Birth Wars

Filed under: Essays |

In today’s birthing world, no decision about pregnancy and newborns seems easy.  Epidural or not?  Midwife or doctor?  Breastfeeding and pumping, or supplemental formula?  Every decision is wrought with political, maternal and cultural subtext.  Breastfeed and you’re a good mom, but breastfeed too long and you’re a militant.  Give birth with an epidural and you’re lazy.  Give birth without one and you’re a martyr.

For me, my mother and my Abuela’s stories made choices easier.  Although I’ve spent a lot of my adult life in the “Anglo” world, when I got pregnant I relied more on my Latina roots.  The women in my family had done it the “natural” way and, so, this gave me courage that I could go that route too.  For me, it was less about trends and more about continuity across the generations.  There was something beautiful about knowing I would give birth and take care of my baby like so many women before me had done.

I decided to get my prenatal care from a midwife.  When I told my mom, she asked me if she remembered that woman we used to visit back in Spain, Doña Dora.  I did.  “She was your partera,” my mom told me, a fact I hadn’t known.  I thought she was just an old lady my mom knew.  Somehow, knowing that my mom had gone to a midwife too made me more at peace with my decision.

When my daughter sent her first signals that she was ready to make her debut one snowy Saturday night, I suddenly had my doubts that I could pull off a natural birth.  I got scared and panicky.  Within the hour, the doula I had arranged to be with me was in the bedroom of my new house, helping me slip on my socks and working through contractions with me as we got ready to go to the birth center.  I looked at her long, straight hair and she reminded me of what my mother had looked like when I was a little girl.  In that moment, I felt she could handle everything that came our way.  I breathed like she told me to and knew I would be fine.

It took almost 24 hours for my daughter, posterior, stubborn even in birth, to finally make her entrance.  In those hours, I learned a lot about avoidance and acceptance, about trusting your body, and about being strong. And, most of all, I learned that birth is the opposite of war, so there is nothing to disagree about when making decisions about it.  Midwife or doctor, breastfeeding or formula, it all gets you to your goal.  While getting for the big day, and the wonderful adventure that comes after, what counts is leaning on your loved ones and letting their wisdom help you dig deep to find the mother you want to be.

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