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Sample - Chapter Two

Conscious Birth

WHEN I BECAME PREGNANT WITH MY FIRST child, I had been following a vegan diet for about two years. (A vegan diet involves the consumption of no animal products at all.) I was feeling healthy and assumed this would be the best diet for my developing baby. When my prenatal visits with the ob/gyn started I explained my diet to him. He not only wasn't concerned, but didn't seem to care what I, or any pregnant woman ate. (I later learned that this particular doctor had been nicknamed "Dr C-section" by other women. A poor diet may increase the need for interventions during childbirth, which can culminate in being given a caesarian section.)

From the moment my husband and I planned to get pregnant, I began reading everything I could about pregnancy. I started with the public library, which had a pretty good selection for initial reading, but didn't last me long enough. Desperate for more material I read as widely as possible -- even the books on caesarian sections and twin pregnancies, even though I was sure I was having neither.

During my second trimester I heard about La Leche League. Originally, I had mistakenly believed that La Leche League was just an organization to turn to if I found myself having difficulty with breastfeeding. Fortunately a friend told me that La Leche League is actually a source of information and support for a full range of mothering related issues. I started attending meetings. La Leche League (LLL) was founded by a group seven nursing mothers concerned that breastfeeding rates in the US had dropped to around twenty percent of new mothers. By 1964, LLL had published their well-known book, Womanly Art of Breastfeeding, had organized in several other countries, and had sponsored an international conference in Chicago attended by over 500 people. Today LLL boasts over 3000 local groups in the US, operates a twenty-four hour help line, and offers extensive literature covering a wide range of topics related to better mothering through breastfeeding. There is information about contacting them in the Resources section at the back of this book.

LLL meetings take place in public places or homes and provide priceless support. They follow a set format that includes presentation of information on four specific topics (one per meeting) and these rotate, so you only need to attend four consecutive times to cover the basic material. The meetings are free and open to anyone -- even if you're not a member -- and nursing infants are always welcome.

An important component of each meeting is the informal sharing between mothers. After the meeting time officially ends, informal discussion between the mothers usually continues. It was in this setting and during this time, that I heard the real scoop on various doctors, hospitals, schools, birth clinics, childbirth education classes and more. Another benefit I experienced was access to LLL's extraordinarily wide-ranging library of books. I found much more useful information in the books that LLL stocked then what was usually on the shelf at my public library. By the time I had exhausted LLL's inventory, my husband and I were starting our weekly Bradley childbirth education class, which I had heard about from a mother I met at a league meeting.

When we first looked into attending a childbirth education class, my husband and I were quickly able to narrow down our choices. We ruled out all classes taught in affiliation with obstetrical practices and hospitals, since at the time, we were going on our intuition that these would likely be under pressure to teach only the things that would make us "good patients"-- in other words, compliant and unquestioning of "normal" procedures. As it turned out, I have since heard from instructors who teach these classes that patients are frequently grouped in classes according to who their doctor is, so that the doctors can give specific instructions to the teacher about what topics they do not want covered with their patients. Teachers who fail to honor the doctor's wishes risk having him or her no longer refer patients to them. It is, therefore, important to find out exactly what the classes are about, before going or not going to them!

Bradley childbirth education is a comprehensive program using nationally certified instructors independent of hospitals, to teach couples about natural childbirth and give them the tools to make informed decisions during pregnancy and birth. The Bradley philosophy encourages active participation in labor, avoidance of drugs, immediate and continuous contact with your new baby, preparation for emergencies, and informed consumer choices. Our Bradley instructor also had a lending library of books containing difficult-to-find information on circumcision, vaccination, ultrasound, homebirth, and water births. Having read so much, we were in a good position to make important decisions about the choices that lay ahead.

I cannot emphasize enough the importance of educating yourself early on. If you wait until you are halfway through your pregnancy to start learning about the options you have for where to give birth and what technology you do or do not want used on you and the baby, you will be at a serious disadvantage. Your medical practitioner will feel compelled (due to an education that disproportionately represents the interests of drug and medical device manufacturers as well as a fear of malpractice) to use a vast array of usually unnecessary technologies that could make you very vulnerable to additional risky medical interventions. Being informed of the risks and benefits of all these procedures puts you in a better position to make your own choices.

A minor intervention may increase the chance of a second intervention being used. This, in turn, can create a snowball effect, which ultimately may put a women and her baby at risk of something serious. For instance, hospitals generally won't allow laboring women to eat. The reasoning is that IF the mother requires general anesthesia she COULD throw up, and then POSSIBLY aspirate vomit into her lungs, which MAY lead to pneumonia. On the other hand, not allowing a laboring woman to eat increases the chance that her baby will be born with low blood sugar. Low blood sugar in the newborn justifies giving him formula immediately. This in turn, reduces the amount of colostrum the baby gets, which normally acts as a laxative removing bilirubin from his system. This, in turn, can then lead to jaundice, which justifies the baby being taken away from the parents and being isolated in the neonatal intensive care unit with the baby's eyes covered while he or she is exposed for a day or two to bilirubin lights. Aside from this being traumatic for the baby, it can interfere with bonding and decrease the chance for successful breastfeeding. Having a vague idea that something might not really be best for your baby will not give you the strength of conviction to stand up to a room full of doctors and nurses intent on getting you to comply with hospital procedure.

Soon after I started seeing my ob/gyn (the infamous Dr. C-section), I was told it was time for my gestational diabetes test. Thanks to my Bradley childbirth class I had learned enough to know the dangers of this test and I declined to take it. The test itself requires.........


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