A Journey Into Pregnancy and Birth

belly-copy Note: Please be sure to read the comment section as well, as there are many great stories and questions that have come up. I will do my best to answer all of them in a timely manner.

In the past, I haven't written much at all about my thoughts on pregnancy, homebirth, midwifery, etc. But now that I am "great with child", it seems very natural to share my thoughts with you. Plus, I've been getting lots and lots of emails asking specific questions about this topic, so I'm just going to address them all here.

I love being pregnant. I even love giving birth! My homebirth experience with Bella was so incredible...a day I will never forget. And because of that, I am passionate about educating women...empowering women...giving them the knowledge they need to make the most informed decision possible about their birthing options. These decisions should not be rooted in fear or made simply to please family and friends. Giving birth is something that belongs to a woman (along with her spouse or partner)...and the details surrounding it should not be taken lightly.

Pregnancy is intense. Birth is more intense. Each mama's experience is so unique and different...it's impossible to compare one to another. Each woman needs to give birth in a place that she feels SAFE. If she doesn't feel safe to begin with, birth will never unfold the way it's supposed to. One woman's perfect, safe birth might be in a forest all alone...and another may only feel comfortable and at ease surrounded by doctors. With that being said, I will say that I have VERY strong opinions about this topic. While you are reading this post, if you feel the least bit offended or hurt by anything I'm saying, please know that my opinion of how birth should be is not a direct attack on you or how your birthing experience turned out. I absolutely honor your birth experience and know that every mama makes decisions in the moment with the information she has been given...with the hope that those decisions are best for her baby. This post is simply my own opinion based on my experience and research.

Homebirth Oh...where do I even begin? I LOVE HOMEBIRTH. It just feels so right to me. Pregnancy is not an illness that needs to be monitored by doctors and end in a hyper-managed birth and/or surgical procedure. It is a natural progression of life...our bodies are made to birth, and for me, the most comfortable and logical space to do that is in my home. I do believe that it's possible to have a wonderful, empowering experience in a hospital setting...but it's 10 times harder to do it there than at home. You are constantly fighting against a "system" that has been created "manage" a woman's birth and in most cases, instill fear. If I ever had a situation where I had to birth in a hospital due to a medical condition beyond my control, I would absolutely hire the most radical, in your face doula to come with me. I'm truly afraid that if I had to deal with a doctor during birth, I might be arrested for my behavior. :)

Options to Homebirth Of course, there is the option of birthing in the hospital with a midwife. Just be sure that if this is your choice, that you be wary of "medical midwives" who may hold very similar views of birth as a doctor might. You see this a bit more when the midwife is working very closely with a doctor and/or is in a hospital that doesn't have a good track record of natural birth. A birth center can offer the "best of both worlds"...birth centers have an inviting, home-like environment and can be a great option for those who aren't quite ready to take the leap to a homebirth.

Midwifery Care Midwife. Just saying that word makes my heart sing. I know so many amazing, inspiring women who are midwives... I currently have 2 friends who are midwives (meet Cosette, my midwife in Des Moines and my current midwife in Bozeman, Rebecca / *website here*), and 5 who are training to be. The very sound of that word crossing my lips brings a smile to my face. :)

Midwives are EXPERTS in natural birth. Doctors are experts in high-risk, medicalized birth. I am glad there there are doctors that can help out when there is a true emergency. However, it is my opinion that most "emergencies" in a hospital birth are avoidable. The progression of interventions that occur in a hospital are almost always a direct result of a doctor's impatience and/or misconceptions about the birth process. A homebirth with a midwife (or unassisted) is one way to avoid unnecessary interventions.

Another reason that I love midwives is that the pregnancy season is so much different when you are meeting with them instead of a doctor. It's a relationship that develops...a partnership. It's just...different. Your appointments are usually about an hour long, instead of a quick in and out with a nurse and doctor. There are also several things during pregnancy and birth that I see as totally normal...such as:

  • Declining the "routine tests" during pregnancy unless warranted.
  • Not getting an ultrasound (this is not a very popular opinion, but I would assert that ultrasounds in general...except for instance of pregnancy complications...are not healthy for the baby and have not been proven completely safe. See research here and here. Even the American Medical Association recommends against "routine" ultrasounds, including those to determine gender, size, twins, etc.)
  • Using a fetoscope to listen to the heartbeat instead of a Doppler. We have one at home that we use to listen whenever we want! We will use a Doppler during labor/birth.
  • Not checking dilation during labor...but relying on bodily cues instead.
  • Not being "told" when to push.

I know that there are some of you out there thinking "But Sara, if I wouldn't have been in a hospital, my baby would have died". I don't want to discount your birth experience at all...and I'm not going to fight with anyone over that point. I just know that based on statistics, homebirth is as safe or safer than hospital birth for low-risk women with a skilled birth attendant. Many times, the interventions that happen in the hospital are actually the CAUSE of the problem that resulted in an emergency C-section, etc. There are certainly situations that can only be handled by a hospital...but it's very, very few in the overall scheme of things. Even breech babies and twins (even triplets!) can be born at home safely.

There is also the misconception among those unfamiliar with homebirth that if a problem did arise during birth,  there would not be time to get to a hospital. However, midwives are trained to recognize potential issues BEFORE they become a problem...leaving plenty of time to transfer to the hospital if needed. Homebirth midwives also carry equipment with them to assist in these cases...oxygen tanks, a Doppler to listen to the heart rate throughout labor, pitocin or herbs to stop bleeding, and so on.

One of my very favorite books is Ina May's Guide To Childbirth, by Ina May Gaskin. In it, she details the statistics for 2,028 births that occurred over 30 years at The Farm in Tennessee. Out of those births, only 1.4% resulted in C-section. This is a little different than the current national C-section rate of at least 30%. Her other statistics are just as astounding...see the back of her book for the entire listing.

Another very disturbing statistic is the U.S. infant mortality rate. Basically, I am safer going to 28 other countries than to birth in a typical setting in the U.S. That's just doesn't make sense to me...you think it would be super low if hospital births truly are safer than homebirths.

I could write pages upon pages on my feelings about midwifery laws, the benefits of homebirth, a woman's choice to choose where she wants to birth, etc. But...I'm trying to cover a lot in this one post. If you're interested in more info, Google will be your best friend :)

Natural Pregnancy: Being Good To Your Body and Baby I feel much healthier this time around for several reasons. I'm eating a vegetarian diet, which means that I have eliminated the source of most chemicals and hormones that pregnant women ingest.  I'm taking much better supplements, I'm getting chiropractic care, massages, and doing yoga. I'm still not exercising regularly, except for chasing Bella around and housework :) That's something I'm working on. I want to do some pilates type strengthening of my arms and legs especially. Here are some specifics:

Food: I'm currently eating a mostly vegetarian diet rich in protein and healthy fats. I eat a lot of eggs, beans, brown rice, raw nuts and seeds, nut butters, avocados, fruits, veggies, whole grains and noodles, and dark leafy greens such as kale and spinach. I throw in some tofu and tempeh here and there. I do my best to avoid processed white flour and white sugar and if I do have sweetner, it's in the form of agave nectar, pure maple syrup, or honey. I've recently cut out dairy, in preparation for nursing the new babe...and also because I just feel much better when I'm off of it. I don't feel that cow's milk products are beneficial for human bodies...although I have to fight against my urges because cheese is tasty and addictive :)  Find out more about what I like to eat at Happy Foody.

Supplements: Floradix I'm always surprised when I tell someone about Floradix and they don't know what it is! I just figured that EVERY pregnant woman knew about it...because it's like a magic potion! If you are lightheaded, tired, or short of breath (like I was)...chances are you are low in iron. Floradix is a fabulous herbal supplement that you can feel working in just a few hours. When I forget to take it for a day, I absolutely notice a difference in my energy levels. I feel like a  drug pusher because I'm always trying to get people to take it :) But it really is that fabulous.

Red Raspberry Leaf Tea I'm a big believer in this wonderful tea. I wrote about it over at Happy Foody...but here is why you should drink it:

Red Raspberry Leaf: the best known and quintessential herb for pregnancy. Brewed as a tea or as an infusion, it contains fragrine, an alkaloid, which gives tone to the muscles of the pelvis and uterus. The benefits of this toning action include: prevention of miscarriage and false labor, reduction of pain during and after birth, production of more effective contractions during labor and therefore a faster birth, and prevention of postpartum hemorrhage or bleeding. Red Raspberry is also an rich source of vitamins A, B complex, C, and E, as well as the minerals calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, and potassium. These nutrients make it an excellent prevention and treatment for anemia and leg cramps, as well as a beneficial remedy for the reduction of morning sickness. The high mineral content also assists in the production of breast milk. (info from Birth Junkie)

I've been making my own concoction lately of RRL, nettles, and peppermint. My wonderful friend Rebecca just gave me a special yummy stash from Earth Mama / Angel Baby Organics. Although theirs is called "Third Trimester Tea"...you can drink it anytime. Most people will start in their 2nd trimester. If you have had previous complications or have a history of pre-term labor, consult your herbalist or midwife before taking in large quantities.

New Life Vitamins I was previously taking Rainbow Light Prenatals...but after talking with Rebecca, my midwife, I'm now taking New Life Prenatals and I LOVE them. They are much smaller (not a horse pill!), "cleaner" and assimalate into my body faster and better (to test your vitamins, put them in apple cider vinegar for 45 minutes and if they dissolve completely, they are good!). I trust her opinion because she has worked in that industry and is pretty much a smarty pants when it comes to supplements.

Calcium I'm taking additional calcium to help with "jumpy legs" at night and also because I'm not doing dairy. I'm currently taking Calcium Lactate by Standard Processing. Avoid calcium carbonate, and go for calcium citrate or calcium lactate. The second two are much more absorbable by the body.

Probiotics Probiotics are extrememly important for digestion, immune function, controlling/supressing yeast in the body, etc. The best way to get these would be through a whole food source...yogurt being one of the best. But because I am not eating dairy and I don't really love soy or goat yogurt,  I am currently taking PB8. My midwife also recommends Pearls.

Nordic Naturals DHA I think that everyone should be taking fish oil...but especially preganant women! It does so many good things for your body, I can't even begin to list them all here. Fish oils are expecially important for kids to take too. Bella's favorite is Barlean's Lemon Swirl. But here is a blurb from Nordic Naturals explaining why should should take DHA, especially in the 3rd tri:

DHA, which constitutes approximately 40% of the brain, supports brain development during the last trimester of pregnancy when the unborn child’s demand for neurological growth increases greatly. If added to the mother’s diet, it can help prevent the depletion of the mother’s store of DHA and support the developing baby’s essential fatty acid needs. Currently, the proposed Adequate Intake of DHA for pregnant and lactating women is 300 mg per day.

Yoga Yoga is a wonderful practice to engage in during pregnancy. I've found this to be one of very favorite things to do lately! I've found a great prenatal class in Bozeman that I attend once a week, but I also try to practice at home, even just for a few minutes a day. Yoga helps to align your body for carrying the baby and for birth, and also assists in "opening" up your hips and "making space" for your growing baby. I've found that I am so much more aware of my posture and my breathing during the day since taking up yoga and I've noticed a big difference in my muscle tension overall. One of the best postures for pregnancy is the "Cat/Cow" or the "Cat Back". I do this even before getting out of bed in the morning to help align and loosen my spine and lower back and then again during the day as needed. I also love Child's Pose with legs open wider, The Squat to prepare for birth and The Pigeon to open up my hips. Love it. Love it. Love it. I'm currently looking for a great yoga DVD to do at home and would love suggestions from those who have found one they really like.

Chiropractic Care This is been a LIFESAVER so far in my pregnancy. I have been going to Dr. Amy Thomas in Bozeman...she has worked closely with the birth center there...tracking the outcomes of pregnancies/deliveries with and without chiropractic care. Their findings are really encouraging. With Bella, I had some trouble-shooting type chiropractic done, but this time around, I'm going at least once a week to keep everything in alignment. It's so important for your hips to be aligned correctly...this can really affect your length of labor. According to a recent study, women receiving chiropractic care through their first pregnancy had a reduction time of 24% in labor time, and subjects giving birth for a second or third time reported a 39% reduction in labor times. I'm hoping this baby will just SHOOT right out of me! :)

I also found this interesting and just reinforced why I won't be birthing on my back...

"Body position during delivery is critical. Any late second state labor position that denies postural sacral rotation denies the mother and the baby critical pelvic outlet diameter and moves the tip of the sacrum up to four centimeters into the pelvic outlet. In other words, the semi-recumbent position that places laboring women on their backs and onto the apex of the sacrum closes off the vital space needed for the baby to get through the pelvic outlet. This delivery position is the main reason why so many births are traumatic, labor is stalled, the mom becomes fatigued and overwhelmed by pain, so the utilization of epidurals, forceps, episiotomies, vacuum extraction, and cesarean increases. This is why squatting is the preferred position--gravity works to help and the pelvic outlet can open to a greater degree. (Pathways/Issue 20)

Massage There is nothing more blissful than a massage during pregnancy. Oh. My. Goodness. I had the pleasure of having one just yesterday from a wonderful massage therapist who specializes in prenatal massage and has a special table for big bellies :) I will continue to get massages throughout this pregnancy...not only for relaxation, but also because when the muscles in your body are tense, they will "pull" your chiropractic work out right away! It's best to utilize massage and chiropractic at the same time to compliment each other. These things may seem like "indulgences" to some, but for me, they are just part of preparing my body for birth and maintaining holistic health.

Honoring The Placenta The placenta is a phenomenal organ! I am planning making a "print" from my placenta right after birth, as well as dehyrating, grinding, and encapsulating my placenta to ingest after birth. For more information about this process and why on earth I would want to take my placenta in pill form, check out Placenta Benefits. Here is a nice article from Mothering about honoring the placenta.

Water, Water, Everywhere With Bella, we used the ever popular "fishy pool" and it worked great! We did have to add hot water a few times, which was a little distracting, but for the most part, it was good. And cheap! This time around I'm planning on using a larger tub with it's own heater such as the AquaDoula or La Bassine.


Recommended Documentaries: Business of Being Born (Every pregnant mama needs to watch this! Find it on Netflix, Amazon, or at your library) Orgasmic Birth Birth As We Know It

YouTube Birth Videos: Olive's Homebirth Betsy's Homebirth VBAC Homebirth (after 3 C-sections) Laura Shanley discussing unassisted birth and the physiology of birth

Recommended Books: Ina May's Guide to Childbirth (if you only read ONE, this is it!) Birthing From Within (take the class if there is one in your area!) The Thinking Woman's Guide to a Better Birth Hello Baby (a great kid's book about homebirth from the UK...Bella loves it! We were able to find a version for about $15) Gentle Birth Choices Pushed: The Painful Truth About Childbirth and Modern Maternity Care The Pregnancy Book The Birth Book The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding

Groups To Join: La Leche League (I would highly suggest going to at least one meeting BEFORE the birth of your first baby...just to introduce yourself and meet the wonderful mamas who will be able to help you in your early days of breastfeeding. You are much more likely to get frustrated and potentially quit nursing if you don't attend a meeting) Holistic Moms Network Attachment Parenting International

Magazines To Read: Mothering The Compleat Mother

Stay Far Away From: What To Expect When You're Expecting This book offers little to nothing to the reader when it comes to preparing for a normal birth. I really do not like how the book uses language that encourages the view of the doctor as the know it all. The doctor does NOT know it all. Some doctors have never in their entire practice seen a natural birth without interventions. The book does a great job of creating fear instead of empowering women to see their bodies as amazing, powerful, and able to birth naturally. So if you want to freak out and be worried and wonder all the time if something is wrong, then you should read this book. If you want to learn more about your body and what the birth process is truly like, then read the books I've listed above.

Birth Reality Shows Again, if you want to create fear within yourself, go ahead and watch A Baby Story and all of the like. I would recommend against it. "Normal" birth rarely sells...so most of the births on there are intervention city! There have been some that have focused on homebirth or midwife-assisted births, but they are few and far between. Most Mainstream Pregnancy Magazines and Online Forums This is mostly a personal preference of mine...but I really just can't stand them. They usually aren't in line with my birthing philosophies, so I avoid them altogether and choose to surround myself with resources and people that are uplifting and encourage me in my chosen birth path.

Stayed tuned for future posts on:

  • Cloth Diapering
  • Babywearing
  • The Family Bed
  • Breastfeeding
  • Vaccination awareness

Pregnancy photos here,  including my pregnancy with Bella and some other friends. Photos of Bella's birth.

The photo above is a self-portrait of Matt and I when I was 40 weeks pregnant with Bella.