Cindy Crosby | Getting Smart About Birth

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Cindy Crosby was born in Portland, Oregon, and grew up in Chico, California.  She earned her Bachelor's degree in Humanities, with a German literature emphasis and received her Master's degree in Teaching English as a Second Language.  She loves other cultures and has enjoyed living abroad twice, first in Vienna, Austria and later Okinawa, Japan.  She is a certified Labor Doula, Childbirth Educator, and Mother to three children living in Derby, Kansas with her husband where she works from home at

My oldest son was born on July 10th, 2003.

The pregnancy had been emotionally difficult as I had previously experienced three miscarriages and always had the underlying fear that something would go wrong.  There was so much I couldn't control, I tried to focus on what I could.  I learned and prepared all I could for the experience of giving birth.  I read several books and took two different childbirth classes.  I loved learning about the fear-tension-pain cycle and how birth could be less painful if women could overcome their fear and relax.  I also thought it was interesting that our bodies produce endorphins — natural pain killers.  I wanted to believe these ideas were true.

Source:  istockphoto

As I labored in the hospital, it was a very different experience than I had imagined years earlier.  The lights were low and soft music with birth affirmations was playing.  I remember hearing words like, “I trust my body, it knows what to do” and “My birth will be easy because I'm so relaxed.”  I moved into several different positions — kneeling on the floor and laying over a birth ball while my husband or doula massaged my back.  I also spent time in the shower and bath at various points during labor.  Nurses came in periodically to listen to my son's heartbeat.  They would say reassuring things like “he's tolerating the contractions fine.”  I breathed calmly and slowly, even falling asleep between contractions, feeling very little pain.  But I was working hard, wondering for a brief moment why I wasn't relaxing with an epidural and watching movies.  After some encouragement from my husband, I again focused on my labor and was soon ready to push.

When my son was born, I was euphoric.  For the first time in my life, I felt like I had truly accomplished something.  I was thrilled that those ideas from my childbirth preparation proved true for my birth.  When I had him weighed and bathed, I was right there with him, up and walking around.  My recovery was speedy, my transition to motherhood smooth.

Seven years later, as a doula/childbirth educator, it is difficult for me to tell this story.  I try not to talk about my own experience because I don't want the mothers I serve to feel they need to make the same decisions I did.  And yet, my story is important because it's what led me to become a childbirth professional. I feel driven to help other women to feel as supported and empowered in childbirth as I did.

Source:  istockphoto

So many of the voices we hear are telling us what we can't do, either because we are not capable or because we are not allowed.  Maternity care, in particular, is impersonal and standardized.   Women are so afraid of labor, that most do not consider attempting it without an epidural.  Widespread paranoia of malpractice motivates doctors and hospitals to perform many interventions routinely in labor, despite research indicating that they are not helpful (and even harmful).

My second doula birth was a powerful learning experience.  The mom had a common variation of labor:  a baby in posterior position.  As is often the case with this variation, her labor was long.  Really long.  At one point, she went 7 hours, only dilating from 6-7cm; I would not have blamed her for a minute if she had opted for an epidural or decided to augment her labor, but she persisted in her goal for an unmedicated birth.  Despite being tired, there were no signs of distress with the baby and she continued her labor.  Eventually, the baby was born with no complications.  By the time she was born, that baby had rotated around 270 degrees through her mom's position changes and was born normally (after that very long labor).

Kimberly Mitchell babym2 Source:  Kimberly Mitchell Photography

At about the same time, a friend had an induction and epidural.  Her baby was also posterior, but since she was immobile, he was not able to turn as well during labor.  The doctor attempted to reach up and manually turn the baby.  He also used forceps to deliver and it was a very traumatic birth, which came close to ending in cesarean.  When I contrasted those two experiences, it was a powerful illustration of how our bodies really do work and give us the best outcomes if we trust them to do their job.  Some doctors would have been quick to label the first example as a “dysfunctional” labor, but it is clear that her labor functioned just fine; it actually worked more effectively because of not taking the more common interventive approach of modern maternity care.

Because of my background in linguistics, I find it fascinating to observe how empowering (or disempowering) our language can be.  When I work with women, I try to help them recognize that they do have choices, if they want them.  When we talk to a midwife or doctor, instead of saying, “am I allowed to birth in an upright position?” we can say, “I have been researching the benefits of giving birth in an upright position.  Would you be comfortable supporting me in that?”  You are not asking for permission; you are asking how your provider feels about an option you are considering.  Maybe he/she will think it's a great idea, maybe he/she will be uncomfortable with it.  If that is the case then the power is yours to decide how important it is to you and if you would want to compromise or change providers.  The idea is that women counsel with their providers to assist them in making choices, not make the providers decide for them.  Instead of asking, “what should I do?” we can ask “what are my options?”

Kimberly Mitchell Belly
Used by permission:  Kimberly Mitchell

My goal is not to teach women to disobey doctor's orders or refuse all medical treatment.  In some cases it is life-saving and necessary.  But I do want to help women to find providers they can truly trust and communicate with them in a way that will help enhance their care, so that if interventions are chosen, they can own those choices.

When I look back on my own three birth experiences, I made different choices with each one, based on my circumstances and knowledge at the time, but they were each empowering and wonderful experiences for me.  In part, because I had people who believed in me, and respected my choices.   I now have the privilege of helping other women find the way to their own best births.  That's what Birth Smart is about — providing women with knowledge, tools, encouragement, and support.  My message to women everywhere is simply, “I believe in you”.

Was the birth of your children as you had envisioned it you would be? 

What about the birth of your dreams? 

Are you doing professionally what you studied to do?  If not, how does what you studied in school enhance your chosen career?

After you read this blog, I'd recommend you go back and read Dreaming with Moms.  There really is power in giving birth, and in being a mother.

You may also enjoy Dr. Debra Bingham's Taking Birth Back.

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