I have been getting pretty fired up about fertility lately, my own and that of other people who have a uterus. I can neither confirm or deny if it has anything to do with my partner and my latest fascination with the Handmaid’s Tale (Yes, I am always late to bite the bait on pop culture). The CDC reports that 12% of women of childbearing age have impaired fecundity. With the presence of endocrine disrupters in our environment, our sedentary lifestyles, nutritionally weak diets, and new methods of birth control, I can only imagine there is more to this number. Luckily, aside from and nowhere near the dystopian utilitarian procreation story of Gilead, there are stories to be told of fertility and infertility. Stories that simply cannot be separated from how women are treated in the medical system and how far off we are treating our bodies compared to that of our ancestors.
Part feminist rant, part scientific review, part spiritual hippie woo woo, this originally singular blog post has grown into a series on fertility. I’ll be weaving personal stories with herbs, nutrition, feminist theory, birth control, heck there might even be some shamanic drumming involved. Hold on to your hairties, folks. Let’s get this period party started.
At both my Cornerstone doula training and a childbirth education class for expecting parents that I am shadowing/ assisting, we were asked to enter the world of childbirth with our own stories of coming into the world. In honor of these veteran birth educators, it only makes sense to start at my beginning*. My mom was told by the OBGYN it was either now or never to have a baby, because she had one ovary removed and the other was developing cysts. Forget planning for the perfect time, now was the time. It didn’t matter that she had her big girl dream job working for one of the big 5 of accounting firms in the big city of Philadelphia. Once I was more than a mere idea, she soon found out that her progesterone levels were extremely low. She needed to go to the docs once a week for a blood test and progesterone boost until her body’s natural hormone regulation kicked in.
Three days before my Dad’s birthday, they felt like it was time to go to the hospital. Her doctor said it was too early to start pushing, but that they could spend the night and check on the soon to be little family in the morning. That morning, my mom felt like I was ready to come out. She pushed for 1.5 hours WITHOUT PAIN. Apparently, my head was blocking a nerve receptor similar to the effect of an epidural. You’re welcome, Mom! Due to the shape of her pelvis and my position, her doctor used forceps for my final emergence from the womb. She says that if the doctor wouldn’t have been “old-fashioned”, we would have required an emergency cesarean section. But lo and behold, full head of hair baby Megan entered the world and became an A++ breast feeder.
Why start with our own birth stories you might ask? Even though you may believe that you don’t remember your own birth. Our bodies do. Dr. David Chamberlin observed twins in the womb who would play by kissing each other through their fetal sacs. When they grew up their favorite game was playing the same kissing game through sheets hung out to dry. In the documentary Dark Side of the Full Moon, a therapist who heals birth trauma through play has children set up their birth room with very accurate models. She has experienced children play re-enacting every detail up to the exact placement of machines and people. In once case the baby was taken from the mother to NICU. When the child played out the scenario she put the baby in her mama’s arms instead, creating a powerful healing experience for the whole family. A veteran doula talks of nearly fainting when her client had a vacuum assisted birth. She had studied risks and benefits of this intervention with no ethical aversion to it, but later she found out that she had that same intervention in her own birth.
Since learning of this story and doing some poking around on the internet, I am pretty sure that like mother like daughter, I have low progesterone levels. I am also prepared that I may react to the chance that forceps are used in the births that I attend. Discovering your family’s history, especially when it comes to fertility and childbirth can uncover a lot of underlying fears and provide a new lens in which to view your own journey. It can also just be incredibly fascinating and one more step to normalizing and honoring childbirth in our culture. Stay tuned for more posts and less tangents on fertility.
*Consent from Mama Mauger was obtained for the following information.
Babies Remember Birth by Dr. David Chamberlin
Dark Side of the Full Moon documentary