Choosing the Birth Experience You Want

I was amazed how my body took control. With the first push or two, my water broke (I even got to do that myself!) while I squatted. A couple more pushes and I could see her head in the mirror. I reached down to touch my baby! Minutes later, she was nursing at my breast. The feelings of joy and awe at the experience of a natural delivery are hard to describe. But I can tell you that it was worth all the months of preparations, discussions with the doctors, and two days of contractions.
--Ohio (third birth, following two previous cesareans)

The information on anesthesia was extremely one-sided. You've pointed out only the negative aspects of it without giving examples of times when it is beneficial. I know from experience that an epidural can be a sanity saver, and turn what would otherwise be a nightmare of prolonged, unbearable, uncontrollable pain into a calm, happy, positive birth.

Though you were satisfied overall, nearly all of you had suggestions for more information you wish had been offered. Many of those suggestions had to do with information about pain relief ("realistic discussion of pain, not fairy tale") or discovering what options were really available ("not just what doctors want us to hear"). Many readers were especially critical of hospital-based classes, and thought that instructors "pushed drugs" and "didn't tell us about risks versus benefits of anything."

Reminiscent of our comments in previous editions, most of you found the best advice about breastfeeding came from friends, La Leche League, childbirth educators, midwives, and books. Now you also can get the help of more than 1,000 lactation consultants. (See "International Lactation Consultants Association" in Appendix D.) Family members still tend to give advice that falls either in the "really helpful" or the "really terrible" categories. Hospital nurses, obstetricians, and pediatricians fared the worst in the advice category overall, though there were some exceptions, and family practice doctors tended to be rated more helpful than not.

Nearly every chapter has new research confirming the conclusion we made in the first edition about a good birth being also a safe birth. We provide information about options that women want, including new data from reader questionnaires, and about the seldom discussed sexual pleasures of pregnancy, birth, and breastfeeding. Types of birth attendants (midwife and doctor) and of places of birth (hospital, birth center, and home) are compared. We present a demystified view of doctors and nurses so that you can understand why they do what they do. From cesareans to circumcision, from prolonged pregnancy to newborn jaundice phototherapy, the risks and benefits of modern American childbirth interventions are described.

We encourage you to appreciate your pregnant and new-mother feelings. As your best guarantee of having a normal vaginal birth once you're in the hospital, we suggest that you plan in advance to have helpers -- mate, doula, and perhaps a monitrice (your personal ob nurse) -- with you. And as "husband" doesn't compute for the 27 percent of you who are single when you give birth, unless the research specifically mentions husbands, we've used the words mate or partner.