Post by Contributing Writer, Beth
When I gave birth to our first child in 2008, I was largely unaware of anything to do with natural childbirth. I had an OB-GYN as my care provider during my pregnancy, and planned to give birth in the best big-city hospital in our area. I didn’t know that I had any other choice, or why I could possibly want anything different.
When the day finally came (after being induced at 41 weeks), I had labored at home for a few hours when my husband and I decided it was time to head in. I lay on a horribly uncomfortable and tiny “bed” in the assessment room for four hours, having extremely painful contractions every few minutes, and no one to offer advice or encouragement except my husband – who felt rather helpless.
We didn’t know simple things like the fact that walking would help labor progress faster, or that a bath or shower would have helped with pain relief. After becoming completely overwhelmed, I finally succumbed to an epidural. My son was born after a total of 14 hours of labor. In retrospect, I am so thankful that we didn’t end up with a snowball effect of interventions, as happens to so many women after having an induction and/or epidural.
It was one of the most miserable experiences of my life, and I felt the complete opposite of empowered. I was terrified. Finally seeing his sweet little face was reward enough for all of it, but I had no idea that it didn’t have to be that way.
When I was pregnant with our second in 2010, I had a friend who was my doula, who taught me about natural childbirth. I devoured any resource I could find on the subject. She assured me that I was totally capable of having a drug-free childbirth, and that I had the power to decide what my birthing experience and environment would be like (barring unforeseen circumstances, of course).
After laboring mostly at home, I birthed our daughter in our small-town hospital after a completely drug-free labor, with a doctor that respected my wishes (such as delaying the weighing and cleaning for several hours while we bonded and breastfed). I enjoyed this birth experience so much more. My ultimate dream is for a midwife-assisted water-birth in our home, but due to my current rural location, it’s not possible.
I am now pregnant with our third and living in the same small-town, and am blessed to be under the care of a midwife in the city. We drive an hour and a quarter each way for each appointment, and we will be driving the same for the birth itself.
We are currently deciding between a city-hospital-birth with our midwives, and birthing with our midwives in a bed & breakfast in the city. My largest concern with this decision is for my environment. I’ve recently been learning about the delicate and intricate role of hormones in birthing, and how they can affect progress and experience.
If the environment causes a birthing woman to be fearful or inhibited in any way, then the necessary hormones for a successful birth are affected.
In Orgasmic Birth, Davis & Pascali-Bonaro explain that oxytocin, which is known as the bonding hormone, “facilitates bonding through entrainment. In this physiological process, the heartbeats and breathing rhythms of lovers become synchronized, and intimate partners in birth show synchronized brain wave frequencies.”
On the other hand, what happens when there is fear present in the mother or those around her? Stress hormones called catecholamines are released, and pain increases. Adrenaline is one such hormone – it contracts the circular muscles of the uterus and cervix, which must relax in order to open. The result is increased pain and impaired circulation, which often leads to fetal distress.
Fear is not the only thing that messes with our hormones, however. In a study published in Birth and the Family Journal, it was documented that labor will stop or significantly slow in all mammals if they are being observed.
It is of utmost importance to carefully choose who will be present during your labor and delivery. You want people who you can trust to be supportive and encouraging. A typical hospital birth, like my first birthing experience, with doctors and nurses coming in and out like a revolving door is not usually conducive to an enjoyable birthing experience.
Knowing these things, I am leaning toward the B&B, rather than the hospital. I don’t want to be subject to hospital policies that may interfere with my wishes, such as having doctors and nurses entering the environment uninvited. (There are also other reasons to avoid a hospital birth, such as foreign bacteria, and other undesirable interventions, which I don’t have time to discuss today.)
I do know one thing for sure, which is that I desire a satisfying and enjoyable birth experience insofar as it is possible and safe for the baby and myself. I believe that the environment I choose will help me achieve this, and that knowledge truly is power.
Do you agree that your environment affects your birthing? Have you personally experienced this?
Beth is a natural redhead, wife to a pilot husband and mama to (almost) 3 little ones. She is passionate about missions, motherhood, and finding the beauty in everyday life. She blogs from the Canadian prairies about the art and soul of audacious homemaking at Red & Honey.