No Thank You. I’m Doing Pregnancy My Way.

In Feminism + Motherhood by Gloria Roheim McRae

The original, much shorter post, was published on The Huffington Post

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As it turns out, there are more schools of thought on the subject of pregnancy, labour and parenthood than I could ever imagine. I learned this the minute I announced the news that we are expecting this December.

The peanut gallery is out, on the peanut-shaped baby growing in my belly. Apparently, there are one million ways to do pregnancy.

This includes all external and internal critics with countless fears and opinions. Admittedly, I wasn’t ready for any of them. Not my own internal critic, nor the views from others. I was adorably naive about it all. But, 20 weeks in, and half way through my pregnancy now, I feel like I’m back in the driver’s seat with a healthy handle on the situation. Here’s hoping that by sharing my raw experiences with you, that someone may be comforted by my unapologetic journey.

From Medical Disappointment to Midwife Empowerment

The night we conceived, I had the sense that this was it. Everything in my mind, body and spirit was convinced that we were heading down the road to parenthood now. Sure enough, within two weeks I took a home pregnancy test and my instincts were confirmed. The mental game of pregnancy began.

I wanted to be sure that this wasn’t a mistake, so I bought a second test, repeated the process in 48 hours and got a second positive result. Off to my general practitioner I went, who confirmed with blood-work and some calculations that I was due on December 24th, 2015. What I expected to follow turned out to be naive of me. I expected my GP, my family doctor, to take a few minutes and share what my next steps should be.

It felt like I was pulling teeth. As many medical practitioners have a bad habit of doing, he began speaking in indecipherable acronyms and pharma-lingo until I stopped him abruptly. I asked him to assume that I knew nothing about pregnancy, that I didn’t understand a single acronym or term he was using and to break it down for me from the beginning. He seemed humoured by my request, and sped his way through his answers a second time.

It didn’t start well. My stomach felt uneasy. This was a doctor I had a decent relationship with, who was incredibly supportive of my book back in 2013 (buying a copy for all of his office staff). I had assumed that he would be supportive of me as I brought this good news of pregnancy to him. After all, he also happens to be pro-life and a devout Christian. Ignoring the 3 hour wait times in his clinic (they don’t take appointments), he has been friendly and helpful when it came to my general physical check ups, and I have liked his staff a lot too. I was quick to learn, however, that being cared for while pregnant raised my expectations and the quality of attention that I desired.

He was ready to send me off within five minutes of seeing me. I held an over-the-counter prescription for prenatal vitamins (PregVit5) and Diclectin (anti-vomitting and nausea medication) in-hand. Did I find the prescriptions odd? Sure, because I wasn’t sick. Particularly so, because I didn’t feel nauseated nor did I vomit at all. He insisted that it was only a matter of time before I would, and asked me to come back in 2 months for my first ultrasound requisition. That was my second and last visit.

The prescription ‘vitamins’ and ‘anti-nausea’ pills came up to over $300+ dollars for a 90-day supply. I barely questioned his authority around the well-being of our budding fetus. That’s because I trusted my doctor without qualifying my trust. I hadn’t gotten my ‘mind-game’ tight, and I was only 3 weeks into pregnancy. I didn’t do any research on the supplements, nor did I trust my instincts to avoid the Diclectin all together. I was just that high on the joy of this new chapter. All I could think to do was apply for midwife care immediately.

I was crystal clear that I needed and wanted much more support from a pregnancy and childbirth specialist. I applied to 10 midwife practices immediately. It can take time to be accepted by one. They are in high demand and lower supply in Ontario.

With this context set, I’ll fast-forward to week 11 of our pregnancy when I lost my appetite completely, I was in excruciating pain with a burning throb sensation in my head and my stomach, and I could barely get out of bed. I had been told that this “is normal” but refused to accept it. Again, I noticed a correlation between when I took the PregVit5 vitamin and when these uncomfortable symptoms increased.

I had enough. After almost two weeks of this nonsense I decided to research the pills I was prescribed. On the very first page of google I found out what was up, from credible medical journals and another very sensible pregnancy forum (many of these forums are worth avoiding, and you’ll figure out which ones those are a few comments in). I did a comparison between the minimum required daily doses of each vitamin and mineral during pregnancy, with the nutritional dosage information on my PregVit5 supplements. The first thing I noticed was a drastically higher dosage of iron than recommended for pregnancy. I got curious about what the symptoms of iron overdose were, and a few articles later I understood that too much iron can have a drastic and sometimes fatal effect on a fetus. Not to mention the exact symptoms that I was experiencing.

Why would my GP prescribe me so much iron, especially when my blood-work consistently showed me having high levels of iron before and during pregnancy? I wasn’t anemic, and I also didn’t need these over-priced Diclectin pills either. I stopped taking both pills immediately and experimented to see whether these symptoms would disappear in a day or two. Sure enough, they did. I felt like myself again as soon as I stopped taking them.

I was livid. Then livid turned into empowered and awake. I was being related to like every other pregnant woman, like a statistic: better safe than sorry, and generic care over tailored care. If you know anything about me by now, you know already that won’t fly with me. There is being ‘safe not sorry’, and then there is using that saying to justify being a lazy practitioner. I was taking my health back into my own hands, and sought thorough support thereafter.

I researched natural supplements, with much lighter but still sufficient prenatal doses of vitamins and minerals (went with the much higher quality and much more affordable New Chapter product and have felt wonderful since). My energy returned, and I felt so good that I wondered some days if baby was still in there. :)

As I awoke to trusting my own instincts over that of the trained experts, I gained a boat-load of power and confidence to start doing my pregnancy my way. I appointed myself CEO and my healthcare providers my Board of Advisors. Within days I also got accepted by a Midwife practice group, was assigned two midwives and one student to my care, and I promised myself that I would do what felt right for me, my family and our life, even when the medical industrial complex disagreed. As long as I was healthy, baby was healthy, my amazingly supportive husband felt supported, and our trusted Midwives were aligned, I no longer cared what anyone else thought. Not the GP who I stopped seeing thereafter, not well-intended friends and family members with their own paranoia projected onto us (with their best intention of course … but nonetheless), and not the latest media hype on the topic.

You see, I chose to get pregnant, just as I chose to keep our baby, and I can also choose how we are cared for throughout this process. If I don’t celebrate and exercise the privileges I have living as a woman in Canada in 2015, what’s the point of all this choice? I spent the past 10 weeks since, reading, watching documentaries, learning, growing, being inspired, being enraged and being informed about this amazing and powerful process. The deeper I go, the more I dig, the more evidence I find for the disadvantages of doing pregnancy the “popular” way. Conversely, the more advantages I’m finding to using pregnancy as a period of empowerment, education and preparation for labour and a lifetime of parenting that comes afterward.

If you’re at all curious about what I’ve dug up that has gotten me to this point, excited about birth and pregnancy, past the fruitless worrying and to the point of doing pregnancy my way, I’ve lovingly compiled a comprehensive list of the resources below.

I have no expectation that you do what I did or agree with any or all of my conclusions. Remember, this is about doing it YOUR WAY, not my way. I only have a deep desire since my 11th week of pregnancy, to share with as many people who care to listen that you CAN do pregnancy your way, and there are more options available to do so than you may know. I choose to share these and follow these unapologetically. :) Enjoy …

With Our Midwives, Our Birth Team.

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My Favourite Pregnancy Resources

Before we even got pregnant, my sweet soul sister from another mister recommended that I read Jessica Valenti’s book, Why Have Kids? A New Mom Explores the Truth About Parenting and Happiness. My body and soul felt more than ready for the journey, but my mind which has been focused on my career for the past 15 years was still scared and even worried that I had what it took to do both well. This book put my fears and concerns to rest, and it helped me source the confidence that I needed to jump into this new chapter with both feet. I got pregnant on our first ‘try’. I realize that this is not too common, but I do believe that letting my mind go and being aligned through mind, body and spirit … well … it made it a whole lot easier and enjoyable to conceive.

The Birth Without Fear blog and this very basic 3-minute video about the labour and birth process were another great support to me. Unfortunately, the majority of what’s readily out there about pregnancy and childbirth includes a plethora of horror stories, fear-mongering research studies, hollywood distortions, and a pathology-driven narratives about pregnancy and childbirth from the medical community.

Honestly, it was all getting to me until I began digging for content from the other side of the spectrum. All of the resources that I include in this post are full of practical, evidence-based, positive and empowering information for those who suspect or already believe (like I do) that birth is designed to be an empowering rite of passage, and a completely normal part of life. It really doesn’t need to be treated like an automatic emergency that requires medical or surgical expertise to manage. Yes emergencies can happen, and if they do, then you have all the medical and surgical needs at your fingertips in this country. Lest we forget that prior to 1945, birth was not considered a surgical and drug business like it is today. We have western medical institutions, pharmaceutical company ad campaigns and the smear campaigns against traditional birth practices to thank for this popular myth. Watch Ricky Lake’s documentary, The Business of Being Born, and you’ll add a whole new perspective to your repertoire.

Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth. Period.

If there’s only one resource on this list that you consider picking up, choose Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth. It’ll cover what the world needs to consider and understand about childbirth.

Ina May’s Guide to Breastfeeding is another gem. Please note this: I haven’t done any research on formula and likely won’t unless we discover that breastfeeding isn’t a viable option for us. Crossing that bridge if and when we get to it. In the meantime, this book really helped me feel informed and confident about my choice to breastfeed without trepidation.

If you’re choosing a midwife over an OB/GYN as your primary caregiver during pregnancy, (both are covered by our health insurance in Ontario), then the Toronto Birth Centre for an out-of-home and out-of-hospital alternative to childbirth is available to you. This is the route we have chosen, accompanied there by a water-birth and hypnobirthing techniques to support us. I’m giving a drug-free labour my best effort. The birth centre offers a middle ground to families who desire a nurturing, mother-focused and supportive environment to deliver your child. Complete with all the birthing equipment and aids you could dream of. I’m more excited about labour than most people can understand. Positive, supportive opinions only please.

I’ve also been assembling a playlist that you might find helpful. It’s inclusive of supportive YouTube videos about drug-free vaginal and water birthing. The popular term is ‘natural birth’ but I prefer the extra mouthful of ‘drug-free vaginal birth and water birthing’ because I find ‘natural birth’ loaded with a dash of judgemental and a hint of superiority, two things that do not support women who birth another way.

If you’re like me and interested in the middle ground between conservative and regimented sleeping systems or the liberal “attachment parenting” model, you’ll find On Becoming Baby Wise: Giving Your Infant the Gift of Nighttime Sleep to be a wonderful resource. This book gave me a whole lot of relief and we’ll be trying this approach from day one. Wish us luck. Again, positive and encouraging sentiments only. :)

Dr. Seuss’ Oh, The Places You’ll Go is a staple children’s book. I’m really big on gender-neutral, imaginative, and race-neutral narratives in children’s books. I want our kid to know that life is not disneyland; it’s rich because it has ups and downs. Sometimes the end of a journey is fairytale like, and sometimes it can be heartbreaking. Life will require you to learn to deal with both. This book is a wonderful blend of encouragement, creativity, poetry and reality.

I’m not big on spending my energy exploring all the “worst-case” scenarios in pregnancy and childbirth. But, I did find this feature from the New York Times to be an inspiring, humbling and grounding portrayal that helped me remember what is inside and outside of my control. This piece portrays the human experience of stillbirths or miscarriages, in a tasteful and compassionate way … aka, without the fear-mongering that I’ve grown to despise in the mainstream portrayals: Stillbirth: Your Stories

The App and the website Baby Centre are simple MUSTS. You may have heard about the app that educates you week over week, in a friendly and accessible manner, and compares the size of your fetus to a fruit or vegetable week over week. It really helps ease a pregnant couple into the new world of child making and has a cool “baby bump” feature that helps you track your growth over time. It’s a free and easy way to get daily tidbits of information, that amass into a wealth of useful knowledge over the span of your pregnancy.

Finally, and maybe even most importantly, spend time imagining your ideal environment. Consider how you may want your partner’s support if they’re involved in your pregnancy and labour, and whether compiling a birthing playlists would help you create the right ambiance for you to do your labour work.

What I underestimated most about pregnancy and birthing, is the difference that my husband’s active support makes to our well-being. I thought fatherhood began after labour, but I was wrong.

Thanks to all the resources listed here, I have encountered hundreds of wonderful examples of the difference a partner makes, and a romantic partner in particular because of the hormones that love creates in a woman’s body, to a safe and healthy birthing process. Even during pregnancy, when I have discomfort or unease, one touch, his attentive ear, and a calming touch brings my body and mind back into ease. My hubby is a champ for being as open as he is to my requests and the unfamiliar ideas we’ve been sharing about birth. This is not to be taken for granted, and I’m clear that he’ll be as important to our healthy labour as our midwives and my mindset is going in.

Finally, please do understand that I’m fully prepared to put my ideal vision aside, and be flexible with the process if the circumstances don’t permit things to go as we desire. Remember, there are things you can and cannot control. But, I still think it’s valuable and well worth the effort to articulate and prepare for your best-case scenario. After all, the chances are that things can go as off the rails as they can go dreamy. So instead of only focusing on worst-case contingency planing on its own, do spend even more time creating your dream plan too. This is it. The time is now. :)

A number of generous souls have asked us how they can contribute and support us with our baby to be.

Below are two links to our baby registries for those kind beings who are interested in helping us prepare baby’s nursery and wardrobe. We are incredibly grateful to have you in our village of supporters, whether it’s through your loving notes, phone calls or gifts.

No matter what people may say, this journey is not designed to be done alone :)

BB Buggy (http://bit.ly/babymcrae)
Babies R Us: (http://bit.ly/babymcrae2) #61281728

xo Glo

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