The Beauty & Horror of the Mind/Body Connection

I am a trained Bradley childbirth teacher and we advocate for intervention free births. We see birth as a natural process, best left to unfold on its own. This philosophy is very similar to my view of child-raising. My Montessori daycare sign used to say “Honoring the True Unfolding of the Nature of Children”.For myself, I wanted a natural childbirth. It felt like it would be a pure, raw, rare (I knew I wanted only a few children) physical experience, why would I want to do it drugged? I wouldn’t run a marathon drugged, though it might be less painful. This is one of life’s big ones! I knew I wanted to feel this experience fully.

Also, another reason to want intervention free – you’ve probably heard how poorly America fares on the World Health Organization’s list of Health Outcomes. And folks, things aren’t getting any better!

Maternal Mortality per 100,000 live births
2013 28
2005 17
2000 13
1995 11
1990 12

In a World Bank report from 2011, the United States ranked 46th in Infant Mortality. We were behind most of the developed world including Canada, most of Europe, Australia and New Zealand. We were behind Korea and Cuba. Each year twice as many babies in American die on their first day of life than in all 27 EU countries combined. This is in spite of the fact that 1 million more are born there (4.3 million versus 5.3 million). This was published in the 2013 Save the Children’s State of the World’s Mothers’ Report.

Many people think we don’t do well in infant mortality because of our high rate of premature births. In my opinion, our high rate of premature births has to do with the high rate of interventions starting at the beginning of pregnancies. Further in this post I discuss the non-sterile ultrasound wand that was put INTO my vagina during the first two weeks of my pregnancy.

Yes, interventions include ultrasounds. Doctors will tell you that they’re perfectly safe but what is one of the biggest differences between our prenatal care and the country’s listed above? Amongst other things, it’s our standard, high rate of ultrasounds. I was 38 when I had my first child, 37 for most of the pregnancy. I was considered very high risk. They wanted me to have an ultrasound every week initially and then every two weeks. I refused. ..and I paid for it (more on that later in this post).

Here is something I found just today on ultrasound safety.

Even though there are no known risks of ultrasound imaging, it can produce effects on the body. When ultrasound enters the body, it heats the tissues slightly. In some cases, it can also produce small pockets of gas in body fluids or tissues (cavitation). The long-term effects of tissue heating and cavitation are not known. Because of the particular concern for fetal exposures, national and international organizations have advocated prudent use of ultrasound imaging. Furthermore, the use of diagnostic ultrasound for non-medical purposes such as fetal keepsake videos has been discouraged.

So, despite my training in natural childbirth and my philosophy of non-intervention, I did not have an intervention-free nor a drug-free childbirth with my first child. So, as you can see, the best laid plans sometimes go awry. For me, I believe my birth plan went wrong after a trauma I experienced early in my pregnancy. I share it here because to me it is such clear evidence of the mind/body connection and perhaps there are others who might benefit from learning more about that connection.

I want to write about this because in my experience as a childbirth instructor and doula, I have seen other examples of mind-body events causing difficult births. For most people, it is sexual abuse issues. For me, it was something else. But because of the powerful connection between our minds and our bodies, your subconscious may make pregnancy and childbirth difficult. In my case, I believe my baby was prevented from moving and developing fully and I was prevented from having the natural childbirth I wanted.

In the end, I did have one hospital emergency cesarean and one home birth for my two babies. And of course the end result was the same – two fabulous children. But with my first, I tried for nearly two emotionally painful years to become pregnant and I ended up in a fertility clinic in Chicago. After one round of egg stimulating hormones and artificial insemination, I was with child!!! I found out on Day 10 after a blood test in the clinic. They called me at work and I quickly left, bought a stuffed animal, and drove to my husband’s office to tell him.

The clinic wanted me to come back the next day for an ultrasound and this immediately struck me as odd. I was already a Bradley natural childbirth instructor (I’d received special permission to take the class because I had so much 0-3 experience and was a doula) and knew about the way cells change shape during ultrasounds. I was committed to doing as few ultrasounds as absolutely necessary. I called a midwife friend who said there was no way they could see anything on day 10 of gestation in an ultrasound. I called two other experts who said the same thing. So I called the clinic and said I was going to postpone the first ultrasound for about 10 days.

When I did go, my husband came with me and we went straight to the ultrasound cubicle. The technician held up a phallic shaped instrument and that is when I realized it would be an internal ultrasound. That was surprising and scary as I knew that the transvaginal sonograms used a more constant sound stimulation than the external ones. I asked the technician “Could you keep that inside of me and on for as little as possible? Maybe put it in, take a picture, and turn it off before the next picture?” She looked at me like I was nuts and said nothing. She didn’t even respond!

In our Bradley training they had showed us pictures of fetal cells before and after ultrasound and the differences were remarkable. The cells would twist and contort, in what looked like an effort to get away from the sound waves!

The technician was cleaning the tip of the instrument with alcohol, and was about to put it into my body with no protective covering when I said “Are you going to cover that?” She said “It’s clean!” I said I would feel better if it had a sanitary covering and she left in a huff returning with a box of surgical gloves (not individually wrapped). She, in a tiff, with very angry and jerky movements, pulled one out, stuck the thumb on the transvaginal ultrasound (all of this without washing her hands after re-entering the room) and held it up again, ready for it to enter me.

I felt so powerless! I felt like this was my first act as a mother and I was failing my child! I couldn’t even get a sanitary instrument and it was going to be so close to my baby! My husband is very non-controversial. He does not like to make waves, be confrontational or make a fuss. So I was on my own and felt like I had done as much as I could to have my desires honored. She put it inside and left it on while she made extensive notes. I said, “Is it on this whole time?” Again, she looked at me like I was nuts and nodded yes. She would move it a bit and make more notes and draw pictures but it stayed on the whole time. More than 25 minutes inside of me! I was lying on my back and weeping the entire time. Tears were streaming out of my eyes and into my hair. I felt like a terrible mother already! I wasn’t protecting my baby as I knew I should. I don’t know that I ever felt such powerlessness in my life.

When it was over, I dressed and we were told to wait in the doctor’s office. A few minutes later he entered and immediately began SCREAMING at us both. “How dare you treat my technician like she was RAPING you!!! Who do you think you are? Telling ME when you are going to come in for your ultrasound? Telling my technician how to do her JOB???!!! Do you know how lucky you are? I got you pregnant on the first ROUND? What is the thanks I get from you two? How ungrateful! Do you have any idea how many people would like to be in your shoes? Pregnant in the first ROUND of treatment? I want you to leave my office RIGHT NOW!!! And I NEVER want to see either of here again. I refuse to treat you any more. NOW LEAVE. NOW!!!

He opened the door and forced us out and was continuing to yell as we walked down the hallway. It was one of the most frightening events of my adult life. We were so shocked. I mean we were honestly shell-shocked. We stood outside the door unable to move. “What in the hell just happened?”

I immediately started to look for a midwife, determined to avoid doctors altogether if possible. I spoke to my Family doctor about a week later to see if he would serve as my backup doctor for my home midwife. He was acting strangely and finally said that, no, he couldn’t consent to that. I found out later that he had received a letter from the fertility doctor stating that I would need mental help or I would find motherhood very difficult.

In meeting with my new midwife, I was told I would need to retrieve the records from the fertility clinic. I called and asked them to make copies and set up a time for me to retrieve them. My hands were shaking as I opened the door. The staff behind the desk seemed nervous and mostly avoided eye contact with me. When I was handed the copy of my medical file I asked if I could see the original. I said I really didn’t want to come back if anything was left out so I wanted to double-check. Did I imagine it or did everyone seemed even more anxious at this request?

Someone went to the back and came back and handed me my original file. I put the two piles on the counter, hands still shaking, and compared the two files, turning over each page at a time. I got to the end. There was a letter in my original file written by the fertility doctor to my primary care physician. It was not in the copied file I came to pick up. I quietly said to the nurse “There is not a copy of this letter. Could you copy it so I could take it with me please?” She said not a word but made the copy and handed it to me. If I can find it I will post a copy but to summarize, the letter said I needed mental help. There were other things – it was three paragraphs long but that is what I remember most.

I knew in the very depths of me that the letter was wrong. I did not believe for a second that what this doctor had written was true. Yet I did still felt that I had failed my first act as a mother in protecting my child. And a strange thing began immediately. Sex became extremely painful. It was like my body was completely unable to open at all. I attributed it to “hormone issues” and told myself and my husband that it would end soon. It didn’t end for two years – more on that later! Other than this discomfort, I passed a happy healthy pregnancy.

But the delivery of this, my first, child? Hmmm…. Well, that’s a different story. It wasn’t the birth I’d dreamed of and planned for, that’s for sure. My home birth in water turned into a hospital cesarean section after 30 hours of very difficult labor. It turns out that she was trying to come into the world butt first and sideways (asynclitic breech). In the end, of course, it doesn’t matter. We had the most beautiful, perfect baby I’d ever seen. I was grateful she was healthy and surprised she was a girl (I’d never had any further tests or ultrasounds).

Her due date had been on July 11. I was told I would have to be induced on July 18th but I avoided speaking to any medical people so as not to be induced and at midnight on July 20th my water broke. My childhood friend Kirana happened to be spending the night. Contractions started right away and were relatively close together. For the next 30 hours they were never more than 13 minutes apart. We called the midwife but she was working the night nursing shift and had her backup call us back. The contractions were painful but I was coping well with Kirana and Scott’s help.

At about 7 in the morning we called our parents. At about 10:00 am our friend and “energy healer” Victoria came over. The contractions seemed to get easier for a bit but also slowed down somewhat. The doula came at about 1:00 pm in the afternoon. My parents and sister-in-law Cathie came over and Cathie took some pictures. My Dad didn’t last all that long watching me in pain. By 5:00 pm I was starting to get frustrated that things weren’t progressing as I knew they should after 17 hours. There still wasn’t a well-established pattern which would indicate good progression and the birth coming soon. I had a good cry and then the contractions really increased in intensity. We were in touch with the midwife and she decided to head out (an hour away). The contractions really became intense and I got in the birth tub at about 7:00 pm. It felt like things were happening, I was feeling rectal pressure which could indicate impending birth and we were in touch with the midwife via cell phone. When Valerie the midwife, arrived at 7:30 pm, she examined me and found me to be only 2 cm – AFTER 20 HOURS OF LABOR! (looking for 10 cm at birth time).

I was as disappointed and frustrated as I’ve ever been – a definite low point. She thought the baby was head first but it turns out later that it was the sacrum, not the head, which she was feeling. She suggested Scott and I go for a walk outside. It seemed difficult because the contractions were so strong and our neighborhood is so congested I thought I would feel self-conscious but then I remembered most of our neighbors are crazy, homeless or drug-addicted and probably would not even notice me, which they didn’t. We laughed as we walked through our alley with trash bags hanging from the telephone lines which people have thrown out the window trying to make the dumpster and thought this was probably not the scenic walk that Valerie had in mind. But we stayed out for at least five or six contractions.

I labored some more inside and everyone ate a nice Chinese dinner. I got in the birth tub again because I had managed well there and I had a glass of wine thinking it might give me some relief. I tried to labor in bed, hoping to sleep between contractions. But I had to stand for every one because that was just more comfortable. I was really beginning to doubt myself and my ability to do this. I was feeling there was some reason I wasn’t letting this labor progress and I tried to search myself for why this might be.

Finally at 2:00 am on July 21, 26 hours after labor began, Valerie checked me again and found me to be 4-5 cm. But she discovered that Rainey was breech. I told her I felt some fluttering which ended up being Rainey’s hand. Because the head was not pushing directly on my cervix, it wasn’t opening well.

It could have meant very many more hours and I was losing my coping capabilities fast. We decided to transport to the hospital. Scott, Kirana, my Mom and I went in our car. The midwife, her assistant and the doula went in the other car. Our backup ob/gyn was at the hospital when we arrived and said she delivers breech births and we could choose to try vaginally or to have a cesarean.

They gave me some oral drugs for the pain but I still felt the contractions strongly and I decided I just didn’t have the energy to try the vaginal breech. My coping abilities were mostly gone and the contractions felt so painful even with the drugs. They would have had to have done many more preparations, even an x-ray to check positioning. The hospital was very slow about getting things processed and I was having painful contractions the whole time. When someone tried to hurry them along they said “Well, it took you 28 hours to get here, it might take a few more.” I really was at the end of my rope and didn’t think I could wait through all the machinations. I opted for the cesarean.

Strangely, though, when I was strapped down, drugged, and surgically cut, the table was lifting about 3 to 4 feet off the floor. My hands were strapped out to my sides like an airplane and my husband was sitting near my head but a screen prevented us from seeing what was going on at the other end. We couldn’t believe how far the table, with me strapped to it, was coming off the floor. My husband said “We seem to be experiencing some turbulence.” It was crazy!

We later learned (turns out the sister of the operating room nurse knew our doula) that our baby was so far engaged in the vaginal canal and everything was so tight that they couldn’t get her out even after the cut me open. I wish they had told me that when they were making me choose between c-section and vaginal. Like “Hey, she’s almost out!” Anyway, poor thing had little red finger marks EVERYWHERE where they had been yanking on her trying to pull her out of me. She was born at at 6:02 a.m. on July 21 after 30 hours of mostly drug free labor! My greatest hour – in spite of it all!

My amazing husband was with me for every single contraction, helping me breathe and moan and position myself. He was awesome! He went with our baby when they finally got her out a whisked her away to be checked, bathed, warmed and he never left her side for the two hours before I got to meet her. He said she imprinted on him during her important first hours and I think he might be right. I mean look at this picture!


But the real point of the post is to explain that between the traumatic doctor’s office visit, the breech baby that couldn’t get into proper position nor come out, the torticollis that took two years of weekly cranio-sacral sessions (because she was so constricted in that LOCKED UP environment??) and the additional year of VERY painful sex afterward, I believe that my body closed itself up! My subconscious mind said “Fine, you won’t make good decisions about what goes in this body? I’ll make it for you. NOTHING goes in. We’re closing up! How’s that?

It wasn’t until 17 months later, after I’d had my second child, and told the midwife that I hoped after breastfeeding that these pesky hormones which were making sex so painful would stop, and she looked at me with complete befuddlement that I realized something was wrong. I went immediately to an energy healer as I completely understood when it had all gone wrong (in that fertility clinic doctor’s office) and all was healed Pronto! I mean from that day forward, sex was no longer painful.

Oh the mind and body do have a tendency to work together. No matter what our rational minds are telling us, our subconscious minds might be giving a completely different message.

About katepflynn

International Montessori teacher (birth to 12 years), RIE Foundations Course graduate, and Infant Development Specialist teaching Bradley Childbirth, Parent-Infant (pre-walkers), Parent-Child (walkers) and Toddlers.
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