Wednesday, October 5, 2011


This family is experiencing a very happy moment at Peregrine Espresso. Beautiful.

Every now and then I take on the role of doula or birth attendant, normally for someone I've worked with while they were pregnant. Even less often I agree to doula (is it a verb? I wish there was a better word for it) for someone near and dear, which was the case yesterday.

As usual, the experience was awe inspiring, wondrous, nerve-wracking, epic. Every birth is. Because I dearly love the mother and father of the baby who was born yesterday, the experience was even more emotionally intense than usual, whatever "usual" means.

When I see how hard it is to give birth, how much work it is, what women go through, I wonder how it can be that there are so many homo sapiens on the planet at this moment in history. After the birth, walking home in the resplendent sunshine down Pennsylvania Avenue, I saw a lot of people, of course. I kept thinking Someone went through all of that to bring each of these people into the world.

May I take a moment to say the obvious: Women are NOT the weaker sex.

The way women give birth is a huge topic of controversy within the circles of people who assist with the process. Doctors tend to want to medicalize birth, though far less than they used to. I was born in 1953 when in the U.S., childbirth was utterly medicalized; my mother was strapped down to a table, flat on her back, drugged out of her mind on ether, probably, as were most women at that time. Right after birth I was held by the feet and slapped around until I cried. Is it any wonder that so many of we baby boomers headed into therapy as soon as possible? For heaven's sake.

These days most doctors are far less brutal, though of course they tend towards medicalizing the experience since this is how they were trained. On the other side of the debate are the midwives who are fierce about "natural" childbirth. (I put that word in quotes since I don't think there is such a thing as unnatural childbirth. C-section birth is not unnatural. It is a highly assisted form of birth that does not exist in the supernatural, yes? I say yes. For one reason or another, vaginal birth is not an option sometimes, but that doesn't make it unnatural. At least not to me.)

Women are not as physically strong as they once were; many are not up to the task of going through labor and delivery without anesthesia and other types of assistance. For these women, who sit at desks all day for instance, it is brutal to insist that they give birth without pain relief. Among young, ambitious, uber-achieving mothers (which would include many Washingtonians) it is a badge of honor to deliver without anesthesia. That seems quite weird to me. It's so macho.

As a doula what I want to do is be of help. If the laboring mother is good to go without anesthetic, great. But if they need some help, I don't understand why that's such a bad thing. But then I'm not a purist in any way imaginable. I don't judge anyone for the choices they make around their health, even if their choices don't make sense to me. As a doula, I am there for the laboring mother. What she needs, I embrace.

Yesterday my dear friend cruised through labor and delivery without the controversial epidural. She was amazing as were the midwives and nurses at G.W. Hospital. Whitney Pinger was the attending midwife yesterday. It's no wonder she won an award from Our Bodies, Ourselves. She is a stupendous midwife! I've added a link under Healing Resources for the midwifery program at G.W. Hospital, even though they say straightaway they support "natural" and "normal" birth. What is normal in any situation or experience? Please explain! Even though they are fanatical about their approach, the midwives yesterday were top-notch.

What an experience! Wow. L'chaim, y'all. Cheers.


Angela said...

My daughter will deliver in a few days! I wish she had you near her, Reya!
All will be well, I know.

ellen abbott said...

There is nothing more magical than birth. I delivered both mine with no drugs. It was what I wanted and I had to really talk my doctor into it. My daughter was very small, just over 5 pounds, my son 2 1/2 pounds heavier. But the nurses, when my daughter was born were just amazed at how alert she was! They'd never seen a newborn not drugged up.

The Bug said...

I've never wanted children of my own, but back when I was younger (& stronger) I wanted to experience pregnancy & birth. I thought it would be so cool! If there had been an opportunity to be a surrogate I might have seriously considered it.

I look back on that now & think, "what was I, CRAZY?" Heh.

Reya Mellicker said...

Dana I've had the same thoughts.

Ellen - another one of my theories about we baby boomers is that we were all born drugged out of our minds which is why we turned to hallucinogenics as soon as we reached adolescence!

I'm not sure it does the baby or mother any good if the mother is in unmanageable pain. It seems cruel to insist, for both baby and mom. With the epidural, babies are alert, though probably not as alert as babies born to those who are not medicated.

The baby feels everything the mother is feeling. It is an epic experience they share. Maybe better to have a calm mother at birth, even if you come into the world slightly altered, hey?

Who knows?

Angela best wishes and love to your daughter! Mazel tov!!

Kerry said...

How wonderful that you are a doula, and had the chance to share the birth experience with your friends. So remarkable. And you have such an open sensible attitude towards the treatment of pain, no wonder they wanted you present. Lucky mama, lucky baby.

Reya Mellicker said...

Thanks Kerry. The experience gave me a lot to think about. I'll be integrating it for awhile.

Reya Mellicker said...

I should have said, about the first picture, that I also love the two women at the table behind the family. Their hands are so expressive.

ellen abbott said...

No judgement on my part, you know, about whether or not a woman opts for pain relief during labor.