Editor’s note: This article first appeared in Midwifery Today, Issue 37, Spring 1996.
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Here is the plan for the birth of my child. I’ve taken words
from the dreams of 200 women. I’m translating them for the hospital staff.
1. No blue hospital gown. No sterile drapes. When I give birth, I want
to be naked. I want my body to choose the colour of its growing.
2. No enema. No antiseptic wash. No shaving of pubic hair. If I wanted
to shave something, I’d shave my head. Like Jean-Luc Picard. I’ve always
wanted to be captain of a star ship. When I give birth, I explore uncharted
territory, I move and writhe into new worlds. I want to go where no man
has gone before.
In 1872, an English doctor named John Braxton Hicks discovered
pre-labor contractions. This was sort of like Columbus discovering America. Some
people already knew it was there.
3. No drugs. No epidural.
I want to feel the baby moving, his hard head pushing through layers of me. My
bones shifting, my uterus contracting. I want to feel birth. I want to know fire.
4. No episiotomy. No amniotomy. I don’t want anything that rhymes with
lobotomy. I prefer to stretch slowly, burning in a rim of panting breaths,
around my baby’s head.
Pierre Vellay, MD, wrote that pregnant women must be “trained
in the proper way.” His vision: Laboring women “like expert engineers with
perfect machines and carefully presented information (who) control, direct and regulate
5. No Pitocin drip. No synthetic hormone to stimulate labor. Let my
baby choose his own birthday. My body does not recognize the ticking of
the clock on the wall.
I don’t want to control my body. I want to surrender.
Let the darkness
soak through me, drip down my legs. Let the pulse of that unborn voice
throb through me.
I don’t want a needle stuck in my hand. If my labor slows,
in the sun on a fur quilt and let my husband caress MY nipples. I prefer
to get my hormones the primitive way.
6. No electric fetal monitor.
I don’t need a machine to tell me how my baby is doing. He kicks, he twists, he
somersaults inside of me.
Robert Bradley, MD, advocated the idea of the husband as the
labor coach. He liked the idea of natural birth, but still he thought that somehow
a man had to be in charge.
7. No bright lights. No noise. No softball cheers. Don’t give me instructions.
My body knows what to do. Birth is not a team sport. I don’t want a coach.
I want my husband’s presence. His hands to grip. His arms a sling to lean
the baby bulk against. His face a mirror in which I can watch my baby
8. No stupid jokes. No cheerful chatter. No television, please. I want
to listen to the moans rising in my throat. I want to hear the child singing
in my womb.
In the 1950s a French obstetrician named Ferdinand Lamaze began
teaching something he called childbirth without pain. French Catholics were horrified,
the Bible said it was supposed to be painful.
9. No delivery table. I am not a plate of spaghetti. Let me give birth
on the bed. A table works fine for conception, but it’s way too hard and
far too awkward for birth.
“Male science disregards female experiences because it
can never share them.” Grantly Dick-Read said this in 1933. No one listened
I know what I want for my baby.
No nursery. No pacifier. No bottles. No crib. No cheerful, white-coated, well-scrubbed,
briskly walking, thermometer-wielding nurses, please.
Let the baby sleep against my skin, nurse from my breast, wrap his wrinkled blue
limbs in the heat of my body.
10. Nothing intrauterine, nothing intravenous.
I prefer to give birth in simple words. Breathe. Push. Touch. Pain. Wet. Stretch.
Bum. Birth. Yes.
For 50 years, doctors have used these terms. Braxton-Hicks contractions.
Bradley birth. Lamaze breathing. But a woman knows. The mystery is too overwhelming.
We can never name it.
When the baby’s head crowns, I want to touch the wrinkled scalp. I want
to cradle the head in my palms while he is still inside of me, his neck
stuck in the warm swollen parts of me. My moans will be the guide I need
to pull him out of myself.
Hot compresses. Yes.
Dim lights, a bathtub of warm water. Yes.
Hands massaging me. Yes.
My husband lying next to me, solid to lean against. Yes.
The smell and feel of a slippery newborn baby wriggling against my naked