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Choices In Childbirth

Maurenne Griese, RNC, BSN


I left journalism for midwifery because my own pregnancies and births were so enchanted that I was bewitched. Having a child of my own every couple of years was not a reasonable possibility, so I sought another means of spending my life with womyn giving birth. I knew, from my own experience, what was possible. I wanted that same magic for every womyn I attended. I am not unique. I believed my hopes and dreams were universal, common place.

I was empowered by pregnancy, by giving birth, by nursing my babies to spontaneous weanings. I felt invincible in my ability to give birth without medications, to nurse until my babies were done with my breasts. I felt so capable in my foundation of Lamaze and La Leche. I was sure every other womyn felt the same stirrings, the same longing for empowerment as I had come to know it. I was young and idealistic.

Then I became a midwife. I listened to womyn who were willing to "try" a midwife, but were afraid that they would be forced to deliver without pain medication, forced to deliver at home. Where I had marched in the streets to demand hospitals change policies that excluded fathers from the delivery room, I was confronted with womyn who did not want their partners with them, who were afraid they would be forced to a midwifery model of birthing. I had fought against the patriarchal, male/doctor model of birthing so that womyn could be allowed to deliver their babies as they so desired, and then, in my first year as a midwife, I was confronted with womyn who did not share my vision of birthing at all, yet wanted me, as the only womyn in the County doing births, to care for them.

I looked at my image of the perfect birth: a womyn surrounded by people who love her, her partner, her mother, her sisters, her children; laboring without IVs and monitors, with as little intervention as possible; intact perineums; delivering in any position that is comfortable; the mother herself pulling her baby out, from womb to breast, perhaps with the help of her partner, the midwife only a guide; no medications and the huge sense of accomplishment that engenders; a midwife with the ultimate patience and trust; the welcoming of a child in exactly the manner of each families desire.

Then I looked at my desire for every womyn to have that perfect birth and came face to face with the reality that I was asking womyn to conform to my own model of perfection, my own image of bliss in birth. I know what is possible. It was hard to watch womyn settle for less. I am a perpetual idealist. I truly believe that when birth is wonderful, the family has a greater chance of being wonderful. When a family is healthy and happy, so can the community be healthy and happy, and so can the world.

The empowerment of birth comes from having it unfold according to your own vision. Each of us have our own vision. We bring what is possible to the womyn and her family, but it is for her to direct us according to her needs. Her empowerment comes not from birthing according to my vision, but from her own, even when her vision seems so small compared to what I know could be hers. A womyn must remember her birth as beautiful, not torturous, so that she looks upon the face of her baby as a blessing and not the object of her pain. It is the first step towards all that I know is possible.

I am saddened by the trend towards spinal narcotic. I grieve when a new OB client begins her interview with me by asking how soon in labor she can have her astromorph. I have little understanding of these young womyn who want to give back the power I worked so hard to win, the right to birth without medication, without IVs, without stirrups, without doctors. I am saddened, but it is not MY birth. I tell them I will not withhold pain medication, but they may find they do not need the medications they are planning. I tell them about the side-effects. They are not swayed. They do not want to hurt. They would rather itch and vomit than feel pain. They would rather have the baby vacuumed out than feel the burn and satisfaction of giving birth. They do not need to take classes because they are just going to have medication. They're friends had it. They want it. I am saddened when a womyn will not even try to breastfeed. I am disheartened when a womyn leaves the hospital breastfeeding well and comes for her two week PP visit bottle-feeding because she was sure her milk was "drying up" or "not enough," and she never even called to ask questions or get help.

Perhaps for the next birth, they will be ready to test their own wings. Perhaps for the next or the one after. Perhaps never. I can model possibilities, but if I make midwifery a model of my own vision, rather than caring for and supporting the visions of the womyn who entrust me to guide them through, I am in conflict with much of what I believe midwifery stands for. Midwifery is about choice. It is about respect, the respect for each womyn's choice to decide for herself. I am reminded when a womyn comes in and tells me she's heard that I won't let womyn have stirrups, that I will make them tear instead of cutting an episiotomy. It isn't true, but it is a clear message that my personal preferences are shining through regardless. I reassure these womyn that anything they ask for, I will say "yes" to, even stirrups and episiotomies and monitors and astromorph (though I also tell them they cannot ask for a cesarean at will), but that I will talk to them about the options so they know there are more choices than they may have heard about. I am rewarded when they are satisfied, even thrilled with their births, even when they are so far from what I know is possible that I question all the years I've worked for birthing liberation.

It took many times of overlaying my own vision on the desires of the womyn I cared for and feeling the discomfort in my own body and spirit at having pushed a womyn towards MY choices before I learned to detach, to "let go and let god." Seldom now, do I ask myself after a birth if what I did was "right." There is no longer the same conflict between what is possible and what really happens. I have been at 2230 births, and though I still know a momentary sadness when I see womyn giving in before they even know what is possible, capitulating before they begin, and at an age when I was fighting for the rights they so casually toss aside, it is only a momentary sadness. Life offers many lessons, many opportunities. When they are ready, if they are ever ready, I will be here, and if not me, another midwife who knows what is possible.

My name is Maurenne Griese, RNC, BSN. I am a certified childbirth and breastfeeding educator and have a bachelor of science degree in Nursing. I am also a Registered Nurse and am board certified in Inpatient Obstetrical Nursing. I have been a writer for as long as I have been able to write! From essays in grade school to articles in professional journals and parenting magazines, writing has been a passion of mine for most of my life. Of course, I like to write about what I am passionate about, that being pregnancy, childbirth and breastfeeding. I have my own website for my home-based company, Birth and Breastfeeding Resources, at I sell baby slings and breastpumps from this site.

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