Below the second part of a three part interview with Margaret Strickhouser, co-founder and visionary of Atlanta Birth Center. Here Margaret talks about her (surprise) introduction to water birth.
Anne-Claire: Tell me about water birthing—where did you first witness that?
Margaret: I probably first heard about water birth at an ACNM (American College of Nurse Midwives) conference. Women would ask if I did water births, and I would say no because if God wanted us to deliver in the water, he would have made us fish. I just thought it was one of those California hippie granola things. I had no intention of ever doing a waterbirth, but I had always used water for labor support. Women would labor in the water, and then I would get them out to have the baby.
The very first water birth I ever did was by mistake in 1999 with a woman who was having her fourth baby. I walked in the room and she was sitting up in the bed, and just by looking at her, I could tell she was in labor. She looked at me and said, “Can I get in the tub?” I said, “Sure.” I prepared the tub, just a regular bathtub, not a fancy birthing tub, and then she got in. I was sitting on the side, and she was on her knees and hands just rocking back and forth with each contraction. Then she quit rocking. I told her, “Okay, after this next contraction you need to get out.” She had her baby on the next contraction. I called the nurse and said, “She’s having the baby!” I had nothing. We cut the cord, I took the baby over to the warmer. The baby was doing great so we brought the baby back to her, and she nursed right in the tub. Then she got out and I put a few stitches in, and I said, “Okay, well, maybe there’s something to this…” And that’s how it all started.
I didn’t tell anybody I’d do a water birth because it’s like if you ask permission to do it, you probably can’t, so it kind of evolved that way. Then the word got out and the hospital caught on and they realized it was a marketing tool as well. The CEO came to me one Christmas and said something about water births. I said, “I’ve been asking for a tub for two or three years.” I had a tub within two months – a big tub, and then they started advertising. The more I did them, the more I loved them.
To me, it is a great tool, but also there is something very unique about the whole process in that I make all these analogies. First of all the tub is oval shaped, and it’s almost as if the woman herself is back in the womb because she is in the water, and she is weightless, and it isolates her from all the unnecessary distractions that goes on at a hospital birth—the blood pressure, the monitor, the temperature in the bed, and the people bugging her. It isolates her so she can focus and respond to what her body is telling her to do.
Anne-Claire: I love it. I’m glad it’s an option here. So, North Fulton and Atlanta Medical Center offer it, and when Atlanta Birth Center opens, it hopefully will as well?
Margaret: There’s no doubt it will!
Anne-Claire: But then, why, again is it still such an uncommon option in Georgia?
Margaret: A lot of women will have a homebirth so they can have a water birth. Hospitals are ruled by medical people who don’t understand that birth is not a sickness or a disease, it’s a normal physiological process. In hospitals, birth is treated as medical emergency, utilizing medical technology. So offering women non-technological options is out of the comfort zone of most medical providers. It’s “different.” I was right there with them. I understand. You have no knowledge of it, you don’t understand it. So how can it be okay? They don’t know. It’s like if you never had a toilet to use, it’s no big deal. It’s fine. You don’t feel bad that you don’t have a toilet, but once you’ve had one, you want one. And to go someplace that doesn’t have them is awful. So it’s because they don’t know. And they don’t want to know.
Anne-Claire: But we know!
Margaret: Yes, but we’re in the minority! Many people don’t think water birth is safe. They think it’s fine for labor support, but they don’t think it’s safe for delivery. We have to get our statistics out there somehow. What they don’t understand is that the baby doesn’t come out and then swim around the pool before we pull it up. The baby comes out and then it comes right up and into the mother’s arms! We don’t leave it under there to drown! [Michel] Odent has been doing waterbirth in France forever and ever.
It’s like fetal monitoring – you can go on ACOG’s website (American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology) and it says right there in black and white – continuous electronic fetal monitoring has no, zero, predictive value for fetal outcome in low risk pregnancy. The only thing it has done is increase the C-section rate. Yet the standard is that everybody be continuously monitored. It’s also never been approved by the FDA. All it does is interfere with the labor process, because women can’t get up and move around. What happens if you want to have a fetal monitor is you quit looking at the patient. You become dependent on the monitor instead of the patient. At a typical birth in the United States, a woman has an IV, she has an epidural, she’s on a fetal monitor, automatic blood pressure cuff, foley catheter; she’s on automatic. No one has to go in the room and do anything with her because hospitals have central monitoring screens where RN’s can “care” for laboring women. Great for the hospital, but not the woman.