by Michael Giotis
In a dim hospital room, a contraction ended and my wife slumped back in bed. The doctor relaxed her grip on the vacuum pump and turned to a nurse, directing her to prepare for c-section. Crouched between my wife and the doctor, I felt control over my first son’s birth slipping away. We had worked so hard to bring our boy into the world as naturally as we could. I locked eyes with our doula for strength, turned to the doctor and said, “Wait, give her more time.” The doctor responded, “I’ve done the vacuum twice, it’s not working.” In the chaos of birth, her medical opinion trumped all and we suddenly had no say.
Then another contraction was on us. I pressed my face into my wife’s. “This is it baby, this is the one. Now!” She pushed with all her whole being, crushed my hand and our Leo was born--the product of 20 hours of labor, 3 hours of pushing, 1 shot of pain medication, a 3 member dedicated support team and 1 bad-ass new mom.
As men we too often assume that our partners know what to expect, but in truth pregnancy and birth are still confounding to most prospective moms. It takes an incredible amount of research, dedication, and bravery to develop an informed understanding of the process.
In our case our research led us to the writings of natural birth advocate Ina May Gaskin. Slowly my wife let go of the fear of the unknown and became convinced that a natural birth was best for the baby and for her--and that it could be done. We worked with a doula, developed a birth plan, studied it, imagined scenarios and trained like athletes. When the big day came, we thought we were ready.
Even with all our preparation, we came very close to an unnecessary c-section. It’s been called the “cascade of interventions,” and this is what we experienced during our labor:
- A fetal heart monitor is connected because labor is “taking too long.”
- Her water is broken to speed things along.
- The monitor picks up an irregular heartbeat at some point; the baby is said to be in distress.
- Stuck in the same position on her back due to the fetal monitor, the baby doesn’t rotate well in the birth canal and the doctor attempts to manually rotate his head.
- 15 minutes after the doctor joins us, a vacuum pump is used to get a grip on the baby’s head to aid his movement through the canal.
When we compare our experience to other birth stories of first time parents, we find it to be very well within the norm. We were nearly overwhelmed by standard medical practice.
That experience of nearly being shut out at the crucial moment made me think about alternatives and about how we might change the culture of birth and it’s medicalized position in the hospital.
I have since been intrigued to learn that many medical professionals who participate in hospital births choose to have their own births at home. Their professional knowledge and personal experience led them to make a choice outside the medical model.
“Why Not Home” is a passion project that is turning this group’s experience into a film. Filmmaker Jessicca Moore’s goal is to open up the dialogue and demystify the options for women and families.
If you’re interested in a discussion that increases support and minimizes judgment for women and families regardless of their choices around place of birth, please share your story and support this effort.
What were your experiences in birth? Did you feel like your values and autonomy were respected and supported? Do you have experience in avoiding the cascade of interventions in the hospital? Please share in the comments.