At one point, almost 90% of the births I attended took place in the water. It has dropped off a little, due to some speedy babies that wouldn’t wait for the tub to be filled, but there is just no denying that this is a very popular way to birth. I was excited to hear Shanti’s take on it, and share what we have learned over the years.
They have a built in tub there, but it is really much too small and much too deep. Its lovely, of course, as is everything there, but I’m afraid it just wouldn’t really work. Luckily, Kristin, the coordinator, already knew that, so I wasn’t breaking anybody’s heart with that observation. They assured me that they could just pull out all the tile and build another one, quite quickly. (Now, I don’t want to judge, but “quite quickly?” Well, we will see.)
I was asked to give a workshop on the down and dirty details of waterbirth, and I was delighted to. It was so off the wall, so unheard of, that I actually think it could work out fine. See, Shanti is fighting a battle with their midwives. They have all been trained in the classic 1950′s Western model of birth. Even getting them to acknowledge that there are better positions than McRoberts has been a bit of a challenge. They begged me to ask Kristin to get rid of the large queen sized beds with the homemade quilts in the birthing room, and get them some real hospital beds. They said the beds were too low, and were hurting their back. (I can completely sympathize with that, of course) However, when I gently asked if they could just climb up on the beds with their mamas, well, let’s just say my suggestion wasn’t met with overwhelming enthusiasm. I did, after much roleplaying and coaxing get several of them to promise to at least try it. So again,we will see.
And don’t even get me started on the episiotomy issue. I’ve been reading Jodilyn’s struggle with this, and I can only nod vigorously. They ladies love to cut. (When they found out I had never ever done one, I think I actually lost some of their respect. I had to make it up later by bringing chocolate to share.)
I think the main issue here is that out of hospital birth is not seen as a beautiful, candle lit experience, where the mother is surrounded by people of her choosing, and comes gracefully into her power as a woman. No, here it is a dark and dirty affair, usually with no trained attendant, the threat of hemorrhage, or other disasters lurking just over there in the corner. The hospital is a place of (relative) safety, even though that little bit of increased safety comes at a huge moral price. Shanti is trying to change that. But its slow going, especially when you have to start with your staff.
But waterbirth? They had hardly even heard of it, so they had no preconceived ideas. And that, I have found, is one of the best places to start from a teaching standpoint. We talked for hours, first dispelling the normal waterbirth questions that everybody from my mother to the guy in the supermarket have asked me. No, the baby won’t drown. No, you shouldn’t leave the baby underwater for a long time. Yes, we tend to see less tears. Yes, it IS hard to cut an episiotomy in the water. How great of you to notice!) Etc etc.
Then, one of my favorite midwives asked the question: “How do you run a resuscitation?” And just like that, we were off, off in a completely juicy conversation regarding the physiology of delayed cord clamping, the unseen yet oh so powerful bond between a mother and her child, how the midwife’s own attitude and demeanor can influence outcomes, when to actively help and when to encourage from the sidelines…oh, it was wonderful! We had almost no common ground to start with; they have not been trained in NRP in the same way that I have, so we really had to start from square one, because we really weren’t even talking about the same thing. But once we defined our terms a bit, we were deeply engaged in one of those meaty philosophical discussions that all midwives love. (It was a bit more difficult because of the language barrier, but we kept at it.)
By the end, they were excited about waterbirth, and I think, even a little bit eager to try it out. Annet even wanted to skype me in on their first one, to help guide them. I wonder how the mother will feel about that! And I hope its not a long birth, because there is no electricity at the center. But those are just details. I’m sure we will work it out. The point is that we are starting to give these mothers options, options that they have never even heard of before. And with options comes choice, and with choice comes dignity. And that is what all mothers deserve.