Baby’s Choice

Editor’s note: This article first appeared in Midwifery Today, Issue 86, Summer 2008.
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Imagine you are a baby in utero. Set yourself a stage in there. You are surrounded by warm water, a loving mother and the wonderful sounds of her heartbeat. (In the Mauritius Islands, this first home, the uterus, is called the baby’s house, according to English midwife Huguette Comerasamy.) Your baby’s house is tight. Soon you will be nearing your time to come to the earth through birth. What position are you in? How does it feel? What do you want for your birth?

Carla Hartley says, “More babies prefer homebirth.” Is that what you want? Are you in a breech position or are you head down? Are you by yourself or is another baby in there with you? What would you personally choose for your birth? (No one usually considers your choices, but I think it is time that we as a culture consider what you may want.)

You probably want your parents to communicate with you from the time they know you’re in your warm, beautiful water womb. Do you like the visits to the midwife? She massages and talks to you as she explains to your mom about how you are positioned and how to feed the two of you.

How do you feel about ultrasound? Are you telling us something when you move away from the vibrations? Can you feel an effect on your brain?

What do you feel during labor? Do you feel what your mom feels? How do drugs given to your mom feel to you? How do you feel coming out; do you prefer one position over another? Do bright lights and shouting affect your entrance into the world? Do you prefer homebirth? Do you prefer waterbirth?

What do babies want?

Mabel Dzata believes we need more RESPECT, whether for each other as birth practitioners or as practitioners for mothers and babies. Just think how birth would change if the motherbaby were respected. When I look at some of the stories of birth we report in Midwifery Today, I read of no respect in most hospital births.

Why would a midwife or doctor take a tool like a bulb syringe and go after the baby as if attacking an alligator? Bulb-syringing babies’ nasal passages damages the mucus membranes and seems to always make them cry. Healthy babies do not need to cry at birth. Crying is the baby’s way of saying “I am distressed.”

“Birth is safe; interference is risky,” is another one of Carla Hartley’s “Trust Birth” sayings. We as midwives need to reconsider everything we do in prenatal care, birth and postpartum and eliminate all unnecessary and potentially dangerous interventions. We need to learn and to practice noninterference and respect.

Fredrick LeBoyer, in his book Birth Without Violence, encouraged respectfulness through lowering the lights, speaking softly and using a warm bath. Do you, as a baby, want that, too?

LeBoyer didn’t go far enough with respectfulness, though. He took the baby from his mother for a bath and separated him from the only person he knew, just as the oxytocin was priming them to bond to each other. LeBoyer took a step in the right direction, but then made a huge mistake by taking the baby out of her mother’s arms.

We need to do better by doing less. Waterbirth has certainly helped. For one thing unless we really try, we can’t interfere as easily. What baby wouldn’t choose to have her mother receive her if there were no complications or other valid reasons to separate them?

Mothers need to be educated by their midwives, but babies instinctively know about the importance of the first hour after birth. They want to be with their mothers. If they have to be bathed for cultural or other reasons (although recent evidence shows that vernix is protective) they may want to do it with their mother.

The baby’s whole body, breath, soul, mind and hormones are geared to being with her mom. That’s why the word “motherbaby” was born. For nine months the baby counted on her completely. Our medicalized culture has disturbed that reality. Babies can live this way, but not optimally.

We need to respect the baby’s need to stay with mom and dad. Wouldn’t you, as a baby, choose as warm and loving place as possible?

Midwives and doulas have a huge responsibility to help nourish and protect motherbaby. Midwives can help to ensure a loving home for the baby, even if his folks don’t get along. We are given a sacred trust that is the most important part of our calling. Because of our roles we have influence; that influence can be used to educate. Several of my midwife educator friends have told me that if we do what we need to in prenatal care the birth will go as smoothly as possible. So step up to your calling and don’t forget the importance of respecting the baby.

Each one teach one.

About Author: Jan Tritten

Jan Tritten is the founder, editor, and mother of Midwifery Today magazine and conferences. Her love for and study of midwifery sprang from the beautiful homebirth of her second daughter—after a disappointing, medicalized first birth in the hospital. After giving birth at home, she kept studying birth books because, “she thought there was something more here.” She became a homebirth midwife in 1977 and continued helping moms who wanted a better birth experience. Jan started Midwifery Today in 1986 to spread the good word about midwifery care, using her experience to guide editorial and conferences. Her mission is to make loving midwifery care the norm for birthing women and their babies in the United States and around the world. Meet Jan at our conferences around the world!

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