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Know Your Birth Options


By Sheri Rysdam

To those giving birth, and the people who support them—you’ve got options! As a birth worker, I am often surprised by how *infrequently* people ask for advice, options, and perspectives about childbirth. If you’re reading this, you’re probably the exception. You’re likely either a birth worker or soon to be giving birth, and scouring the internet for information. Or, maybe someone just sent you this link with a little nudge and a wink.

I am a doula, and in this work, I interact mostly with people who are taking one of two approaches. The first, and by far most common, approach (in my experience) to childbirth is the “wait and see approach.” In this approach, the pregnant person doesn’t prepare much beyond a standard hospital birthing class. This approach is just about going with the flow, and it tends to end up in a birth that works best for the healthcare providers (doctor/midwife and nursing staff). The most common outcome here is an epidural, plus (usually) one or two weird things that could’ve been avoided, and a “healthy” outcome. In the end, the person giving birth is usually like, “Um, WTH just happened? Oh well. Hey! Look at my cute baby!”

The second common approach is the very specific approach. In this case, the person giving birth is very motivated for a specific outcome. They might be planning on getting an epidural as quickly as possible, or maybe they want an unmedicated birth and are actively pursuing that with classes, visualization practices, etc. Because there are so many variations to childbirth, getting one specific birth experience isn’t common, but sometimes you can get pretty close.

There are two approaches to labor: the wait and see approach and the specific plan. Which are you?

Whether or not you want to prepare, or whether or not you have a specific plan in mind for your birth, the most important, crucial, non-negotiable, key point here is that: You Have Options! And, that’s where my job as a doula comes in. Doulas are highly experienced in the childbirth setting, and using a doula improves outcomes, as they know lots of new and ancient practices that make the whole shebang a lot better. One of the most crucial roles a doula has, in my opinion, is helping you understand that, in almost every situation, you have choices. Why is this so important? Well, unfortunately, one of the most frequent complaints that women have after childbirth is that, at some point, they felt out of control, which can lead to a sense of violation.

I’ve seen women go through the childbirth experience in the most unexpected ways. I’ve seen women hoping for an unmedicated birth have a C-section, and I’ve seen women who were expecting a C-section have an unmedicated birth. What tends to make the experience more positive, in both cases, is when women feel like their voices are heard, they are presented with choices, and they move forward in their choice feeling empowered.

We live in a culture that too often fails to gain consent from women before acting upon their bodies. This is all too common in sexual assault statistics, the ways women’s bodies are governed, and, unfortunately, we see this in the childbirth setting. Most frequently this means that a hospital’s policies, or a provider’s preferences, take precedence over the person giving birth. It can mean people in childbirth have things done to their bodies that they don’t want, or before they understand what is happening or why. In fact, I am so passionate about this topic that I write about it for my job.

We live in a culture that too often fails to gain consent from women before acting upon their bodies.

The truth is that you have lots of options. Your body is giving birth, and, if you are conscious, there is every reason your care providers should explain what’s happening, what your options are, what they recommend, and help you move forward feeling like you’ve made the best decision possible for you and your unique childbirth experience.

Sheri Rysdam, PhD
Sheri Rysdam teaches college writing and yoga. Her scholarship is rhetoric, including feminist medical rhetorics. She works as a doula in the Salt Lake City area, where she focuses on supporting young women with limited financial resources. She writes at www.sherewin.com.

By Melissa Olson

Hello! I started on my journey to become a doula in the spring of 2014. It wasn't until November of that year that I was able to attend a DONA workshop. I absolutely love this work. I learn something new and amazing every day about woman's body's and their abilities to grow a baby and bring it into this world. I love empowering women to make decisions based on evidence, education, and intuition rather than fear. Currently I have two fur babies but I can't wait until I start my own human family soon. Until then, I will stay as involved in the birth community as I can.

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