nature’s domain. I just had to let go of control. Suddenly the floodgates were opened to a rush of confidence, trust and well-being. The tone of my journals changed:

[My sister], when I told her about my desire for a natural birth, said: “you’re out of your mind. And all that talk about staying mobile during labor and different positions and meditation etc. is bogus. You’re immediately crooked from the pain. Just you wait: you’ll be asking for that epidural in no time!” I didn’t quarrel, not wanting to hurt her with my judgments. Though I frowned at her scheduled induction and the epidural booked months in advance, I felt those were her own decisions, and I never confronted her about them. Of course, she paid me no such respect, and judged me as deluded, inexperienced and naïve! Well, we’ll see!

So I went from “I hope I’ll do well” to “We’ll see!”

Letting go of control = empowerment

Here is the most powerful paradox: letting go of control and leaving the work up to something else that wasn’t me, or mine even – for how could I lay claim to Nature herself? – was the most empowering and personal decision I ever made. That is evident from the following journal entry, at 8 months of pregnancy:

I want to be part of the decision making. I believe that giving birth to Amie will be the most important experience I will have had (till then), and I want it to be my experience. For this reason I want to be fully conscious and fully aware of everything that goes on. I have confidence in the natural process and in my body’s capacity to execute this process: it has done its work these last 8 months without a glitch, so I trust in its good management at the birth. I want to help it along naturally, with movements, relaxation, feeling loved and confident. I want it to guide my decisions, so again I do not want it anaesthetized or dulled. The first ‘manager’ of this birth should be nature, then Amie and I. Then, if these three don’t suffice to make the birth safe, the midwife and doctor. I am not in a rush, and I am not afraid of pain. I believe each birth has its own schedule, and mine should elapse undisturbed.

Autonomy

I freely chose to trust in nature and my body as its rightful place for my birth. Not that that left “me” out of the picture: it was I who decided it. It was I who gave over the reigns. Again, it sounds paradoxical, but it isn’t.

According to one of my philosophical heroes, Immanuel Kant, I can be bound by laws but still be autonomous and indeed free, as long as I have bound myself on the basis of rational consideration. If I have freely chosen to abide by the right dictates, I am free. 

How come the feminist movement didn’t catch on to this? As it pushed for pain-free birth, did it really give the reigns to the woman? Sure, we are finally free to choose for ourselves the amount of pain we want to endure. But the more pain we relinquish, the more control we hand over to the medical profession. In effect, we choose to become passive. And a passive person is the least free of all: she lets others make the most important choices and perform the most important actions for her.

Now all this philosophizing was all well and good, but how did it really go?

> Part IV: “My Birth Story”

Some statistics on the epidural

It is difficult to find recent statistics on the use of epidural and other analgesics during birth. This is what I dug up:

  • In the United States, the percentage of women given epidural analgesia increased from 22 percent in 1981 to 51 percent in 1992 at large hospitals (performing at least 1,500 deliveries annually: source).
  • In France, in 2003, a staggering 75 percent of women had an epidural (source).
  • In Canada, the national percentage is better, around 45% (in 2001-2002), but there are variations across the country from 3.9% to 74.6% (the latter in Quebec; source).

No doubt the figures for today are even higher.

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