The Birth Question

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For as long as I can remember, my mother has told me: “The most dangerous day of your life is the day you are born.”

My mom’s a doctor, and has spent many decades learning about everything that can possibly go wrong during a routine labor and delivery. As a child, my mom also lost her only younger sister several hours after she was born.

Which provides a pretty good introduction to my own attitude towards birth. My gut reaction to birth is that it is scary, it’s dangerous for both mother and baby, birth HURTS.

I know that birth is something that we must endure in order to fulfill our G-d-given mission in life as Jewish mothers. I also know that my own 5 births have been, hands-down, the highest spiritual experiences of my life. I have felt G-d’s presence so close that I have felt Him breathing with me through every contraction, through every beep of the monitor, and of course, at all 5 of those life-transforming, golden-framed moments when I first held that human bundle of pure beauty and magic and nachas in my arms.

But, with that said, if such an option existed, in a blink I would get down on my knees and beg my husband to pretty pretty PRETTY please do this whole birth thing in my place.

But not every mother in the world has the same birth bad attitude as me.

For the past weeks, I’ve been experiencing a whole different view of birth in Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth by Spiritual Midwifery author Ina May Gaskin. In Ina May’s eyes, birth can be glorious. Birth can be as natural as walking down the street or singing a song. Birth can take a regular woman and make her into a hero. Birth isn’t even so painful, Ina May explains, if experienced with supportive midwives in a loving and positive environment. In fact, under the right conditions and if approached with a positive, fear-free mindset, birth can be a joyful, playful, and even ecstatic experience.

The story that has affected me the most in the book so far has been the birth story of Rudy and Julianna, a husband and wife who are both OB/GYNs, who approached their first birth with a great deal of fear and hesitation because of everything they learned in medical school and beyond about the dangers of birth.

But in the end, Julianna decides to give birth in Ina May’s low-tech birthing center rather than at the hospital where she works, because she comes to believe that hospitals specialize in treating diseases, and therefore hospital doctors generally end up taking the same mistaken approach to birth. But that’s a big problem, she explains, since birth isn’t a disease. It’s natural. It’s normal. It’s a process that usually proceeds most smoothly and safely when unimpeded by a doctors anxious eye on the clock or by modern medical interventions of various shapes and sizes.

Or, as Ina May writes: “Most women need encouragement and companionship more than they need drugs. Remember this, for it is as true as true gets. Your body is not a lemon. You are not a machine. The Creator is not a careless mechanic. Human female bodies have the same potential to give birth well as aardvarks, lions, rhinoceri, elephants, moose, and water buffalo.”

So all of this reading has given me a whole lot to think about, and believe me, I have been.

And now, Jewish mom, I would really love to hear what you think about all this. Please post a comment to share your experiences/opinions/feelings on the topic of topics—BIRTH!

Photo courtesy of Flickr.com user Planet Chopstick

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20 comments

  1. Hi Ladies,

    I imagine most women’s lives are transformed once their precious little one pop’s out and mom can now put the birth and labor experience behind her.

    For me, this was different. Looking back now, it’s been almost 10 weeks when my first child was born; and I must say, while life is getting so much more interesting, and the amazing bond between mother and child grows stronger every day- this incredible journey began with my pre-labour and accounts for at least 50% of this ”life transformation” that many mother’s make mention of.

    So in short, I loved my labour, and yes while I was lucky, I only believe we are dealt what we can handle.

    Blessings to all motherr, and mother’s- to-be out there!

  2. I wasn’t so afraid of what would happen to the baby, but more afraid of the pain.

    I had 5 natural births with great doulas, no medication and no intervention, and one Cesarean, obviously needing an epidural. Giving birth is painful. I don’t believe anyone who says it can be pain free. True, you can be focused away from the pain, but you still feel it. And it’s scary. You don’t know how long the pain will last.
    At the beginning of each labor, all the black memories of the previous labors came rushing back to me. It was as if each time I lived through all the previous births also.

    I am tremendously grateful for the opportunity to have given birth without intervention. When I had the Cesarean, and they gave me the epidural (while I was in labor), I said to myself – oh, this is what it feels like to have an epidural during labor. I started to think that maybe it isn’t so bad to use an epidural. I still think a doula or other knowledgable companion is crucial during birth, because the hospitals are really just in a hurry for the baby to be born , and don’t let the labor progress naturally.

  3. I’m due in about a week or so, and have been thinking about birth a lot. I totally agree that it is natural, not a sickness. I’m irritated by all the people around me asking if I’m OK, still driving, still working etc. I’m happy, healthy, and pregnant, I don’t have a deadly disease BH. I’m also not tense about when the birth will happen. When my body is ready, I’ll give birth.

  4. I admit it is painful but the results so precious it’s worth everything!!!!

  5. I have only had one birth so far, and before it I had read so many stories about extraordinary women who didn`t need any intervention (and some who didn`t even feel the pain!) that I decided to wait and see “if I could handle it”.

    Well. Even with a doula, I didn`t know quite what to do with myself. I was, as they say in Hebrew, “climbing up the walls,” suffering through a very long night in the hospital before they could finally give me an epidural. Thank G-d for that, because I was able to sleep a few hours before the final stage (which was difficult enough even with an epidural).

    I still really admire women who have completely natural births, but I don`t think it`s necessary to suffer through it unless you really want to.

  6. I am a midwife and have two children of my own. When I was pregnant for the first time I felt I just did not know what to expect, by that stage I had seen hundreds of births and had seen that no two births are alike, and women respond very differently in labor.
    I knew I was wanted to go the natural route, as I had seen enough horrible complications from epidurals and drugs.
    Having worked in four different countries and having seen different birth practices, I have been seen and understood that a lot of the laboring woman’s response to birth depends on the midwives/doctors/support persons around her, as well as her own expectation. I have worked in a place where epidurals were not offered, not from an ideological point of view, but because it was a small hospital with a limited budget. It surprised me to see that the women there reacted calmly and had for the most part beautiful, uncomplicated births.
    I began to realize that a lot of what happens during birth is due to what goes on in the laboring woman’s mind during the process. These woman knew they just had to get on with it, that the way out was ‘through it’.
    For my births I used an incredible hypnotherapy CD, and I would like to tell everyone that birth can be relatively painless and deeply beautiful. The CD contains positive affirmations, deep relaxation and self hypnosis. The woman who made the CD sais if one does not have time to listen to the CD during the day, just put it on when you go to sleep at night. It will work on your subconscious while you are asleep. That’s exactly what I did and both times it worked beautifully.
    As a midwife I was terrified of all that could go wrong before the birth, but the positive reinforcements took away that fear, and I felt calm and peaceful for most of the time. They teach you to trust your body.
    Pushing a baby out is work – that why they call it labor! But during that time which was hard and more intense, I too felt that Hashem was holding me in the palm of his hand. I was an amazing feeling.

    • jewishmoms

      Could you share the name of that hypnotherapy CD?

      • Hi Jenny, I am so thrilled you read Ina May’s book! Her other one, Spiritual Midwifery, is also a wonderful read. Another hypnobirthing CD is from the Hypnobirthing book/CD set by Marie Mongan. http://www.hypnobirthing.com Many women can find Hypnobirthing classes in their cities- if I could find one in rural NH, I know they must be everywhere! And incidentally, one of the birthing stories in the Mongan Hypnobirthing book is of my dear friend and colleague, Laura.
        I had a natural, drug-free VBAC birth with my second baby. One thing that really struck me about the sensations of childbirth is that to me it wasn’t scary b/c I knew it was not pathological, I knew it was serving a purpose. In addition, the relief between the pain of the contractions was so beautifully the opposite-of-pain that it was pure bliss. Really being able to relax in between the work of contractions was very helpful to me.

  7. elisheva

    I’ve been blessed with three pregnancies. My first son was delivered by c-section. My second son and my daughter were both born vaginally at home. My c-section experience pushed me to become a bit of a birth junkie as I sought to avoid having another c-section. My first labour (2nd preg), I was scared – didn’t know how long I could last, overwhelmed with pain. If I had been in the hospital I would’ve *begged* for a c-section. My labour with my daughter was much calmer. It hurt, but I already knew I could do it, so the pressure was off. I was able to focus on breathing and getting into a position which lessened the pain. My midwives and doula all sat chatting in my living room while I laboured in the birthtub on the floor. My husband was in the other room with our younger son. It was exactly how I wanted to give birth.

  8. Tamar Miller

    B”H I have been blessed with having 2 births so far. Although both of them were in a hospital setting, I had a pretty positive experience with no drugs or interventions. What I believe helped me the most during my labors was feeling EMPOWERED. i got to this place by reading alot about labor. I highly recommend Rachel Broncher’s book “A Labor of Love”, i also took her birthing classes and pre-natal yoga. this put me in the right mindset for birth. I also got really into it and wrote up my own Birth Plan and jotted down a few important notes on an index card to give to my midwife at the hospital. My midwife was amazing and complied to all my requests…even dimming the lights in the delivery room! My one piece of advice is that you must take birthing into your own hands and not succumb to the hospital all the time…you are your best advocate!
    Although there is so much about birthing that is out of our control…there is still a lot in our control. and that is our positive thinking and affirmations that we can instill in ourselves to ensure an amazing labor.
    I only wish that us women can take birthing into our own hands again and be blessed to have our future labors in special birthing centers rather than in hospitals. Home births are great but very expensive in Israel…so for now we must make the best of the hospital settings and daven, daven, daven!!

  9. As a doula I feel the need to comment. I agree with all the other posters that birth is a very individual experience and that everyone needs to make their own choices. There is no one way that is right for everybody. However, what is universal is the need for a woman to let go of all her fears of pregnancy and childbirth etc. The message we get that birth is painful, something we need to “endure”, etc. is very deeply rooted in most of us. When we are tense, we stop breathing and clench all our muscles. We are essentially fighting the natural process of labor of opening up.
    If we could find a way to be calmer- with the help of a doula or other support person, breathing, relaxation CDs or whatever works for you- it would allow our bodies to relax and allow the process of childbirth to unfold. Things would go much smoother and we could finally see that our bodies were indeed created for this. For more information, go to http://www.frumdoula.blogspot.com
    Chodesh tov to everyone!

  10. Tamar Miller

    P.S. Rachel Broncher also includes in her book a deep relaxation CD -breathing with your baby. It put me to sleep each time I listened to it.

  11. B”H I have been truly truly blessed with great childbirth experiences and am so grateful to Hashem for that, and I find that while childbirth is certainly the most INTENSE experience a woman’s body ever goes through, I think using the word “painful” perpetuates women’s fear surrounding birth, the type of fear that prevents women from really educating themselves properly about how Hashem masterfully created their bodies to work during childbirth; from looking forward to the event as one that while tremendously intense can also be tremendously uplifting, rewarding, empowering, enjoyable, and unbelievable; from believing that there are ways for them to experience childbirth without voluntarily opting for medical interventions that can lead to a vicious cycle of more unwanted and sometimes unnecessary inteventions. Everything is in Hashem’s hands and childbirth can be so crazy and B”H we live in an era that there are medical interventions for such situations, but I wonder if more women were exposed to positive, enthusiastic, embracing stories about childbirth and experienced less fear and anxiety about it, if they would in turn be more calm and well prepared emotionally, psychologically, intellectually, and physically for birth, and then in turn have happier, calmer, more positive birth experiences themselves? Happier births mean happier, more energetic mothers who transition better into Jewish motherhood. I recognize that I am truly blessed to have had wonderful birth experiences and don’t mean to mitigate the painful experiences of others, but nonetheless I think that leaving out words like “pain” when dicussing childbirth and opening doors and windows for women, inspiring them to educate themselves to know what happens during childbirth and learn to work productively with those sensations and strive for a healthy natural birth, is truly a gift that can change their child-bearing lives, their relationships with their family members, and with Hashem.

  12. Elana Greenspan

    If you want to really get the specifics on how to realize labor and birth not as a process of pain and agony but as a gorgeous, natural transition where you get to meet and see your baby and help bring him/her into the world after 10 months of being inside your body, read an instructional book about The Bradley Method.

    It’s full of drawings of what is going on in the woman’s body during labor so that you have a clear mental picture of what to focus on.

    It gives exercises to practice so that you go into labor totally prepared about how to handle the strong sensations of the uterine muscles flexing.

    (It’s supposed to be husband-coached child brith but I did it on my own — for my MD husband it’s a little too hippie-dippie and he kept laughing through the exercises. Hey — you gotta know what you have to work with!)

    It’s amazing how mind over matter can influence one’s experience, turning it from scary to positive and totally under control. Those Ina May stories are great inspiration, and the Bradley Method is a very effective way to actualize the inspiration and have a great, natural birth, G-d willing.

    To me, it’s so exciting to be 100% physically present (without numbness) to help the baby be born. It seems sort of anti-climactic to have a baby inside your body for 10 months and then numb yourself out for the big curtain call. I mean, it’s very hard work, but going through it is a very apt rite-of-passage after almost a year of hosting that growing baby!

    I should mention that I have experienced one totally unmedicated birth, one birth with Pitocin but no epidural (which I would not suggest — if you already have to have Pitocin, submit to the medical process and just get comfortable, because Pitocin contractions are so not- natural ), one C-section with all the drugs and trimmings, and one V-BAC (B”H) with an epidural. All that said, for me, totally natural is the best, most empowering way to go.

    Kayn yirbu am Yisrael.

  13. The name of the hypnotherapist is Shawn Gallagher‏. See her website: ChildbirthJoy.com. The CD I have contains
    Birthing Suggestions
    Quick Self-Hypnosis
    Pregnancy Relaxation

    Good luck.

  14. Rachael Leah

    I very much agree with Ruchi and Adi. My first birth experience, I was scared, and I did not have the proper support. I ended up with an epidural, it was too hard to manage in such a situation. By my second, I was more prepared, and more empowered, and it showed through my birth. Completely natural – gave birth about five minutes after I got to the hospital, which I would not necessarily suggest for anyone, but it still brings a smile to my face!
    As Adi said, it was VERY INTENSE, but I would not use the word painful. It was a different kind of experience, and I think, as Ruchi mentioned, describing labor as painful and horrible, etc, just perpetuate the unpleasant expectations women have for birth. The feelings and the expectations can actually create the pain.
    What really helped my attitude was reading “Hypnobirthing,” by Marie F. Mongan, and her descriptions of how natural and easy birth really is, and how years of lack of support for women, and bad medical interventions, misunderstandings, and more, all created this culture of fear in the western world. It’s interesting that in more primitive societies, birth is so much more relaxed and pleasant.
    I imagine birth to be a joyful, supportive, ecstatic experience for women, and there are so many tools out there to help laboring women to stay relaxed and calm during the birth process. I highly recommend Emotional Freedom Techniques (EFT), which I used a lot during my second pregnancy and labor to help release my fear and anxiety. I also used in to help process my first birth experience, for me and my daughter, as it was traumatic for both of us.
    EFT and Hypnobirthing together was just such a great combination, really helping me feel calm and empowered during the labor. Afterward I kept saying how I felt like a mother lion, powerful and great, guiding this huge amazing process going on inside me, focused completely on me and the baby, it was such a huge amazing experience! I would NEVER have traded it for ANYTHING – no way!

  15. Michelle

    Giving birth to my daughter is one of the best memories I have. Yes, my brain probably purposely forgot any of the not-so-pleasant moments, but with the memories I have I am actually very excited to G-d willing go through the entire experience again!
    Every time I pass the hospital I feel a rush of joy and gratitude wash over me as I remember that amazing day.

    I was very nervous before the birth, especially because I wanted to do it completely naturally.
    Thank G-d, my body prepared well and did what it had to do very quickly. I was 5 cm. for a week before I gave birth. My water broke in the evening, which threw me into labor, and I gave birth just after midnight. I had about two hours from the onset of intense contractions to the birth.

    My advice: Do yoga at least 3-4 days/week your entire pregnancy. I did it up until the day of the birth (I was literally in yoga class a couple hours before my water broke, a week overdue), and this allowed most of the labor to progress pain-free.

  16. I enjoyed all of the comments. Next time around G-d willing I’ll look into the interesting techniques, etc.
    Personally, I very much agree with Sharon!
    I have 5 children, Baruch HaShem. When I was expecting my first I read the book “Happy Birth-day”. I was all set to experience the wonderfull , intense, strength of contractions. I was shocked by the intense pain of those contractions!
    The birth went well, and I managed to not succumb to an epidural, but it was very hard,pain like I have never felt ! Since that first time my births have been relatively short, and much less painfull.
    In view of my own different experiences of labor pains, I don’t think we have the right to tell anyone how painfully she will experience labor. I do very much believe that guided imagery, etc. helps tremendously, but thats a far cry from saying that contractions don’t hurt!

  17. No one has mentioned the nausea that, for some people, goes along with the pains that are a natural part of labor. It certainly distracted from what I had expected. Even with my second time, I didn’t expect it because I thought the first time must have been a fluke.

  18. Mother in Jerusalem

    Ina May is my birthing guru/rebbe/muse/hero/whatever you want to call it. Giving birth to my daughter was probably the most amazing experience of my life, yet, and I think that reading “Spiritual Midwifery” and “Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth” and hearing Ina May speak about two months before I gave birth helped me experience birth in this way. First of all I knew that if I was going to have a natural birth I needed to have the right conditions, so even though it was very expensive I decided to give birth at the natural birth center at Sheba Hospital in Tel Hashomer. I thought this was a perfect balance–I was at a natural birth center who wouldn’t rush me, where there was a bath that I could hang out in for as long as I wanted, where there would be one midwife who would stay with me the whole time, where I could eat or drink if I wanted to during labor, and labor and birth in any position I wanted, and not on a bed, with a portable, cordless monitor that could be strapped on (only for short periods every once in a while) wherever I was in whatever position, including in the bath…but that if anything Gd forbid got complicated, I was in a fully equipped hospital with all of the necessary equipment to deal with anything that might happen. Luckily everything went amazing and I was so glad I chose to give birth there. I had prepared a lot, both emotionally/psychologically (reading and hearing Ina May speak, talking about it, thinking about it, taking a birth class with a great doula in Jerusalem) and physically (exercises, teas, squatting, etc). It was key to both be prepared mentally and physically myself, and then to have the support and physical conditions at the birthing center to do it how I wanted. Let me start by saying that I don’t have a high pain tolerance at all. If I have a sore throat or a headache, etc, I want immediate relief and am not averse to taking painkillers such as advil, etc, to feel better. But I felt that birth was different–first of all the “pain” is for a good reason, a great outcome, and also I was free to focus all my energies on that situation alone, it’s not like a headache where you want to get rid of it so you can go on with your regular scheduled activities in life. Anyway, I want to tell everyone that my labor was NOT PAINFUL AT ALL!!!! I would instead say that it was intense and something that I had to focus all of my attention and energies on, but it basically felt like I was riding waves, and if I breathed the right way, I could just kind of ride the waves peacefully. I spent hours and hours in the water, which really took all of the pressure off of my body. I really tried to open up in the way that Ina may talks about and not be closed or feel pressure in any part of my body, including my face, mouth, shoulders, etc. I had absolutely no painkillers, except for the water, which I think is the best natural “epidural”, and I really basically was kind of in a dozy-dreamlike-half asleep-meditative state, totally calm, throughout the whole labor. My husband was so amazed, b/c that is really not what I am usually like! (I wish I could be more like that on a regular basis) My labor was pretty long but thank Gd progressed, and every time the midwife checked me I was more open then the last time, so even though she asked me a few times if I wanted her to break my water so that things would go more quickly, I said no b/c I was scared that that would make the contractions stronger and harder to handle, and as long as she saw that it was progressing, she didn’t pressure me to do so. In the end my water broke when I was about 9.5 cm, and a bit after that I started feeling the urge to push. now actually for me, the pushing was the hardest part, b/c I actually had to exert force to push the baby out and I was so so tired and I couldn’t just ride the waves and go with the flow, I had to push to get the baby out! The baby coming out was actually the only part that was painful–it was a real pain as I did tear a little bit. I think I was just too tired to do it totally right. In the end I did manage to push her out–while sitting on a birthing stool supported in the back by my husband, and with my two legs up–on one the midwife and one on my sister who was my “doula.” Anyway it was amazing and I love thinking back to that time, and I didn’t experience the labor as painful at all. Thanks for reading my megilla and I hope this helps some people.

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