When I work with clients as their birth photographer or their doula, I often end up sharing my birth story. One of the biggest takeaways that I highlight was a simple request I made in my birth plan: to work with a nurse who enjoys natural delivery.
Looking back on my birth, I don't know definitively if that request made a difference. But I do know that my labor and delivery nurse was kind, calm, and supportive. Her presence didn't hinder my labor, if anything, it helped move it forward. I will forever be grateful for her presence.
But the more I work in hospitals, the more I realize that many nurses are not fond of natural births. Just last night, my client's nurse (who happened to be amazing) confided that the nurses out in the hall were in "a bit of a tizzy" because of what was happening in the room. "They're not used to this," she explained, "Only about 5% of our patients attempt to do this naturally." She went on to talk about how natural births are a lot less harder to control and monitor than medicated births.
My client gave birth to a beautiful baby girl after pushing for about an hour. Her doctor and the other nurses that descended upon the room were in awe of my client's ability to remain focused and present during the pushing phase. "You do better than our moms with epidurals!" the doctor exclaimed at one point.
My client, her mother, and myself were in a bit of shock after hearing statements like this. Why had these medical professionals not been exposed to more natural births? Why was my client's labor the exception instead of the norm?
I wanted to take them all out for coffee and show them the many natural births I've photographed over the last year. My client was amazing last night, but she wasn't alone in her strength and composure. So many mothers give birth naturally in the same centered way.
And yet it seems like many in our medical community are afraid of natural birth. The more I talk to nurses and doctors, the more I understand the reasons why.
- Natural birth can be harder to monitor. Those ubiquitous bands that measure the baby's heart rate and mom's contractions have a hard time staying put even when a mom is flat on her back. When a mom is laboring naturally, movement is often her best friend (and the enemy of those pink and blue bands). This means that nurses have to come in and adjust those straps more frequently than not. It also means that mom will likely request to not be monitored for a good chunk of each hour.
- Natural birth can be harder to control. A mom with an epidural doesn't mind answering questions or having her blood pressure checked. A mom with an epidural has a better chance of holding back the urge to push. A mom without an epidural will find that her body takes over: not wanting to be poked and prodded, not listening to the pleas of a labor and delivery nurse to wait until the doctor gets in the room. Additionally, an active labor can lead to quicker and more unpredictable dilation. I've seen so many moms go from 4cm to 10cm in a matter of an hour. If a nurse hasn't experienced many natural births, these differences can be alarming.
- Natural birth isn't taught. Nurses and doctors are rightly trained in the "what-ifs." They are well equipped to handle an emergency during birth. But I'm finding that many labor and delivery nurses aren't exposed to enough natural births to understand what the process can look like without medication. An exposure is key. Experience is vital. What if all labor and delivery nurses had the opportunity to shadow a midwife at a birth center for a month? Perhaps they wouldn't be put into a "tizzy" when a mom gives birth naturally in their labor and delivery ward.
I'm not the first person to point out this problem. And many birth professionals will offer this solution: moms that want to give birth naturally should just find a birth center or a home birth midwife. And while I agree that a birth center or a home birth is a wonderful choice for many mothers, I still think more should be done to expose labor and delivery nurses to natural births. For some families, giving birth at home or a birth center is just not an option. Some cities don't have birth centers and some states don't allow home births. Each and every hospital should have nurses that love natural births and instead of gossiping in the hall about "how long until she gets an epidural" they are cheering mom on to the finishing line.
I know that these hospitals can exist because I've been to many of them. I've seen what amazing things can happen when a staff of nurses loves natural birth.
But sadly, I've also been at hospitals where it's evident that the staff is not used to or comfortable with natural birth. In the end, mom and baby lose out.
Memes like this one shouldn't exist. They make me sad and angry. We shouldn't hear stories about nurses making fun of birth plans in the hall. We shouldn't see rolling of eyes. Labor and delivery nurses can make or break a mother's experience. They are often the most present care provider during birth, and it makes me sad when the nurse in the room doesn't appreciate a mother and her decision to birth without medication.
We need to change many things about maternal health in the United States, and I think this is one of them. We need to give nurses the opportunity to see and assist in natural births. Not just 5 out of a 100. But natural birth after natural birth after natural birth. We need to take them to places where unmedicated birth is the norm so that they can see just how powerful and capable our bodies are.
And to the many labor and delivery nurses who support and advocate for natural births in the hospital, thank you. I had one at my birth, and I've met many others in the work I do now. You are heroes!