I can think of no better way to honor the 100th anniversary of Mother's Day, and the activism that originated the celebration, than to consider the most fundamental part of becoming a mother. Of course many women are amazing mothers having never personally given birth to their children; however my focus here surrounds the many unique choices vital to pregnancy. Pregnancy choices are more than names, nursery themes, and baby shower registries. Choices surrounding the individual physical reality of pregnancy are not freely offered by many physicians and overtly inhibited by lawmakers in many states.
I don't do pregnancy well. It took over two years to conceive my first child, and I came very close to death during the birth process. When I found out I was pregnant I was shocked and overjoyed. I poured myself into reading all about the coming months and birthing options. Knowledge is power, and pregnancy terrified me, so I wanted to know everything. I discovered there is a tendency for the medical profession to treat pregnancy as a disease that must be managed rather than a natural process, so I veered toward caregivers who would treat my condition more naturally. I ordered a birthing pool and found a hospital and doctor who would allow me to use it. Unfortunately, I developed a severe case of preeclampsia, and on Christmas evening in 2004 my husband had to rush me to the hospital 30 miles away while my kidneys were in the beginning stages of failure. After 17 hours of induced hard labor and stubbornly refusing anesthesia, my cervix was still less than 50% dilated. An emergency C-Section was ultimately performed and the birthing pool was returned unopened.
My daughter at two weeks premature was born healthy. I was able to look in her alert eyes immediately because we refused the standard application of silver nitrate to her eyes. Did you know this procedure originated to keep a child from contracting gonorrhea from its mother in the birth canal? This is highly unnecessary in most cases, yet it is done routinely to every infant. It's nice to know every pregnant woman is suspected of carrying a sexually transmitted disease. I was required to sign a form to opt out, which basically stated I knew I was breaking the law. Similar archaic procedures surround giving birth in many ways.
Difficult pregnancy and delivery notwithstanding, I fell in love with my daughter and enjoyed my new status as mother. I enjoyed it so much I was willing to go through pregnancy again, and my husband and I were thrilled when I became pregnant 18 months later. Knowing my pregnancy would be considered high-risk due to my previous complications and my 'advanced maternal age' of 39, we sought immediate prenatal care. At our second visit we were scheduled for an 11-week ultrasound. I watched as the technician's face fell. How difficult must it be to tell two smiling parents there is no fetal heartbeat? For 45 minutes we waited in that room for the doctor to arrive, listening to the ticking of the clock, and sporadically discussing the probability of error. When the doctor finally came in it was apparent he had not read the chart thoroughly when he stated, "So I see you're due in December." I looked at him in disbelief and told him there had been no heartbeat.
Maybe it was his discomfort at being caught unprepared, but the ensuing conversation surrounding my missed miscarriage did not follow generally accepted medical guidelines. We were told this is quite common, that we shouldn't feel as if we were to blame, and there was most likely an issue with the fetus that would have resulted in an abnormal birth. Better to know now, he said. He informed me the miscarriage would happen soon on its own and it would resemble a heavy menstrual cycle. There was no informed decision making process where I, as the patient, had all available options with risks and benefits explained to me. When I inquired about options I was told intervention would not be necessary.
The next three weeks passed very slowly. I knew there was something inside me that didn't belong there, something that could affect my future reproductive health detrimentally, and my doctor was unwilling to discuss more than one option for medical management. In fact, there are two other medical treatments available to assist when a miscarriage is imminent or incomplete. One method is administering medication to induce labor and empty the uterus. The second is a surgical procedure known as a D&C. I lived in Phoenix at the time, a major metropolitan area, and I could not find one medical practitioner in the phone book who would discuss either of these methods. The response was always, "We don't provide abortions." How is the removal of a nonviable mass of cells, one capable of causing serious medical complications to the patient, an abortion?
When the miscarriage finally happened, it was more like being in labor for two weeks than a heavy menstrual cycle. It involved many repeat visits to a new obstetrician with multiple ultrasounds. No one ever suggested surgical assistance until the very end of the process when it finally became apparent my body was not cooperating very well. I had a history of poor cervix dilation and difficulty with pregnancy, yet this five week journey through purgatory was the best the medical field could offer for this situation in Phoenix?
Luckily, my reproductive health remained intact and we were able the next year to welcome our son to the family via a planned C-Section. As I celebrate the 100th Mother's Day with my precious children, I will also celebrate mothers and women everywhere. It is my wish that the reproductive health of women and the many challenges and choices surrounding pregnancy and birth can one day be addressed by a woman based on her individual needs and without imposed antiquated values or relentless oppression through legislation.