By Naima Tawwab
I have been a labor doula for five years. I must say that it has been a rewarding journey with many twists and turn along the way. Though I have been under the instruction of many a midwife, life itself has been the primary teacher. So here I am today. I want to write about my life experiences in birth and what I have come to realize after ten years of becoming a mother.
I have never had a natural birth or even a vaginal one. Perhaps, this is the reason why I advocate so passionately for other women’s rights to do so. At the tender age of nineteen I became pregnant with my first child and gave birth via cesarean section. He was breech with low amniotic fluid. I knew absolutely nothing about having a baby. It was all instinct and I even remember nuking bottles in the microwave at times. My first son, who is my best friend, was a learning lesson in progress. I let my milk dry completely up and in fact could not wait for it to do so.
By the time I gave birth a second time I was twenty-one. She was also a breech and back in 2005, the doctors were pitching the once a c-section always a c-section gimmick. Of course, with my having such a lack of support, I went for this bait and happily scheduled my section for 37.5 weeks. That summer I gave birth to rosy cheeked little girl who had to see the dentist as a newborn because she was born with a tooth. The anesthesia they administered to me gave me a respiratory infection because they gave me too much and I had to be hospitalized for a few extra days. I really wanted to breastfeed. My nipples bled and chafed and I was instructed by the lactation consultant to stop for a while. I kept her on the bottle and my milk dried up.
Third baby. This was many years later and I was now seeing a traditional midwife because I wanted to give birth naturally and at home in water. Once more, I was carrying a breech baby. Although, I was married by this time my support system was not the greatest and stressors of life, finances, and family issues caused me to give in to the obstetrician that I was also seeing and schedule the cesarean section. The two hours after having him that I could not see or hold my baby were torture for me and I knew that I missed the most important bonding time between mommy and baby.
I decided to get more birth conscious after that. I wanted to help other mothers so I got educated and certified as a labor doula. I immediately started taking clients and was determined to give the support that I never had. I trained other doulas so that we could reach more people faster. I began following midwives to gain more knowledge. I became obsessed with the birth experience that I never had and wanted to save and protect mothers and their babies all over the world. It became my mission because I could not regain what I had missed and the best that I could think to do was warn everybody else.
By the time I got pregnant with my fourth, I was not only seeing a midwife but also giving myself prenatal care because by this time I had clinical experience. It did not matter to me that I had three prior cesarean sections because I had more certifications now and had been to school for not only midwifery but also alternative medicine and I had researched and read about women who had positive outcomes from vaginal births after four and five cesarean sections. As far as I was concerned, I was having my baby at home with my doula and my midwife or unassisted if I chose to do that.
I didn’t want to see any medical doctors but my midwife wanted me to have an ultrasound. So I went. The obstetrician was very negative about my passion for homebirth, which was to be expected. Naturally, when he told me that he noticed a placenta previa in the ultrasound I immediately looked at this diagnosis as a scare tactic. It was confirmed though. My placenta was extremely low lying and I had been spotting prior. My ex-husband and I continued with our plans for homebirth with faith that as I progressed in my pregnancy the placenta would move up.
Not only did the placenta not move up but they after a thousand ultrasounds with specialists they now worried me with the possibility of what is called placenta accreta. This is where the placenta is not simply low lying but attaches so firmly that it can actually grow through the uterus and invade other organs. I was devastated because this meant that I had to be under complete care of an obstetrician and there would be nothing natural about my birth. In my eyes, it was stripped of all dignity.
I did what any mother would do. I searched for the best doctor available with the most holistic approach to cesarean birth. I scheduled what is called a gentle cesarean. It was all I had left. At least I could breastfeed my baby and he never had to leave me.
At eight months, I started passing large clots and had to be hospitalized for the remainder of my pregnancy. The placenta never moved up and with the baby growing a lot of pressure was being applied to my placenta which was lying partially over my cervix. That last month of my pregnancy was the loneliest and scariest time of my life. I had a doula, though, and she was extremely supportive but I was alone a lot and I missed my children who were then separated; two with my father and the little one with his dad.
After I gave birth to my little one via c section I had experienced what is called a post-partum hemorrhage. I would not stop bleeding and I had to have a blood transfusion. Luckily, the doctor was able to save my uterus. This greatly affected my milk supply and I had a very hard time bouncing back.
As it turns out the reason for all of this trauma was the amount of cesarean sections I had. They tell us that it is safer four some of us. What they don’t tell us is the more scarring we have the more at risk we are for placenta previa, placenta accreta, and post- partum hemorrhage.
They don’t tell us this because if we knew this we might not opt for that VBAC. It is easier to deliver a baby via surgery for some doctors. They don’t have to be patient for baby to arrive. They can schedule your section, perform it, and be back home for dinner. Let’s face it. Hospital beds are currency. The more quickly a patient can be seen and moved out of a bed the sooner it can be cleaned and another patient can occupy it.
We need to wake up and get more birth conscious. We need to be get more conscious of how miraculous and capable our bodies actually to birth without intervention. We were created and born to do this. We need to not only start spreading this knowledge but also passing it down to our children again the way our ancestors did because we are out here suffering. Babies are being born before they are ready. We are losing out on some of the most supernatural and precious moments of bonding when baby is first born because they don’t want to let us keep our babies after most sections.
We are being misinformed. We are told that surgical measures are safe just because a doctor proved proficient in a text book. Birth is not something that can be fully explained in a text book. It is not just a biological function but a metaphysical experience that does not always need to be interfered with. The interference is posing fertility issues for a lot of women. When are we going to remember that we are supposed to do this?