Is pregnancy a diagnosis?

I just spent two days feeling like a medical experiment. “Raising Justice” is about parenting, and I’d be remiss if I didn’t include what it’s like to parent while your kid is in the womb. We already make decisions for them before they can even survive on their own, breath in air, or open their eyes to the world. And we have to do this within a healthcare system that is a mess, and completely overwhelming.

My approach to pregnancy and birth has been to focus on as much strength as I have and to feel the beauty of it. My pregnancy is not a diagnosis, it is a part of life that has been in existence well before any medical model came into play. It’s a part of our humanity. Today I feel tired of being treated like an experiment, like I am hosting an unpredictable virus, and that it’s up to me to ensure the life of this baby by making the “right” decisions for care.

This baby has sat breech in my uterus since early on. They have chosen to pretty much sit in my lap, facing forward experiencing the world through the light and colors coming through the stretched belly skin creating his home. The whole time, I just thought how amazing, them sitting on my lap, seeing the world through my womb, literally. This baby has always liked it this way, wanting to participate and experience…waking up to music, new foods, new sounds, and new people. But two days ago, I was told that all of a sudden this is unacceptable anymore for him to be in this position. I knew in my heart that this baby would turn at some point if they could, that so many babies turn last second and that it’s completely normal. But I grow big babies, so the fear was this one couldn’t do it because of their size.

This came up when I met a new provider who decided this couldn’t wait. There was too much risk for baby to run out of room. So she scheduled me for an ECV (external cephalic version) procedure which is where they manually turn the baby with their hands on your belly. No big deal, until randomly she mentioned, “Oh and don’t eat or drink after midnight as there is a chance for an emergency cesarean section.” My anxiety spiked immediately.

I spent all day conflicted, trying to figure out what was best and decided I’d feel out where I was at in the morning when I got there…as this was scheduled to happen the very next day. I spent the evening before doing some gymnastic-like moves, putting music between my legs, and placing ice packs on my belly to try to get baby to flip on their own. I could feel him trying, he even got pretty sideways, but he never went the whole way. “She might be right,” I thought. So the next morning we were off. Walking to the car, I heard a hawk shout out. Oddly, this immediately created a sense of calm and I said to myself, “This is all going to be okay.”

I was set up for hours, with an IV, being monitored etc. Everyone was nice, but I was in a place that reminded me of all I hate that we’ve turned pregnancy into. I was asked over and over if it was a boy or a girl, if we had chosen a name, etc. Normally, I say it’s a surprise, but my medical chart would confirm my lie. I felt too focused on the nerves in my body to ask people to stop, or to even talk about why we are not gendering this baby. Everyone had advice on a baby with male parts, that they’re more trouble, etc. I was already exhausted by this chatter, but it got really hard when several providers harped on a past pregnancy complication, shoulder dystocia. To date, my midwife had mentioned it once or twice, but without fear or intention, and simply to answer questions about any concerns. So I was quite surprised when it was mentioned by all of the providers and nurses as if it was the present diagnosis we were dealing with.

My first pregnancy for my daughter was five years ago and I was put on bed rest as a precaution to suspected preterm labor. I ended up delivering her at 41 weeks, and she was 10 pounds. Upon her exit, she got stuck, for about 1 minute. Her status wasn’t so great, but they fixed her right up and me too.

Yesterday, they harped on this shoulder issue, and many asked me if she’s developmentally ok. I was even reassured that they “always catch up.” Ironically, I gave birth to her in this same hospital with the same provider system. I couldn’t help but wonder if they actually doubted the skills of their providers to handle this not so uncommon emergency? My provider team was brilliant in their response and got her out quick with little complication, because they were a well trained team to handle it. So my confidence is a bit diminished 5 years later. The provider who saw me yesterday basically told me that I am guaranteed a repeat situation and I should consider a C-section (statistics show a chance of about 17% for repeat should dystocia). This organization prides themselves on one of the lowest C-section rates in the state and even nationally. This was so counter-intuitive to what I knew. I kindly declined the offer to make a decision right then and said we’d take it one day at a time. *Please note that I have nothing against C-sections, but I felt incredibly confused by being talked into one all of sudden. Having one does not scare me, in fact I embrace whatever brings this baby into the world. But being talked into a decision I was not ready for is scary.

Needless to say the procedure went fine. As I knew already, this organization has a brilliant team of providers who are incredibly skilled in their work. They were quickly able to rotate the baby with little to no stress on anyone or anything except my own nerves. This and I talked to him for a while in the hospital bathroom asking him to trust me, that we needed to flip to be sure we can do this together. (I still believe his lack of struggle was this trust in me – he didn’t move a muscle but completely relaxed as they turned him). Additional note: I was told later that this was one of the easiest version procedures they have every done; this connection between me and this baby is profound and I wish more providers recognized this capability.

I knew that I’d be sore the next day and I was, but I didn’t expect the cloud of doom I’d feel in my heart. I have been working towards a birth experience that is mine to own. And when I say this, I mean that this is my body and I am going to love what it is capable of. This includes all ways this baby can emerge into this world. I have been embracing all options, but holding out hope that this time, I might get to experience birth without being a diagnosis, without intense socialization and expectations of childbirth. The type of delivery does not define this, the experience of care is what does.

I’d be lying if I didn’t admit feeling defeated. Throughout this experience, I did not feel I was trusted as a parent. I did not feel that this system is justice, that this system exists to bring me into motherhood. Instead, I felt like this system exists to distance me from my body, to diagnose, to promote medical intervention as the “smart choice.” I even felt that I was scolded, that I must be an idiot for not considering that if I “risk” another vaginal delivery, my child could be harmed for life. It would be all my fault. I would have done this to him. I can’t even get into my feelings on this in one post alone – the assumption of blame on the birth parent, and the otherness of any person with a mental or physical ability difference.

I have been teaching my daughter about childbirth, about our bodies, their capabilities, their strength, resilience, power. Thanks goodness she wasn’t there to experience this. It was the opposite of what she believes of her own body, what she believes in mine. I just imagined her face, crushed as she realized that maybe I ever put her in jeopardy as a baby. Or that I would even make a decision selfishly instead of considering other people involved, like this baby.

I have great people in my life who I know will help me get back to a settled mindset before this baby comes. The love and power and energy from others is hard to miss. But I can’t get over why anyone would ever want to strip me of that. This system is a mess, this system is rigged, this system is injustice. This is my experience as a white cis straight woman who works in the organization I am seeking services in. I can’t even imagine the experience of others.

This is why I write, this is why I do this work, this is why I teach her. If she ever chooses to take a pregnancy to term, this darn well better be different.

To all of the people who have ever had a pregnancy, are pregnant, want a pregnancy, or know someone with a pregnancy, I am turning this frustration into love for you all. For a better system, for better care, for better trust in us as parents and caregivers. Pregnancy is life, I am life, we are life.

Maternity photo by Crabapple Photography.