Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Having a Baby

My oldest child was born in the US Air Force Hospital in Wiesbaden, Germany, in May of 1970.

For you younger moms out there, I'd like to point out that giving birth in a hospital 40 years ago was a very different experience than what you have today. Back then, natural childbirth was discouraged. In the delivery room, we gave birth laying flat on our backs with our hands shackled - it was considered necessary to tie our hands down to prevent us from reaching down, touching our babies and "contaminating" them. Most hospitals had policies forbidding dads from being in the delivery room - it was thought that fathers would faint or throw up, thus requiring medical attention. It was better to have them wait outside where they wouldn't be any trouble to anyone.

I was aware of all this because I had been present at various births during nurses' training back in the States. Watching moms struggle to give birth, having no control over their situation, gorked out on drugs, in a room full of strangers, made me determined to have a better experience. To me, that meant natural childbirth.

Of course, at the time that I made that decision, I hadn't counted on moving to a foreign country, getting pregnant and delivering at a military hospital. But there I was. And if information on natural childbirth was scarce stateside, it was non-existent in my military community abroad. I was on my own to figure this out.

It happened then that I came across a book called "Thank You, Dr. Lamaze," written originally in the 1950s by Marjorie Karmel, who also was on a quest to find a way to give birth more easily and naturally. (Have you ever noticed how books seem to show up just when you need them?) This book did not explain the Lamaze method in a step-by-step way, because it was, as I recall, more of a memoir. But from it I did learn breathing techniques to use in labor.

I didn't get to have natural childbirth with my first child. But I came close. I was admitted to the hospital at noon and he was born around 2:30 p.m. I did my breathing and it worked! I didn't feel like I needed anything for pain. However, it was hospital policy that all moms were given spinal anesthesia before delivery. I protested, but they gave it to me anyway. After the injection, I had a half dozen contractions and my son was born.

The experience showed me that I could have a baby fairly easily without drugs. Which is exactly what I did when my second child was born in a Chicago-area hospital two years later. I had to interview several doctors before I found one who would allow me to deliver naturally. But I succeeded and am glad for having had that experience. Learning to work with my body during labor, breathing to keep my body as relaxed as possible, allowed me to experience the full-on power of giving birth. It was, to use a word often wasted on the mundane, awesome.

If you are looking for a book on Lamaze technique, there are better books available. (Check Amazon's reviews.) But I find it interesting that more than 50 years on, Marjorie Karmel's experiences have so resonated with readers that her book is still in print. To her, I say, thank you.

Are you a mom? Was there a book you read during pregnancy that made a difference for you? Please add a comment and share your experience.