Ashley Martin was ready. She'd already given birth to four babies, one of them at home. She'd invested hundreds—nay thousands, of dollars into the "perfect" birth—to be documented by a professional photographer, to boot. Only, it didn't go to plan.
What started out fine swiftly turned into "the worst day of [Martin's] life." Partway into proceedings her son was in the rare "brow presentation," in which the widest, eyebrow area of the baby's head exits first. Then his shoulder ("extended shoulder dystocia") had to be manipulated by the midwife.
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When Zinn finally emerged, he was unresponsive. 911 was called; CPR administered. All of this hell was caught on film. Two and a half days later Zinn was discharged from NICU and reunited with his family.
Like many moms, instead of moving forward, Martin struggled to come to terms with her traumatic birth experience. She didn't feel empowered; she didn't feel like the 'birth warrior' people claimed she was.
"I wanted to be that pretty momma—laughing during labour—sitting in the pool looking glamorous and happy," wrote Martin about the experience. Instead she felt "misled, lied too, and manipulated." Now she wants to tear the rose-coloured glasses off women expecting similar fairytale home births.
"...when things go wrong, it goes downhill REALLY quickly. You might be 'low risk' one second and 'high risk' the next second. And that oxygen tank? It won't get you very far. You are not just 'down the hall' from an operating room. You don't have a neonatologist in the next room. You honestly don't have anyone qualified for an emergency next to you."
To this day, Martin still has nightmares about the birth. She readily admits that she was "part of an ugly statistic" and an exceedingly rare one at that. As in, between 1 in 500-1,400 for brow presentation and 0.5-1.5% for shoulder dystocia.
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That's the ultimate in shitty luck. I can't speak for Martin's situation, but I was amply informed of the pros and cons of home birthing. That's why I opted to labour in a 'low needs' suite within a hospital setting. I figured my bases would be covered in case something unexpected happened. (And let's face it, despite our best intentions, labour is not a colour-by-numbers. Labour is not 100% within our bodies' control, no matter how much prep we put into it.)
And though I wasn't exactly smiling throughout, I DID have the kind of idyllic water birth Martin described, thanks to a little nitrous oxide, some relaxing music, and a great midwife.
So the fairy tale can and does happen for many women. It's not a lie perpetuated in the glossy pages of parenting magazine.
Martin's feelings are absolutely valid and an upsetting birth experience can have lasting effects on a mother and her family. But it's wrong to scare women from wanting to go this route, because that decision is one which should come from research and discussion, not fear - one way or another. A certified, licensed midwife is a health care professional and they understand birthing risk. We can plan and hope for the best, but also be keenly aware (as I was throughout the labour) that it could easily go the other way, through no fault of our own.
Martin says: "We shouldn't trust birth, we should respect it." To that I would just add Amen.
Image Source: Wikimedia Commons