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May 2015 • Online Edition

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Childbirth: Keep An Open Mind, Do What’s Right For You | Print |  E-mail

by Jamie Siebrase

Full disclosure: my sons were born in a hospital, a setting I took as a given, just like an epidural and fasting during labor – which is something midwife Janet Schwab, owner of To Each Her Own, 191 University Blvd., calls “the culture of American childbirth.”

Schwab, a local homebirth provider who has delivered over a thousand babies since the 1970s, tells me childbirth was un-medicated until the mid-1800s, when Queen Victoria was given chloroform (a somewhat hazardous modified methane) by handkerchief while birthing her eighth baby.

Half a century later, twilight sleep, a morphine-scopolamine injection, replaced chloroform. To have this medicine, women needed to be at a hospital. So, doctors began encouraging all mothers to use hospitals, originally for poor women lacking adequate homes. “And so began the ‘knock ‘em out, drag ‘em out’ era of childbirth, where mothers were knocked out and babies were dragged out with forceps,” Schwab says.

Routine episiotomies became the norm because doctors (mistakenly) thought they helped the pelvic floor. “Women were more likely to die of infection in hospitals back then, as is true today,” Schwab continues. “Physicians thought infection came from the woman herself, so they did enemas, shaved women, and used antiseptics on the vulva. Today, we know infection comes from exterior elements, and shaving increases its likelihood.”

Even though myths surrounding mid-century practices have been dispelled, many were passed through generations. “Immediate cord clamping is still common,” says Schwab. “So is lying on your back to deliver.” While Lauren Williams, co-founder of Belly Bliss, applauds continuous fetal monitoring for its lifesaving properties, she notes, “We saw a huge increase in epidurals when this came out.” Most of these practices, Schwab explains, are based in culture, not science.

By the ‘70s and ‘80s, women were demanding better care. “Consumers voted with their checkbooks,” Schwab recalls. “They went to hospitals that better supported natural care.” Midwives, heralded for their holistic approaches and originally intended for poor women, became popular with the elite.  

“We had a revolution; it seemed like natural birth was the way things were going,” says Schwab. “But generations and patients were changing. By the late ‘90s, the movement had ebbed.” More women were having c-sections and unanticipated births, epidurals were increasingly popular, and fewer independent midwives were welcomed into hospitals – which is where we are today. For info on Schwab’s practice: 2eachherown.com; 303-854-7898.   

Some local businesses are questioning – even countering – this childbirth culture. Belly Bliss, 300 Josephine St., for example, is an unbiased, nonjudgmental place mothers can come for information. “All I want is for women to know their choices,” says Williams.

The community is centered on education and yoga, which teaches breathwork and strength. “Most women who come to class regularly during pregnancy use yogic methods during birth, regardless of what kind of birth they have,” Williams says.

The Cherry Creek North business offers childbirth workshops like Williams’ Prepared Childbirth, a five-week course covering the basics and suitable for everyone. Natural Childbirth, which draws on Bradley methods, is available for those who want un-medicated births. Birthing from Within focuses on the right brain, using art to explore emotional aspects of pregnancy. For info: bellybliss.org; 303-399-1191.

Williams recommends The Greatest Pregnancy Ever: Keys to the MotherBaby Bond, co-authored by local lactation consultant Laurel Wilson. Founded on principles of mindfulness, the book examines how mom’s perceptions play into baby’s long-term development. “Even if you have medical interventions during labor,” Wilson says, “if you’re conscious about decision-making, these interventions can be good. It’s all about how the mother perceives her experience.” The book’s available at local baby stores and on Amazon and Kindle. For information: thegreatestpregnancyever.com.

“Natural birth, even home birth,” says Williams, “can be empowering – but these aren’t for everyone.” Less than one percent of Americans give birth at home annually. “For women who want to go un-medicated,” says Williams, “the most important thing is finding a provider you’re comfortable with.”

You’re likely to find such a provider at Denver Health, 777 Bannock St., a public hospital delivering quality healthcare to all Denver residents, regardless of ability to pay. Dr. Kent Heyborne, one of 18 faculty physicians and one of four high-risk specialists, started his career by training at Denver Health. After 19 years in private practice, he’s returned. Ultimately, it was the hospital’s model of care that drew him back.

“Most private practice is service- driven,” Heyborne explains. Not so at Denver Health, where doctors like Heyborne believe less is more, most of the time. “We try to be as low intervention as possible,” says Heyborne of the hospital’s evidence-based approach. Doctors and midwives won’t act unless there’s scientific evidence to support their decision, which explains why Denver Health’s c-section rate is half that of most metro-area hospitals.

The hospital boasts a thriving midwifery practice. “Midwives make up about a third of our practice and see low-risk women interested in natural births with less medicine and electronic fetal monitoring,” Heyborne says. Denver Health’s midwifery practice has seen an intensely loyal following through the years. While the hospital is a safety net for our immigrant, refugee, and poor populations, it’s also an upstanding facility available for those with insurance, too. For information: 303-602-2915; denverhealth.org.

The bottom line? It’s all about options. Really knowing your options. Will I birth any subsequent children at a hospital? Probably. Will I get the epidural again? Maybe. One thing’s for sure: I’m glad I have choices. 


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