ValerieIt's hard to remember if I've mentioned it before, but I often refer to my "former life", the life I led...

It's hard to remember if I've mentioned it before, but I often refer to my "former life", the life I led prior to becoming totally committed to the vocation to which I was called: motherhood. Many women have former lives prior to becoming mother, involved in intense careers or engaged in higher study, working towards a prestigious degree. That wasn't me. The "former life" that I refer to was AFTER I became a mother, but before the mental switch in paradigms. So what was I doing during that former life? I was a childbirth educator, doula, and a self-study midwifery student.

That explain somewhat how I know so much about pregnancy, birth, and postpartum. Yes, I have had valuable, practical experience through my own pregnancies, but I also have the didactic learning still stuck in my head. I began training to be a childbirth educator while I was pregnant with our second child in 1996. It was wonderful preparation for the natural birth I desired and achieved. The training had a heavy emphasis on out-of-hospital birthing (i.e. birth center or homebirth) and midwifery. In a city where the epidural rate is about 80-90% and the cesarean rate hovers at aroun 21%, I was definitely swimming against the current with my training and my ideals. Still, other childbirth educators have made a decent living teaching natural birth methods, so why couldn't I? Part of the reason I had difficulty finding clients was (1) I trained through a little-known organization that didn't have a referral system in place, (2) my competition for natural birth were people trom the Bradley Method (r), and (3) homebirth and birth center couples were required to take classes from the midwives who run the birth center. However, I did get a handful of clients, mostly those who wished to have classes taught privately in their homes.

In 1997, after I had be asked to attend a couple of births as a support person, I decided to train and be certified as a birth doula. I was very excited about this because I saw it as a springboard for studying to become a midwife. In my short time as a doula, I experienced a variety of hospital births, mostly the clients nobody else wanted to take on because they had "issues" or a history of difficult births. In the meantime, things were changing in my life. I had returned to the Catholic church after my dad had passed away, my husband joining me as a convert to the faith. Part of our conversion/reversion is we were called to have more than two children. I subsequently became pregnant and then experienced our first miscarriage Christmas of 1997. I conceived again three months later and carried Mary Elizabeth to term, our third child. Finding the time to squeeze in childbirth classes and doula work with three children was difficult. I was experiencing a clash in my personal philosophy. How could I do this work with pregnant women and encourage them to be home with their children and embrace attachment parenting ideals, when I was spending time away from my young family? We didn't believe in hiring babysitters and I didn't want to compromise that because I thought I needed to be with other women. Suffice it to say, I was plain lucky that most of my clients went into labor either in the evening or on the weekend when my husband was home to tend to the children.

The fact that I was having this internal struggle between the things I wanted to do and the mom I wanted to be was the starting point for me to question whether or not I could continue working with birthing women. Still, during that time, I was seriously studying everything I could about midwifery and was picking up skills whenever I could. Fortunately, the birthing women I worked with mostly were seeing the same midwives I had been seeing, and these midwives were more than happy to give me on-the-job training at these hospital births, even though this is probably officially "against the rules." The breaking point for me was in 1999 when a client of mine started experiencing some complications late in her pregnancy while I was on vacation. She wound up being dismissed several times by her OB and CNM, their saying her pain was just from stretching ligaments or braxton-hicks contractions. It turned out she had an ovarian cyst and appendicis and needed surgery. Her baby did fine during surgery, but he died sometime between the OR and the recovery room. Why her doctor didn't rush her back to the OR for an emergency cesarean (at nearly 37 weeks) is the question lingering on many minds? A day or so later, her husband called me to the hospital to assist them emotionally through the labor and birth of their son. It was the first time any client had asked me to hold their baby. I held him, their dead son, still warm from his mother's womb; still, dusky-colored, but perfect. It is a moment I will never forget.

It was this experience that led me to think about obstetrics in our culture and its (lack of?) safety. Here was a woman who saught out prenatal care, did everything by the books, was healthy and excited about her pregnancy, and still something went dreadfully wrong (she wound up suing for medical malpractice, and the OB and CNM have since "retired"). Yes, I knew all those stats about how midwifery care and homebirth is so much safer for moms and babies, but here was a real-life example. Mind-blowing to say the least.

There were some other reasons that I decided to ditch the whole childbirth thing. My training made such a big deal about empowering women to make their own choices during pregnancy, birth, and beyond. How could I truly empower someone if I was spoon-feeding information as was expected (by the women, not by the training organization)? How could I support someone through a hospital birth when I felt it wasn't the safest place they could be? There wasn't a way I could encourage women to empower themselves and to do their own research...that's what the general public DOESN'T want. Some things are just done a certain way in our culture. Not just pregnancy and birth, but family life, schooling, work. Everything is portioned out in these little boxes and hardly does anyone feel challenged to think outside those boxes.

It was around that time that I seriously started thinking about homeschooling the kids. I was fed up with living in the box, or at least appearing like I was a box-dweller. School was a drain, being different than other was a just had to stop. So, we started homeschooling and a few months into it, we embraced the unschooling philosophy. It has been empowering to us as a family. Who would've thought that this would lead me to some radical ideas about going through pregnancy and birth unassisted?

So, here I am, 22 weeks along, and I've avoided all the poking, probing, and monitoring from outside sources that most pregnant women are subjected to by this stage. If I were receiving prenatal care, I'd be gearing up for the blood glucose test and probably a hemoglobin level to make sure I didn't have gestational diabetes or anemia. I feel a like lethargic right now, but I think that is due to having succumbed to the stomach virus my family has been battling for the past week. I'm nearly over it now and am thankful I had such a mild case, resulting only in some diarrhea. Pooping frequently is something I can handle easily, it's the vomiting that is rotten. Still, I admit that I'm not a loyal vitamin-taker and usually only remember to take them if I'm not feeling completly well. I'd get a proper beating for this if I were seeing a midwife, or if I was actually honest about not always taking my vitties. Needless to say, I just decided to get myself a glass of water and my vitamin. ;-)

Until next time,

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