Why your 'empowering birth' isn't worth the safety of my son

by Steve Blight

empowered birthI kept reading the same thing…"Have an empowering birth"... "Feel empowered during birth"… So I kept thinking the same thing… "Yeah, that sounds great. But there's a major problem with all that. It's naïve. And another thing -- at what cost?

You can ‘be empowered' all you want. You can have the best birth ‘experience' in the whole world. You can feel good about your birth until the end of time. But at what cost to the baby today or you? Bottom line, the "I want feel good for myself and about myself" utopia birth experience isn't worth the safety of my son during birth.

So there you go I said it. It's what thousands of soon-to-be dads and others think when their spouse starts talking about "wanting to feel empowered during birth."

"Ahhh, but you're just the dad, you don't have much or any say in how your wife's birth should happen." Really?

Yes, because clearly whatever my wife decides it only affects her. If something were to happen it has no effect on anyone else. If something happened to the baby (or her) that would never rock our world, turn it upside down. Yes, it's all my wife's decision. It's all about her and her "experience."

I don't think so. That's just selfish. Likewise, any decision made by one person that might have lasting implications on more than one person is also selfish.

My wife wanted an empowering birth experience and thought a water birth, at home, with a midwife would bring it. So to logically point out how, why and what arguments she had that were full of fluffy selfishness, I decided I'd do some research, then I'd talk to her about how wrong she was.

I dove in. I learned a lot about women, their vaginas, how their hearts beat 20 times faster pumping double the amount of blood through their body. How they'll breath in twice the amount of air, how their boobs instantly adjust and nutritionally engineer food precisely matching what their babies need when they need it. I learned a lot more how women's amazing bodies protect and help a baby grow from 1 cell to over 2 trillion cells at birth.

Most of all I realized I was the naïve one and the fool. Why? Because so many of my assumptions were wrong.

My first wrong assumption

Birth outside a hospital is unsafe for low risk women. The evidence says otherwise. Multiple studies, with a growing body of evidence, show birth outside a hospital can be safe. Many of the studies show better results than many traditional hospital births. My assumption was wrong because I equated all hospitals with health. My assumption was also wrong because I assumed all hospitals always provide evidence based care (care based on the best available research and evidence). 

For example many hospitals require continuous electronic fetal monitoring as routine protocol. The evidence shows continuous electronic fetal monitoring increases the probability of a C-section, with no improved outcome for babies. Doctors and nurses told us the reason it's required is because hospital attorneys want the continuous tape in case the hospital gets sued – not because it improves your or your baby's health.

In a moment of clarity, I said to myself, "So I'm paying someone who's supposed to be providing us healthcare -- who's decided on our behalf that applying ‘routine' protocol on my wife and baby that's been proven not to improve the outcome of birth and actually increases the probability C-section -- unnecessarily introducing its own set of risks, all from which the World Health Organization, the U.S. Cochrane Center at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health don't even support? And the reason I'm paying for it is so hospitals can cover their butt just in case they get sued?"

My second wrong assumption

OB/GYNS are the only safe provider. The evidence says otherwise for low risk births. Multiple studies from the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), say midwives are safe and are recommended due to benefits like: fewer interventions, higher chances of vaginal birth, breastfeeding and increased sense of control during labor and birth. 

My assumption was wrong because I never considered an OB/GYN's valuable skill set could be used too aggressively and could become a significant constraint to providing the best care for my wife and baby. My assumptions were also wrong because I assumed all OB/GYNs practice evidence based care.

For example, it's also important to know that suspecting a large or very large baby isn't a medical reason for induction. Studies have shown that inducing labor for macrosomia (large baby) almost doubles the risk of having cesarean surgery without improving the outcome for the baby.

My 3rd wrong assumption

I'm hiring a Doula to help my wife feel "empowered," not b/c Doulas measurably improve the birth outcome. My research told me that continuous support during labor has clinically meaningful benefits for women and infants and no known harm. All women should have support throughout labor and birth. My assumptions were completely wrong, because the evidence overwhelmingly says continuous labor and birth support measurably improves birth outcome on many important levels: less pain, faster labor, less chance for C-section, less complications and less fear. 

Why didn't I learn any of this in my birth class? It's one of the most intensely amazing and best times they'll ever experience as a couple. They aren't just another insurance claim to be processed and stamped "PAID." I couldn't sit back so we founded YourBabyBooty.com.

So what did I learn?

• That I'm a complete butthead. After that…
• There's no one right way to birth...
• Most of us don't have a clue about all our really good options that are safe and get good results -- which the best evidence supports.
• Aggressive care can be your biggest constraint for a safe and smooth birth.
• Evidence Based Care is not the norm.
• No one will ever look out for you or your baby better than you. Ever.
• Asking good questions and asking why (at least 5 times) sifts through all kinds of things.
• The best birth experience is our responsibility -- we get what we pursue.
• If we researched birth like we'd buy a new car we'd have healthier moms, babies and better lives.
• We make decisions with our provider. We're a team.
• If you can read, you can quickly learn what the best available research and evidence says on birth.
• Everyone identifies and defines risk differently.
• The best providers ask questions and communicate to you that "who you are and what you want" is important to them.
• There are many amazing providers and plenty who don't care like in any other profession.
• Medicine and technology are incredibly valuable tools. How, when and If they are used determines if they're an asset or liability.

Feeling empowered is not fluffy. It's not naïve. It's real and raw. It's the same thing that makes your heart beat faster after summiting a hard hike, or closing a big deal. It's being excited and living in the moment.

It means you care enough about yourself, your baby, your spouse and your family to take action. It means you care enough to show up and pursue the best optimized pregnancy and birth outcome that you decide is right for you -- whatever that is.

Being empowered is freedom. You're stronger when you're empowered.

Read more of Steve & Sarah's stuff at YourBabyBooty.com. Get a FREE chapter of Sarah's new book "Going to the Motherland" by clicking here. Steve and Sarah found YourBabyBooty.com because they believe a lot of birth education is inadequate. They also believe you learn more and learn faster by focusing on people's real life lesson's learned. He's also a pilot in the Navy Reserves, loves to cook, travel, drink wine, watch college football and chase his kids outside. They've lived all over the place with the Navy, but now live in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

Photo courtesy of iStockphoto.

©October 25, 2012 Steve Blight. All rights reserved.