Natural Hospital Birth: The Best of Both Worlds
by Cynthia Gabriel
This is the essential book for families desiring a natural birth in the hospital. It informs readers of everything I wish I had to time to review with my doula clients. It does not scare or shame parents about their birth environment choice, instead gently and honestly reveals what you can expect when you arrive at the hospital and how to prepare yourself & your birth team to maximize your chances of a natural birth. Gabriel manages to cover the normal birth preparation topics such as stages of labor, pain coping techniques, & birth stories clearly and yet differently than any other author before her. Additionally she includes in-depth examples of what birth teams can say to tired, frustrated mothers during birth & what to say to hospital staff encouraging interventions. This review will cover a few of the books’ highlights.
Finding out how your care provider really feels about natural childbirth & if they will support you
Gabriel suggests these 5 questions to learn about your providers’ attitudes about natural birth. She goes on to unpack possible answers and points out red flags that may not be obvious to parents who aren’t birth nerds.
- Can you tell me what kind of birth you chose for yourself (or what kind your wife chose), and what did you learn from it?
- Can you tell me about the most recent natural birth you attended?
- In your opinion, what helps omen achieve natural birth? What can a woman do to prepare?
- In your professional opinion, what are the main reasons that women who want natural births do not have them?
- What do you think birth pain means to women? What is the value of birth pain?
Inductions, Large Babies, & How women describe labor pain in natural childbirth
Interventions, drugs or the unplanned, unwanted cesarean birth is the fear that lurks in the back the mind of most women desiring a natural birth but who are the in hospital. As a doula myself I witness three of the most common reasons that natural births transition to medicated or surgical births: inductions, ‘large babies’, and pain.
A woman being induced and hoping for a natural birth has a long, difficult road ahead of her. A natural birth is still possible with the right baby, the right body, and the right birth team. “Almost 40 percent of American have inductions. Yet about a third of all inductions do not work.” I hadn’t realized inductions numbers are that high or that they are so often unsuccessful. It makes sense to me though, birth is a dance between the mother and the baby, it’s impossible for the dance to begin unless both partners are ready.
I wish I could openly roll my eyes when an OB tells a woman, “Your baby may be too big to come through your birth canal. Look at how tall your husband is! And you know we let you go until almost 42 weeks, babies really grow in those last few days.” Or I wish I was in a position to say, “Deformed pelvic bones were much more common is the 1700s, when our foremothers suffered from vitamin deficiencies. Most North American girls today get enough calcium and vitamin D to prevent rickets, the most common cause of pelvic bone deformity, so it is now extremely rare to find a pelvis that not able to birth a baby.”
Gabriel points out that most of the time the ‘large baby’ excuse is used to convince a family to agree to a surgical birth the problem is the position of the baby. Unfortunately, I haven’t seen many OB’s work with women on the position of the baby, this is where having a good doula and following the authors’ advice of ‘Eat, Cry, and Move’ can come in handy.
Pain is often a huge factor when births shift towards medication. The author sites her own research in the United States & Russia about pain intensity levels, the percent of women who experience them, and possible reasons and connected factors. According to Gabriel 85-96 percent of women report that labor “pain is intense and requires effort (usually, a focus on breathing and relaxing) to get through. Most would agree that labor has been their most painful physical experience. Many compare it to running a marathon.” The good news is only 1-5 percent (the number jumps appreciably if labor is induced) described labor as, “Excruciating, unbearable pain.” The important message here is: labor is hard, AND you can do it, here is the proof.
Eat, Cry & Move
Labor is not a straight line from first contraction to birth. While each and every contraction is indeed helping to prepare your body, it is possible for your cervix to open and close and open again. Contractions may increase or decrease in frequency and duration. Labor may ‘plateau’, the author recommends to Eat, Cry, & Move if this should happen because each of those activities helps to change physical, emotional and baby caused plateaus. ‘Cry’ is short hand for emotional release; which could be laughing or screaming if that is what feels right.
I appreciate that Gabriel suggests eating. While most hospitals don’t allow women to eat once active labor has begun it is unfortunate because I have seen eating give a woman the energy she needs to get through a difficult stage of labor.
Distinguishing Emergencies from Non-Emergencies
A primary difficultly of birthing in the hospital is keeping your calm. “Much of today’s medicine is about evaluating risk, so even normal labors are continuously assessed as potentially hazardous.” The language, attitude, and experience of hospital staff is that danger could always be just around the corner. Part of this is because the hospital is not designed for natural birth, the staff are not trained for a natural birth, design and training is focused around responding when something goes awry, this is why you’ve chosen the hospital.
Nurturing the calm and reassuring atmosphere women laboring naturally need is not the strength of your hospital team. You must be prepared to maintain your relaxation and trust the process while staff around you has some fear in their bodies.
No one said birthing is easy! In a true emergency you will know, otherwise assume the tasks of the staff are not connected to an emergency.
Finally I’ll leave you with one of the most poignant parts of Natural Hospital Birth, Gabriel discusses her experience of relaxation during childbirth:
“The only way I know to get though labor pain is to surrender to it. Achieving surrender is the hardest part. When you feel overwhelmed by contractions you have not yet surrendered. Your are in pre-surrender. A miracle happens in the instant that you yield. Labor stops feeling so hard. You stop feeling overwhelmed. As soon as you accept that labor is overwhelming, it ceases to be so. Relaxing during painful contractions changes the feelings of those contractions. This is just one of life’s paradoxes”.