Reflection on Birthing and Reproductive Choice


In my last post I did a little Bill Maher bashing, but more importantly I brought up the bugaboo topic of abortion, and then spent a good chunk of the next day reflecting on how I feel about that difficult subject especially in light of my chosen profession as a labor and delivery nurse and, as of this morning’s acceptance letter, a student midwife.

In light of my return to school and following a dream, let me take a moment to post George Takei‘s Happy Dance, since his is much more fun than mine:

OK, back on topic……

I haven’t always been pro-choice. Actually, as a teenager and in the early years of my marriage I was strongly pro-life. I remember having a heated debate with a friend about this issue when I was quite pregnant with my daughter. It was somewhat horrifying to feel my baby moving inside me, and anticipating her arrival so keenly, while listening to my friend argue that every woman should be able to terminate a pregnancy if she feels she needs to.

My pro-life leanings never had anything to do with religion. Back then it was really about biology.  I was so fascinated by early ultrasounds and how you could see heartbeats, arms, legs and movement, and I couldn’t understand how anyone could decide where to draw the line  for abortion being okay, so I drew the line at never. I figured that a fetus, while not viable, was a potential life and deserved to have a chance to live. Of course, as you may have been able to tell by my previous post on sex ed, I was also all about excellent contraception information and access in order to prevent an unintended pregnancy in the first place.

Over the intervening years, I didn’t give the issue much thought. I was raising my own babies, trying to balance kids, work and an across country move and it just didn’t seem have anything to do with me or my life. The furor had died down a bit; abortion wasn’t a big topic in the news. It was all about terrorism, the war on terror and the economy. Then, all of a sudden it seems to me, abortion was in the news again. There were new protests, and new pushes to place restrictions on abortion, so I sat up and started to take notice. And what I noticed most of all was a shift in my own thoughts on the subject.

Maybe I’m thinking of my own daughter, and her options as she nears adulthood. Maybe I’m just being contrary and adopting liberal ideals in response to being in such a conservative area. Maybe I get to see babies born every day who are desired and cherished and want that for every baby that is born. However, as I reflect further on my change in allegiance, I think that the thing that has most influenced my opinion is that as I’ve gotten older and gotten more experience I understand that motherhood is not about being able to conceive. Motherhood is about raising a child.

Having a baby is the easy part. Nurturing, teaching, and enabling a child to be their best self is challenging beyond description. It is at minimum an 18 year job, and truly, it is a job that lasts as long as you live, and I feel that every child that comes into this world deserves parents who want them, who want to care for them, and who will do their best to love them.

There are so many stereotypes out there about the kind of woman who would have an abortion, the three most prominent I think are careless teenagers, women of low socio-economic status who use abortion as birth control, and older, professionally successful women too self-absorbed to have a child. In my experience, though, while there are certainly some women who fit into those stereotypes, most women who seek abortions are just like you (or me) or your best girlfriend. They are single, married, younger, older, and from every economic background. They are from every race and religion and every part of the country. I have sought out friends and acquaintances who have had abortions to ask them their stories and they are all deeply personal and deeply varied.

I have never talked with a woman who had taken their decision to have an abortion lightly, although I guess it happens. The decision was always made with a lot of thought and generally a lot of tears. Yes, there may occasionally be thoughts about the child that might have been under other circumstances, but there is not a lot of regret. They know that, for whatever reason, they were incapable of carrying and parenting a child at that time in their lives and were unwilling to bring a child into this world without the best possible start. Now with the benefit of time, and hopefully, wisdom, I see their point.

I can’t imagine a world where women are forced into carrying a pregnancy that they feel they cannot. Pregnancy and birth are such all-consuming, life changing events; women have the right to be in control of their own reproduction and the timing of when they become mothers. That’s what’s right for women and that’s what’s right for their babies.

Damn it, Bill Maher! Get Your Facts Right!


I’m suffering through my first case of blogging writer’s block. So, I did what any good blogger would do and started surfing the web, praying to the google gods to help me find a webpage that would inspire me and be good for debate.

One of the first things I came across was an article with a clip of Bill Maher discussing the newest Arizona anti-abortion bill…..promising! So I clicked it and settled in for some snark. I know, I know, he’s a jerk and he’s polarizing, but DAMN the man is good at snark.

I’m not going to attach the clip, because the advertisement at the beginning is longer than the actual clip and I wouldn’t do that to you, but the gist of it is that Bill was making fun of an Arizona law that redefines life as beginning the first day of a woman’s menstrual period, thus saying life begins two(ish) weeks before the poor woman even has sex! Ridiculous!

This warranted further investigation. I could feel my blood pressure rising, so it was back to google to see what information I could dig up. Sure enough, page after page about this law and about how stupid and backwards it was. How it showed how far the politicians will go to push their agenda. How it went in the face of every scientific fact known to man. Absolute outrage!

So then I actually tried to find the law, and here is the write-up in case you’re interested.

http://blog.azpolicy.org/wp-content/uploads/f12-12-AbortionRegs.pdf

And was I outraged too? Well, yes…..and no.

Yes, I believe this law is detrimental to women. It is now the strictest anti-abortion law in the country and I believe that if it stands it is just another stepping stone in the fight to outlaw all abortion rights. It purports to help women who are being coerced into having abortions while basically coercing women into having a child, and is called the “Women’s Health and Safety Act” which just makes me cringe, because it is clear from the inflammatory language that it is putting the wellbeing of a fetus ahead of the wellbeing (both physical and mental) of the woman who has decided for a variety of reasons that she cannot carry this particular pregnancy.

However, that is beside the point of this particular post.

First of all, the law does not state life begins on the first day of a woman’s period, it states that pregnancy begins on the first day of a woman’s period, and to Bill and all of the other commenters out there on the web, I have to tell you, it’s not politicians, Republicans or religious folk who define pregnancy that way….it’s the medical profession that does that. Yup, gestational age begins at the woman’s last period and is counted for 40 or so weeks and pregnancy has been defined this way for a long, long time.

Anyone who has had a baby knows that when you walk into your healthcare provider’s office the first question they ask you is “When was the first day of your last period?”. That is how the “due date” is calculated and in effect the first two(ish) weeks of a pregnancy, the woman is not yet pregnant. Most women find out they are pregnant after they miss a period, and by the calculated gestational age are considered 4-5 weeks pregnant when in actuality they have only been physically pregnant for 2-3 weeks. Confusing, I know, but that’s how it is. I have to explain it all the time.

 I’m a little aggravated with Bill Maher for muddying the waters on this issue. If you’re going to raise a stink, you should know your facts first, and maybe he does know the facts and was just using the opportunity to make a good joke (I do understand the difference between satiric humor and factual commentary.), but once again I feel like its much more important to arm everyone with information about what’s really going on. There’s no exaggeration or rhetoric needed, so tirades like his and those of the other internet commenters don’t help. We want people fighting against the wrong laws….but for the right reasons.

I’d love to hear your thoughts, so please comment below.

The Birth Wars (Part 2)


Because I’m a nurse in the labor and delivery arena, I follow a lot of organizations on Facebook that post links to articles about birth. Last week, my midwifery school posted a link to an opinion article about the benefits of non-intervention in uncomplicated pregnancies and births. The actual article  isn’t what bothered me, it was the epic comment section.

Enter Dr Amy Tuteur, a woman who is fed up with the natural childbirth movement.

Reading the comment section was like staring at a car wreck as you pass by, or following Charlie Sheen‘s meltdown, you know nothing good can come of it, but you just can’t seem to turn away. I read for at least two hours; first I read the comments, then I went to Dr Amy’s blog and read her postings and I was just sick. Not because I disagree with her opinions because we’re all entitled to our opinions, but because of the lack of respect or compassion for women who may have a different philosophy of birthing than she does.

Some of the inflammatory things she said included that natural childbirth advocates are uneducated, that midwives learn everything they know from obstetricians and how it doesn’t take any skill to catch a baby that’s coming out alright anyway. In one fell swoop dismissing an entire profession of caregivers and the work they do. Now, I can understand her bias towards the medical model of care, and I don’t fault her for that. Hell, most women agree with her if you look at the numbers. But why the rhetoric? Why the nastiness? Why not try to talk to your audience in a way that makes them want to learn more, instead of fanning the flames of discord?

Don’t get me wrong; I know there are plenty of people on the other side of the argument who are just as inflammatory. They minimize the great service OBs do for women who have complicated pregnancies or emergencies during labor, characterizing them all as greedy and unfeeling about the women they care for and that is just as despicable.

Can’t we all just get along?

There is a huge spectrum of birth choice out there with a planned unattended home birth at one end and a planned c-section (without a medical cause) at the other. My guess is that your birth (or your wife’s or partner’s or whatever’s), like mine, fell somewhere in the middle. I tend towards the “crunchy” end of things in that I birthed with a certified nurse midwife in a hospital based birth center. I have friends who would have gotten their epidural placed at 8 months pregnant if they could have. I don’t think my births were better or more special or more gratifying than theirs. I think my births were the births I wanted.

An open discussion and trying to figure out why we gravitate to the models of care we do is a fascinating conversation, and here is where I get passionate. I don’t care what you choose for your birth, and you should never feel judged for the birth you had.  What I care about is that all women have access to good information which will guide them in the direction that’s right for them, and that when they decide on a hospital, birth center or home birth, they are supported and encouraged instead of being made to feel like they are already screwing up as a mother. Not only that, but that a full range of choices are actually available to them. What is more personal than how your baby comes into the world? Why would we ever think that one size fits all? Yes, we all want healthy moms and healthy babies, but there is more than one way to get there and “health” has many meanings including emotional and psychological health.

So next time one of these topics comes up and you feel yourself getting defensive or feeling threatened, take a deep breath and remember someone else’s choices have absolutely no impact on who you are or what you’ve chosen and if you’re ever tempted to dismiss someone else’s choices as just plain crazy, stop a minute and listen to why they did what they did. It will probably not change your mind but it will give you a new perspective to consider. Even I learned something from reading the hateful commentary of Dr Amy; I realized how important it is to me to make sure I’m informed about the latest research guidelines so that I truly know what I’m talking about when I recommend something to a client or get into a debate with someone about the risks and benefits of  an out-of-hospital birth, but most of all I realized that I could have a part in stopping some of the spite and name-calling and help us be gentler to ourselves.

And here I am, blogging because of it.

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The Birth Wars (Part 1)


Oh, I love, love, love being around pregnant women and the process of birth. It’s a subject that never gets old for me. I’ve been the labor nurse/birth assistant at hundreds of births and consider myself supremely lucky to go to work every day to do what makes me happy. So, I guess it makes sense that it would be a debate about birth that would be the precipitating factor to do something as out of character for me as starting a blog.

I’ll talk about birthing babies to anyone who’ll listen. We just met? Doesn’t matter. I’d love to hear your birth story (or your wife’s or partner’s or whatever), and don’t leave out any of the gory details; I’ve heard it or seen it before. Oh, and can I share my birth stories with you? Both of them? Each one was incredible in it’s own way. We can compare notes, and commiserate, and bond over such a life changing experience.

Except…..there’s a good chance that’s not what’s going to happen. Something about such a personal event makes us feel worried or defensive or militant when we come across someone who’s made a very different choice than we did…..and then begin the Birth Wars.

You know what I’m talking about. If you’ve had a baby you’ve probably had an uncomfortable conversion or two. There are blogs and message boards all over the internet where mostly moms, but sometimes others, fight tooth and nail about why their birth was better, smarter, and safer than yours. You got an epidural? Then you drugged your baby and missed a bonding opportunity which can’t be replaced. You had a home birth? The you put your desires and your fantasy birth scenario ahead of your baby’s safety.

Ugh.

We need to be kinder to our fellow parents and more open and accepting of different philosophies in general for ALL our sakes. In the interest of not writing a novel for each post I’ll wait until next time to tell you exactly what got me all riled up and in the meantime, leave a comment, follow or share this blog or better yet, tell me about your birth story. I promise not to judge.