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.”
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;
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
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.
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.