It is time for another installment of the Birth Philosophy Young Voices guest blog post series. In this piece, we hear how a global perspective can help to mold, shape and even change our impressions of birth. This account is written by Kristen Green, a Yale School of Nursing student.
As a future midwife, it embarrasses me to say that I can remember a time not too long ago when my friends and I bemoaned how we never, ever wanted to have babies. We decided that labor was simply too long, would hurt too much, and we also agreed that a human coming out from down there was just, well, scary. Granted, just about the only visual frame of reference we had for all this was some inadequate high school sex education and the episode of Friends where Rachel gives birth to Emma. As an only child, this fear was reinforced with stories my mom told me about how excruciating and awful labor was (i.e., two episiotomies, an ineffective epidural, and a male OB yelling at her that the pain couldn’t be that bad) – as she often put it, that’s why she just had me.
Despite my fear of birth, I was also secretly fascinated. I wondered how so many women go through labor – let alone women who don’t have access to hospitals, pain meds, or personal support systems. I simply couldn’t wrap my head around it.
In the fall of my junior year of college, I studied abroad in Ghana, and it was there that my ideas of pregnancy and birth were completely changed. I was able to intern at an HIV clinic and on my very first day, an expectant mother came in. She sat in the waiting area for hours, not knowing that the entire clinic staff was in a meeting across the street. When a nurse finally came back and noticed her, the woman explained that she was in labor, but, unfortunately, the clinic wasn’t equipped to deliver babies. The mom-to-be, already significantly dilated, merely laughed at her mistake, remained calm, and was prepared to take a tro-tro to the nearest hospital, which was a considerable distance away. This situation was nothing close to what I pictured real, live active labor to be like. I was absolutely floored by the woman’s composure and strength. I imagined that if I were in her place, I would probably have run (or quickly waddled) out the door in panic. However, the clinic doctor paid for her to take a taxi to the hospital and thankfully mom and baby ended up just fine.
Throughout my time in West Africa, I began to notice that most women treated their births as normal – even exciting – life events, and, from what I could tell, had far fewer thoughts of birth anxiety despite the fact that Ghana has a higher fetal and maternal mortality rate than the U.S. (not that our numbers are anything to be proud of either). It made me see how important it is for expectant moms to do their own research, if they can, and to have meaningful conversations with their care providers (and other women!) so that they can take charge and make informed choices.
Since returning from Ghana, I’ve seen several births and have done a fair amount of reading and internet searching, trying to find out all that I could on topics from morning sickness to epidurals to home birth to VBACs. I learned about the wonders of midwives and doulas, professions I never even knew existed. It was the culmination of my experiences – seeing the strength of so many women throughout such a physically and emotionally demanding time – that made me appreciate how natural, normal, and amazing birth actually is. It also, despite how cliché this may sound, made me realize just how much energy and power we all have inside of us – that our bodies can mold and hold another being for nine months and can create and endure the forces of contractions. It’s truly incredible.
I began to see that there is a whole different side to birth – a side that I feel is still largely hidden from so many women in the U.S. or maybe just more often dismissed as unorthodox, even unsafe, despite evidence to the contrary. Right now we live in a society that largely treats birth as a means to an end – something you have to endure in order to have your baby. We talk about the “ring of fire” as the baby crowns, the sleepless nights, and the emergency C-sections. But pregnancy and birth are more complicated and layered than that. The beauty of it is that it truly is different for every mom with every baby, and that’s why it’s so important for people to know what the possibilities are. It’s incredulous to me that what we discuss about birth is still largely veiled in fear, but I fully believe that the more we talk about the nuances of birth and the options that are available (the earlier, the better!), the less frightening and more empowering it will be.
Kristen Green graduated in 2012 from New York University with a degree in Social and Cultural Analysis as well as Public Health and Policy. She is currently in her GEPN year at Yale School of Nursing and is 6 semesters away from becoming a Certified Nurse Midwife and Women’s Health Nurse Practitioner. She is incredibly excited to be joining a profession that helps women and their families through some of the most challenging and joyous times in their lives.