I was talking with my sister recently about birth choices, and I started wondering how much the decision of where to labor and give birth has an impact on the experience and the outcome. I told my sister that if I'd been in the hospital with my breech baby I probably still would have had the outcome of a healthy baby, but the experience would've been altogether different. The labor itself would have been different and I wouldn't have been so relaxed and comfortable. And then there's the issue of the surprise breech, which would have led to an emergency cesarean. Instead of recovering from a vaginal birth at home, I would have been recovering from abdominal surgery with 4 small children and a newborn. My fear of c-sections in general would have left me scarred emotionally, and I would've had a lot more to heal from than just the physical trauma from the surgery. I also would have ended up with a uterine scar that could impact future births.
I shared my home breech birth story with a group of my midwife's clients at her home. At the very same meeting another mother shared her hospital birth story, and it was a striking contrast to mine. She had a natural labor without interventions in the hospital and everything went smoothly. However, after the birth she noticed her baby was twitching. The doctors and nurses hadn't noticed it. It took the mother's eye and intuition to see that something was wrong. They determined that the baby had suffered a stroke sometime after the birth. Because they were in the hospital, the infant was able to immediately receive the medical care he needed. What was even more interesting to me was when she told us that she had considered planning a home birth, but whenever she thought about it she felt uneasy. She didn't know why she felt uneasy, but she followed her feelings and planned to have the baby in the hospital. She was exactly where she needed to be, and it was because she followed her feelings. I, on the other hand, had felt nothing but peace when I planned my home birth, and I was exactly where I needed to be.
I believe there are times when no matter which choice we make, we'll still have a positive outcome. Almost all babies would survive whether they were born at home or in the hospital, whether born vaginally or by c-section. Almost all mothers will survive birth regardless of where it takes place or under what circumstances. But the outcome is not the whole picture.
Rixa from Stand and Deliver has a great commentary post on her blog about the way people say that all that matters is a healthy mom and baby. "Health" in this sense usually means "alive".
We all know that health is all-encompassing, and it doesn't simply imply survival alone. Health is physical, mental and emotional. When a woman has a traumatic birth experience under any circumstances, she is emotionally unhealthy. Trauma can lead to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, and while it's not commonly associated with postpartum women, if the mother suffered trauma during the birth she is more prone to this state of disease. Trauma is not associated with specific birth events, but rather the woman's interpretation of them and her feelings of either being in control and respected or being out of control and disrespected. By definition the CDC considers cesarean section a "morbidity", which would imply that any woman who's recently had a c-section is physically unhealthy. We can see that there are many different situations under which a mother and baby can survive birth but still be unhealthy afterward. Heather Armstrong wrote a beautiful, yet heart-wrenching post on The Unnecesarean about her own experiences with emotional and physical trauma regarding birth.
The outcome matters. The experience matters. The emotional, mental and physical well-being of mother and baby matter. How can expectant parents plan for birth with all of these variables in mind? How can they make decisions about their baby's upcoming birth hoping for the best experience and the best outcomes?
Click here for part 2...
Click here for part 2...