Posted 09 September 2011, by Abby Lowell, Juneau Empire, juneauempire.com
The other day I could have sworn I found webbing between my toes.
Perhaps I’m adapting to the excessive rainfall we’ve recently experienced, or perhaps, it’s another lovely — though rare — symptom of pregnancy.
Who knows; it’s not like I’ve seen much of my feet in a few months anyway.
But getting back to the rain; to say we’ve gotten a lot of it lately is a gross understatement. While most regions measure rainfall in inches, mostly in the single digits, we measure rainfall in feet. Fact: Rainfall in our region nearly outpaces me in height. At 5 feet 2 inches tall, I’ve got only two inches on our yearly average.
I trust Mother Nature, though. Rainfall in Southeast is vital and it all happens for a reason. Moisture nourishes rainforest ecology, it flushes fresh water to the ocean and helps anadromous fish “sniff” their way home. And when we endure a particularly rough and soggy patch, it seems she (I assume Mother Nature is a “she”) rewards Juneauites in one way or another.
This trust in the natural ways of the world extends into pregnancy, as well. Soon, I’ll be rewarded for 10 months of hard work; my due date is nearly here. Before long my body will be swept away into an athletic feat that dances a primitive and instinctual path. No, that path is not necessarily a pleasant one. There’s work — a lot of work — and often a lot of pain. I trust, however, the reward will come and everything associated with labor happens for a reason.
That’s why I’ve chosen prepare for the athletic feat of labor over the course of my pregnancy. I’ve run, hiked, walked, biked, yoga-ed and fished my way to fit. And that’s why I’ve chosen to go the natural route — free of pain medication and unnecessary interventions — the way women have done it for millions of years and the way nature intended.
Through exercise, I learned there are huge benefits that come from bucking long-held beliefs that women should “take it easy” while pregnant. For a while I topped out my running mileage at nearly 35 miles per week. I ran up and down mountains, I captained a skiff and gutted fish, I toted a toddler up and down stairs and I did it all without blinking an eye. As a result, my blood pressure is still within normal ranges, my weight gain is at 32 pounds — right on target — and I’ve experienced a completely healthy pregnancy by all accepted standards.
There are also huge benefits to choosing a natural labor and childbirth. Today’s medical interventions, while commonplace, come with an array of pros and cons. Take the medication Demerol, for example. This medication is used regularly in today’s laboring women, I know because I begrudgingly accepted it during labor with my first child. It is a member of the opiate family and is given to laboring women to “take the edge off.” This alone is the overarching benefit of the medication. In contrast, I counted 13 disadvantages and side effects for both to the mother and child. According to the American Pregnancy Association, mothers who accept medications in the opiate family may suffer from nausea, vomiting, itching, dizziness, sedation, decreased gastric motility, loss of protective airway reflexes and hypoxia due to respiratory depression. Babies of mothers who are given these types of drugs may suffer from central nervous system depression, respiratory depression, impaired early breastfeeding, altered neurological behavior and a decreased ability to regulate body temperature. And those are the known side effects.
As a result of these side effects, the natural course of labor can be disrupted; it is, after all, a finite symphony of hormones and neurological events that kick off and keep labor moving forward.
My labor, like so many others, stalled as a result. This prompted the offering of another drug called Pitocin, which is often used to produce stronger and more frequent contractions. I accepted this medication, as well; I trusted my caregivers, as all mothers should, but I wasn’t prepared for the full extent of the consequences. The contractions produced are not only stronger they also feel synthetic. I struggled though one after the other and as I did so, I imagined my baby was also likely reeling from the new and foreign pressure being exerted on his tiny body.
I was then offered an epidural. I declined. It was offered again. I declined again. But the nurses and doctors were worried about my strength. I was, after all, working hard. And I still had to push my baby out. Finally, I accepted. I slept.
But, as I did, my baby likely did not. It was certainly still feeling the pressure of the Pitocin-induced contractions and that tiny human endured more than I like to think about.
As a result of the epidural, I suffered the same side effect that plagues most laboring mothers — my labor stalled again. I was given more Pitocin. My baby suffered more.
I could elaborate further, but I believe my point is being made — many interventions are not absolutely needed. It’s only after the use of one, that the other is required. The use of them in normal situations creates a domino effect that, for many, ultimately leads to the need for a cesarean delivery.
I was not one of those cases. My baby boy was born healthy and seems to be unaffected by the interventions. But I was lucky.
Cesarean rates in the United States are high. I believe it is because interventions have become commonplace.
In contrast, giving birth naturally allows for many more options and benefits when it comes to the overall experience of birth. The mother is able to tap into her instincts and “listen” to what her body may need. She is not tethered to machines by tubes and electric cords — she is free to move and labor in any position she deems comfortable. Take an athlete, for example. The very best are those that can take cues from their body. If it hurts, they stop. Or, if the pain is there for a reason, they don’t take medication to dull it, they practice coping mechanisms to push the pain threshold further. The same is true with laboring mothers. When a mother is managing her pain naturally, she is able to give her body and baby whatever is needed in a given moment. Certainly, if adjustments need to be made for the health and safety of the mother or baby, it’s important to accept that plans change.
This time around I’ve made every arrangement possible to experience a natural birth. I accept it won’t be easy, but few great things in this world are obtained without a fair amount of work. Plus, I trust that my body knows how to birth. Having modern medicine at our fingertips is vitally important for a multitude of reasons, but I’ll leave it for the true emergencies, because having a baby is not often a reason to panic.
Women around the world have been successfully bringing their babies into this world for centuries. I trust mothers in today’s society can do the same.
And, I trust Mother Nature — even if it means a lot of rain and a little pain.
• Contact Outdoors editor Abby Lowell at email@example.com.