It’s a Long Way That I Have Come
by Amanda Terfansky Counter
(Note from Laura: This is the transcript of a talk given at the Second International Husband/Wife Homebirth Conference. To learn more about the conference, or purchase the video, click here.)
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Good evening, my name is Amanda Terfansky Counter. I have come from Salt Lake City with my husband John, who always saves the last cookie for me, and my angels Jack and Daphne. I have been invited to share a little bit about the delightful journey that has taken me from a mainstream working mother to an attached stay-at-home mom passionate about women reclaiming the birth experience for themselves and their babies.
Exactly what I wanted to share was not forthcoming until last Saturday morning while driving when I heard these words from a Jackson Browne song playing on the radio:
Across my home has grown the shadow
Of a cruel and senseless hand
Though in some strong hearts
The love and truth remain
And it has taken me this distance
And a woman’s smile to learn
That my heart remains among them
And to them I must return
But it’s a long way that I have come
Across the sand to find you here among these people in the sun
Where your children will be born
You’ll watch them as they run
Oh it’s so far the other way my life has gone
It is a long way that I have come over the past sixteen months. In March of 2000 I was a well-dressed, somewhat well-educated young mother with a great job in the medical field. We had just purchased our first home and a brand new car. I was pregnant with my second child. If the child was a girl, she was to be the last. My aspiration was to rush through child-rearing and complete my degree in Health Service Administration. One month later, seemingly crippled by the sickness of the pregnancy, I resigned my position.
And since then, oh, it IS so far the other way my life has gone. From the time I gave up my job until now, we have also given up our home, our sport utility vehicle, and our materialistic lifestyle. This change has rocked the boat with family, quelled friendships, and created an invisible rift between the rest of the society and myself. Our second child, a girl, is NOT the last. I no longer subscribe to current medical dogma. I wear my babies, I sleep with them, I breastfeed them, and I give birth to them unassisted. I felt the PHYSICAL reaction; the racing heart, the butterflies in my stomach, and the dizziness that others have described feeling when they “discovered” unassisted birth. For me those feelings indicated that what I had found was right. And now that I have experienced it, I will not give up, shut up, let up, or slow down.
Somehow, at some point I should have seen it coming that I would end up a “birth activist,” if you will. Before even conceiving my first child I reveled in other women’s stories, and the beauty of their pregnant bodies. In college I read Mary Crow Dog’s account of giving birth at Wounded Knee, assisted by four women friends, and when I was pregnant with my son, I would fantasize about giving birth alone. But in all honesty I had no idea that in 1997, in America, people INTENTIONALLY did that.
My first birth experience is best described as routine obstetric: Throughout the course of his pregnancy I gave 10 urine specimens, had 10 weigh-in’s, 10 blood pressure checks, 9 Doppler exams and one ultrasound exam. I gave 7 vacutainers of blood, had one glucose tolerance test and was the lucky recipient of 4 vaginal/cervical exams. Do these sound like things that should routinely happen to healthy women?
My “normal” hospital delivery went something like this: After being one of the lucky few with spontaneous membrane rupture I arrived at the hospital to give a urine sample, have my blood drawn, and blood pressure checked. I was harnessed to external fetal monitoring devices, then my doctor came in to perform a cervical exam, confirm that my water had indeed broken and insert an internal fetal monitoring device. My blood pressure was checked throughout the night at 15 minute intervals. An IV was inserted for the administration of electrolytes and Pitocin. I received epidural anesthesia. Again I was lucky in that I got away with only two cervical exams before the yelling began, “PUSH, push, push – you need to push harder!” I had three people administering fundal pressure, and an episiotomy which took six months to heal. (Mind you that at no point in my pregnancy or during the administration of many of these interventions was I supplied with “informed consent” regarding what I now know to be often unnecessary and painful procedures.)
After two long hours of pushing my baby ended up being manually pulled from my body. He watched the whole thing wide-eyed and didn’t utter a sound. When our eyes finally met for the first time he just looked deeply into my soul knowing that the experience would eventually turn my world upside down.
Sadly, in addition to the things which happened to me, all too many women and babies also experience the horror of forceps, vacuum extraction or cesarian section.
Hospitals are filled with the things that we have been culturally conditioned to associate with birth, and they are frightening things – sharp cold objects that can penetrate our bodies, mercilessly accost our unborn, and instill the spirit of fear into the core of our beings. These items associated with mechanized birth harm us not only physically and emotionally, but they sever our spiritual connection to our inner and ancient wisdom. Studies have shown that there is a significantly greater incidence of post-partum depression in women who have had a highly mechanized birth experience. The depression is usually deeper and longer lasting when the birth experience is perceived to be negative, and I have been there. There were horrible images in my head, and horrible thoughts about myself. I spiraled into a depression that became so severe I almost ruined my marriage, and thought often of taking my life.
I often ask myself, does god really intend for modern birth to be the invasive mechanized procedure it has become? After the atoning sacrifice of the savior, does womankind still deserve this suffering and sorrow? Even if you are not a Christian you can ask yourself – As the crowning glory of creation or evolution why do we have so little faith in our bodies and wisdom as to be the only creatures on the planet that without question turn to “professionals” for assistance in bringing forth our young?