MAYD to Birth: At Your Doorstep

Promoting gentle, empowering mother journies…


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Olivia, age 25:

Around 1:00am on Wednesday morning (Sep. 2, 2009), I started to have some back crampiness and like one or two contractions. I tried to just go back to sleep though, because I know that a lot of times labor can start at night and then not progress once morning hits so I just ignored it and went back to sleep. About an hour later I had the same back cramps and a few more contractions, but again I tried to sleep and didn’t wake anyone up. This continued until about 5:30am when I started to look at the clock and realized the contractions were about every fifteen minutes. I still didn’t want to wake anyone up yet (my mom or Noah) because I knew they would both need their sleep if this was the real thing.

Finally around 6:00 am though, one of my contractions was so bad that I started squeezing Noah’s hand. He woke up and I told him I was having a contraction…which of course he was so excited about despite the pain I was in (by now we had gone over 2 weeks over our due date). It was hard to tell when exactly the contraction was starting because it would just start in my back and then ease into my abdomen so I didn’t really know when to tell Noah to start timing. And I wasn’t very focused on the timing of them by that point. They continued to be around every 12-15 minutes at that time though. We waited to call our midwives and doula though, because we wanted to make sure that labor was continuing to progress. I just kept pacing when the contractions hit or holding onto Noah. I would push down on his pants pockets and for some reason that really helped…until they started to rip. :) By 7:30am the contractions were continuing so we called our doula, Jennifer Schepper, who was actually in another birth at the time but told us she would call back-up just in case. About an hour later we called our midwives because I started to have issues keeping anything down. About every third contraction, I would have to run to the bathroom because everything was coming out both ends. That was horrible and little did I know that this would last for the next 6 hours. So Noah called the Baby Place to see what they thought since I couldn’t keep anything down. He made me a protein shake and brought me all kinds of food, but nothing stayed down. So we just wanted to let our midwives know about that and also that our doula may not be available. They told us to go ahead and come in if we wanted to and they would provide labor support for us. At this point though, I still just wanted to be home with just me and my hub. Noah was so sweet and would tell me how great I was doing and that each contraction was just our baby talking to us wanting to come home into our arms. It was really helpful. At this point, Noah also started to do double hip squeeze where you basically just push on the hips inward really hard. It was a technique we learned in our birthing class. At first it made things worse, but when he tried it a little while later it relieved so much of my back labor….and little did he know he would have to be doing that for the next 8 hours! He was such a trooper though and never complained about his painful wrists as he sat there shaking while I would tell him to do it harder and longer.

So around 10:30 am my contractions were about every 5 minutes and I couldn’t really talk or walk through them. So we knew it was about time to go in. Noah got the rest of our stuff packed up and we got into the truck and took off. I had about 3-4 contractions on the way there and they were so much worse in the car! Each bump we hit was so painful! When we arrived they showed us to the nice big suite and I remember thinking how funny it was that I even cared what room I delivered in before now because I really could have just done it in the parking lot at that point. It was nice to have the big room though later on.

When we got there at 11:30, Jerusha checked me and I was 6cm dilated and 90% effaced! Yay! I was so worried that I would only be at like a 2 when we got there. They filled up the tub for me and I got in while Noah turned on my music. The tub was really nice in between contractions, but during them I felt like I couldn’t move the way I wanted to (it helped to sway my hips) and Noah couldn’t reach me to do the double-hip squeeze. So after about 30 minutes of the tub I got out and just would sit on the side of the bed and then get up and rest my hands on the counter during a contraction while Noah and Jennifer (she ended up making it a few minutes after we arrived) did the hip squeeze and rubbed my back. The music was so nice in the background, especially the children’s hymns that I had put on there last minute.

After about 2 hours of laboring (with frequent trips to the restroom…who knew this would keep going!), Jerusha asked me again if I wanted to be checked (I had declined the hour before because it was painful when they did). When she checked me again around 1:30pm, I was dilated to an 8! So it had gone quicker than I had expected because a lot of first-timers dilate at about 1 centimeter every 2 hours. I now knew that I was officially in transition and that this was the hardest part of labor. The back labor grew so much more intense at this point and the double-hip squeeze stopped working as well at relieving the pain. The contractions were pretty intense and close together. So I was praying that this part wouldn’t last long. At 2:20pm, my water broke as I was leaning over the counter. It just gushed and was the weirdest feeling. The whole time Noah was right there with me during every contraction doing what he could to relieve the pain, telling me how proud he was of me and how good I was doing. It was so special to go through this with him and really felt so unifying.

This whole time one of the assistant midwives, Holly kept coming in to check fetal heart tones. Each time they were so strong and consistent. It was so reassuring to know that our babe was doing ok. Around 3:00pm, Coleen was there and checked me. She said I was then dilated to a 10 and if I felt the urge to push I could start. At this point the back labor was so intense and was radiating to my thighs. It was just burning all over. They tried to help me into a few positions, but they all just made it worse. I got on the birth stool and tried to start pushing, but I was holding it all in my chest and shoulders and wasn’t really pushing. So they had to help me learn how to push. I started to really feel the urge to push around 3:20pm. It truly felt like my body had a mind of its own, although I had to do more than I envisioned to help the process along. Each push made the back and leg labor so much worse.

During this time, it was so neat though because all four of my midwives, Coleen, Jerusha, Dani, and Holly were surrounding me along with our doula, Jennifer and then Noah. Since I knew all of them, I could recognize their voices (I had my eyes closed) and I just felt so safe, supported, and loved being in the center of this circle of wonderful women and my husband. It was truly such a special experience. With each push, most of them would exclaim how good that push was and what a good pusher I was. I would grab onto their hands and squeeze them during the push and I remember Holly was the one on my right. After each of the pushes, she would say things like “oh wow! That was an amazing push!!!”. It was so helpful because I really felt like I was a champion pusher! Something they had never seen before! :)

During this time, Noah was right there encouraging me and supporting me, but he later told me that he felt so helpless during this time because he couldn’t do anything to relieve the pain anymore. I could hear him getting a little teary and that really made me feel like he knew what I was going through and wanted to help. It was really touching.

A few times, the midwives would tell me to reach down and touch my baby. I could feel her head and it was so cool to just think that was her coming down to meet us. During this whole time, they kept checking fetal heart tones and they remained strong. Coleen, our main midwife who we just love, also was sitting there during this whole time and just praying and talking to the baby. It was really sweet.

At one point, when it started to really burn (which is a sign that the babe is coming soon), Coleen told me to just breathe out my contractions and not push or just do a little one if I had to. She said that it was important I do this so I didn’t tear. That was one of the hardest, most painful times because you had to fight against your body and this was all combined with the burning sensation and the back/leg labor. It was so difficult! At this time, Coleen rubbed oil around and had me wait a certain period of time (about 10 minutes) so that I could stretch enough so I wouldn’t tear. I am so grateful to her and her expertise in this because I ended up not tearing despite everything (multiple presentation, big baby, large head). Around this time, she also said that the baby was multiple presentation, meaning that more than just the head is coming out. This really made me nervous because I know some babies can get stuck this way. But Coleen just did a little maneuver to get the hand/elbow out of the way (Lucy had her hand up by her head which is how she was at our 20 week ultrasound and how she sleeps a lot now). A few more pushes later, and all of a sudden I felt a huge relief and the baby was sliding out into her daddy’s hands with the assistance of Coleen at 5pm. Noah placed her up on my tummy and she just looked into my eyes for a moment and then started to cry. It was such a cool moment to just hold your babe for the first time. I had seen that she was a girl (which wasn’t really a surprise to us) and just assumed everyone else had too. But they all asked me what it was. I said “It’s a girl! It’s Lucy!”. I was so happy to have her there in my arms.

Noah then cut the cord and they took Lucy into a blanket just long enough to get me onto the bed so I would be more comfortable. They placed Lucy onto my chest and Noah and I just sat there and looked at her and just started to fall in love. She was so alert and just looking at us. It was such a special time and one that I will cherish forever. Truly indescribable. After they checked my vitals and made sure I was stable and that Lucy was nursing, they all left us to just be. They didn’t take Lucy away to wash her right away or give her any shots or anything. Even though I was two weeks late, everyone in the room was totally surprised at how huge Lucy was. They didn’t bother with weighing/measuring her until later, but we were all very curious about the results. When the final word came in, she weighed 9 lbs 14 oz, was 22″ long, and craziest of all – had a 15 1/4″ head (no wonder she took her time coming out – probably trying to figure out how to shimmy her way down with that large cranium).

The whole experience, including this special time, was all up to us and was our time. It was a sacred time that they recognized as such and didn’t want to disturb it. I am so grateful for all their support, encouragement, and love. It was an amazing experience with my midwives, doula, and especially with Noah. I couldn’t have done it without him!!!!

That night was one I will never forget as we put Lucy in between us and drifted off to sleep. I just wanted to watch Lucy the whole night and soak it all in. A new little family. A new mom and dad and baby were born that sweet day, September 2, 2009.

1. When did you decide you wanted to deliver your baby naturally?
I knew I wanted to deliver naturally about half-way into my pregnancy. I did a lot of reading and research and I discovered that going naturally would be the safest and most fulfilling way I could do it– for me.

2. What reasons or factors went into your decision?
The main thing for me was the data that I collected and kept reading from varied sources on how having an epidural can increase the chance of having to be induced which can then increase the chance of having a c-section. I know that every mama does things her own way and I don’t condemn at all, but I felt like for my low-risk pregnancy I would be the safest in a birthing center going natural. I wanted it to be the safest and most fulfilling it could be. I am an RN and have worked in the pediatric ICU and the ER so I have seen a lot of worst-case scenarios and things that can go wrong with birth, but after doing the research I knew that I was going the best way possible for me and my babe.

3. What did you do to prepare for natural childbirth?
I read books (Born in the USA, Pushed, What to Expect, Ina May’s Guide to Natural Childbirth, the Baby Book, etc) and watched the Business of Being Born (which I highly recommend…except for seeing Ricki Lake naked.) I also took a 7 week natural childbirth course and practiced the methods taught in this class. I especially focused on breathing, moving, and trying to relax before childbirth.

4. What was the hardest part of your experience – before, during, or after childbirth?
Before childbirth, one of the hardest parts was just knowing what I knew and not being able to share it with others and also trying to defend my decision. A lot of people didn’t understand why I wanted to go natural and also thought I was crazy for going to a birthing center with a midwife. A lot of my colleagues (RN’s) especially thought I was a little crazy. So that was difficult, but if people really wanted to find out why I wanted to do it naturally I just pointed them to the facts and the research.

During childbirth the hardest part was just not knowing when it would end. My mom and sister both went 36 hours with their first babes, so just not really seeing an end was difficult (I ended up going about 15 hours total from start to finish). And then the pushing phase was difficult because I had an almost 10 pounder, with a huge head (15.25″), who had her little hand stuck by her head. So the pushing phase was difficult for me and didn’t just come as naturally as I thought it would.

And then after childbirth, the hardest part was learning how to nurse. I didn’t have any huge complications, but it was just more difficult and more painful than expected.

5. What was most helpful to you during labor to help make pain from contractions manageable?
Breathing and well…low moaning, yep I was a moaner! I had read and heard in my class that low tones were the best and they really did help. I also had to move. I would sway my hips and that really helped. Also, my wonderful husband! He was so supportive and loving. Since I had back labor, he did the double hip squeeze (which I would highly recommend learning if you end up having back labor) and that helped immensely. He was shaking by the end, but it saved me. And I think also, I had gone over my due date by 2 weeks so just knowing this was it and that the contractions was just my babe wanting to come home helped a lot too. I almost (I said almost) welcomed them each time. :)

6. What do you wish you would have known going into delivery?
I wish I would have known how to push or what to expect with the pushing a little better…but I just don’t think you can know until you get there.

7. Is there anything you would have done differently?
I don’t think I would have changed one thing…other than not going over my due date, but you can’t change that.

8. What did you feel were the positive benefits to your natural childbirth – were the benefits what you expected?
I probably don’t even realize all the benefits, but probably the biggest was just feeling like I was in charge of my environment, my body, who was there, the music, the lighting, everything was up to me and my hub. Having that autonomy for me was huge. Another benefit was just feeling like I was not under the influence of anything. I could feel everything and I did not having effects of medications after birth. The sensation of your baby actually being born is indescribable and I know if you have a higher dose epidural that you don’t feel that as well. And another huge thing was the peace of mind I felt knowing that my baby was not affected by anything. For example, having an epidural can drop the baby’s heartrate and can lengthen delivery time. So just the peace of mind knowing that everything was natural was priceless.

9. Is natural childbirth something you recommend to other mothers, or something you’d do again?
I will definitely do it again for my future births, but it’s something that every mama has to decide for herself. I would for sure recommend it to other mamas, but it is definitely something you have to believe in.

10. What advice do you have for other mothers interested in natural childbirth?
Be INFORMED. Whatever you decide to do, make sure you have done your research and can back up your decision (not that you need to prove yourself to others, but even just for yourself to be a wise mama). So often we trust our physicians and don’t look into the different options ourselves. Just because your doc says you can’t have a VBAC (vaginal birth after cesarean) doesn’t mean that is necessarily the case, for example. Do your research and you will have confidence and a peace of mind about whatever decision you make that will be priceless.


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Emily, age 24:

Russ and I went to my 37 week appointment 1:30 p.m. At my 36 week appointment I was already dilated to a 4 and 80% effaced. We were so anxious to hear if I had progressed further, and Russ said a few times on the way there “I bet you’re a 6 now.”
He was right. The doctor checked me and confirmed that I was now dilated to a 6. The doctor looked shocked, I tell you, you never get used to that reaction. He and the nurse questioned me about my contractions. I told them, truthfully, I had false labor contractions the night before for a couple hours, and I thought I felt like what might have been a contraction waddling through Old Navy the day before, but I wasn’t sure. Everyone says, “you’ll know” and I didn’t, yet.

The doctor said it was time to get to the hospital. He let me know that I also tested positive for Strep B and that it was imperative I get a treatment of penicillin before the baby was born. He said the treatment takes four hours and at this point we’ve gotta get down there and get it started. He told us to go home get our gear and to not take more than an hour because– “that’s one bulgy bag of water you’ve got in there.” Three weeks early or not, Hayes was on his way.
Russ and I drove home to get our bags. He gave me a blessing of comfort, stamina, strength, and the will-power to do this according to my goal — naturally.

At 3:00 we got to the hospital. The admitting nurse stared at me blankly… “So, you’re not having contractions, but you’re dilated to a 6?” Yeah yeah lady, I know, it’s not normal. By 3:00 I had heard PLENTY of non-believers express the utter impossibility of it all.
They monitored my contractions for awhile… they were coming consistently but once again, they’re standing there puzzled because I am sitting there smiling, talking, and cracking jokes and shouldn’t I bet yelling like an Amazonian woman by now? They FINALLY start my round of penicillin, and tell me that it needs to run its course for 4 hours [4 - 8 p.m.] At this point I am dilated to a 7, and my water is still hanging in there.

By 8 p.m. the penicillin treatment is done. My contractions are starting to pick up on their own by now, but I had only dilated to an 8 since 4 p.m. I think we all knew this could take all night if I didn’t get some pitocin. I know it was probably the worst decision for someone planning a natural delivery. But, every half-hour the nurse came in an upped pitocin until I was at 7mL, which is nuts, I should sue! Then in comes the Dr. with a crochet hook.

The moment my water broke, I felt what I had been waiting for: a crampy, wringing-out contraction. I had definitely had contractions before, but holy smokes, this is what “you’ll just know” about. Time to start Lamaze breathing. For the first hour of full-blown contractions I felt pretty good, I was staying on top of them, resting in between, staying relaxed. Yeah, just wait a sec.

At 9:00 p.m. the nurse checked me and I was now dilated to 9 cm and 90% effaced.
The second hour of contractions are causing the worst pain I have ever experienced, thirty seconds at a time, each a minute apart. They are coming down on me like waves, every time I get pushed under and can’t find enough time to come up for air before the next. I can barely hold my head up in between, I’m so tired. So, Russ holds me.
The baby’s oxygen is dropping so they make me wear the mask.
I feel completely defeated.
Russ and my mom are saying “hee hoo hee hoo hee hoo.” and I am saying “heehooahheahahoahaouchhh.” I say a prayer.
After that, wiith my trusty coaches’ help, I am able to breathe and relax through the rest of my contractions.

10 p.m.
BANG. Every muscle, bone, and vein in my body tells me it’s time to push.
The nurse confirms that I am now at 10 cm then says, “The Dr. went home but I just paged him and he’ll be right back.”
As soon as this overwhelming need to push comes, there is really no stopping me now. The nurse says we can start pushing without the Dr. and at this point I’m like “Who? Give me the stirrups!” Every time I feel a contraction coming, I hold my breath and push my heart out. Finally, after two hours of helplessly breathing through contractions, now I get to put my back into and actually do something about it, and I love it!

With every push I feel mounting pressure, but it’s the most amazing feeling in the world! For the next hour, it’s three rounds of pushing per contraction and then literally gasping for air.
My mom sees his little head first and I feel like a million bucks. I know I can do this, and we’re all so ready to meet this little guy. At this point I am totally owning this push-fest. In fact I own this whole room, this hospital even, I am on a serious high. I’ve got a group of nurses watching my every push, and they’re all cheering me on. I know what a good push feels like, and I know what a useless one feels like. If I don’t get a good push in, I make myself do an extra one. [If only I had this motivation at the gym.]

After the quickest hour of my life, finally Russ catches a glimpse of Hayes’ face. The Dr. says “Stop Pushing!” At this point I don’t know if I can, my body is doing all the work, I am just guiding the pressure it’s creating. I figure out a way somehow and then he says “Push now! Hard!” and I hear a cry.
Russ is sobbing and can barely see to cut the cord, but he does, and Dr. lays Hayes on my chest and I feel like I’ve known him forever, and he is mine!

From that moment on Hayes swept us away. We are so caught up in him and his crazy arm flails, his toots, his big beautiful blue eyes, and his ear-to-ear smiles. Every moment I look at Hayes I am reminded that God lives, and He loves us. I know deep and intense pain, but I also know that there is opposition in all things. Every moment of pain made room for me to be able to feel the equal and opposite in love and joy.

I know it is not the popular choice to have a baby the way I did. In fact, I was told that only 1% of hospital deliveries are natural by choice. But, it was a choice, and I am so grateful for the people in my life that supported my goal from the beginning.
So, was it worth it? Absolutely. But, not because it was a natural delivery, because I don’t think that one way is better than another, they’re simply two different choices. But, because it was for Hayes. And I’ve come to learn real quick that I would do just about anything for that little man.

1. When did you decide you wanted to deliver your baby naturally?
It was always something I wanted to at least try, I really committed to it when I learned I was pregnant.

2. What reasons or factors went into your decision?

I realized that I needed to be prepared for any kind of delivery, I knew if I didn’t try it with my first I probably wouldn’t with my subsequent deliveries. And after a nasty reaction to meds during my wisdom teeth removal, I didn’t want to stress about how I may react to medications during childbirth.

3. What did you do to prepare for natural childbirth? (midwife, classes, methods, books, etc.)

4. What was the hardest part of your experience – before, during, or after childbirth?
Transitioning. Contractions at 9 cm with pitocin is trying. It really is true though, as soon as you’re ready to throw in the towel, you’re probably ready to push.

5. What was most helpful to you during labor to help make pain from contractions manageable?
Having my mom in my face basically forcing me to follow her breathing patterns. I was holding my breath and tensing my shoulders otherwise, which doesn’t help.

6. What do you wish you would have known going into delivery?
Nurses and doctors don’t exactly weigh options with you. They choose what they think is best, and you better be on your toes if you want something else. Always ask “What are my other options?”

7. Is there anything you would have done differently?
Being inexperienced, I didn’t realize how much pressure I put on my husband and mom to help me through, and I wish I would have had a midwife there to take some of that pressure off. If my mom didn’t know breathing patterns, we would have been screwed. In the heat of the moment neither of us remembered what we learned in Lamaze.

8. What did you feel were the positive benefits to your natural childbirth – were the benefits what you expected?
The amazing natural high you get for DAYS after! I had no “baby blues” or postpartum depression. I felt like a warrior woman and still feel that after accomplishing this, I can do anything!

9. Is natural childbirth something you recommend to other mothers, or something you’d do again?
Of course, it is an absolute life-changing experience! I think every mom should plan for any outcome and see how far she can take herself. I think everyone would be surprised at their reserve of power and ability!

10. What advice do you have for other mothers interested in natural childbirth?
Do what feels right to you, use your intuition! Study it out, explore lots of methods, and make sure you have a support system!

Contact Emily at her blog

A tale of two births

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I had one of those moments today where I wondered about the way that my beautiful daughter may have been affected by her birth.

She got injured at school, nothing too major, but for sure a painful bonk on the head from a baseball bat. The teacher told me she was very brave and didn’t cry at all, but by the time we got home it had caught up to her and the tears started to flow. I pulled her onto my lap in a comfy chair and tried to cuddle her, but as she sat their stiffly I realized she didn’t want to be held and cuddled. I asked her if she wanted to be alone and she went off to lay on her bed. I thought of her in that little plastic box that they put the babies in at the hospital and wondered.

Now, I certainly realize that all people are different and some are more touchy-feely than others. I don’t know if that’s just the way she is (and it is certainly a fine way to be, I don’t mean to disparage), but the part of me that is obsessed and possessed with birth can’t help but see the difference between her and her brother without wondering how her less than touchy-feely beginnings contribute to that aspect of her personality.

Even if there really were no long-term effects from her birth, I still mourn for the beginning she did have. She was yanked into the world (by the feet according to the operative report) and taken to a hard table surrounded by strangers and bright lights. There were no familiar voices talking to her, only strangers, and strange sounds, doing strange things to her fragile little self. When she finally did get to see her Daddy and finally hear a familiar voice it was through the plastic of an oxygen hood. He was scared to touch her and no one told him it was okay to do so. She was wrapped in rough towels and had a rough bath. She cried through the whole thing until her whole body was red with the effort and no one stopped to comfort her or cuddle her even still. Finally dried and wrapped up like a present she was rolled in her plastic box to meet her drugged out, zonked out mother. I’m not really sure how I greeted her, I don’t remember much of it. At least she was surrounded by family and people who loved her when I was too sleepy and out of it were able to hold her and greet her properly.

Meeting Roxy, hours after her birth

Obviously she is a sweet and adorable, kind and dear little person so we know that our birth is definitely not the predetermining factor on our personalities. But it’s still not what I wanted for my baby and I put a lot of effort into making sure my next baby got a better welcome. I couldn’t control everything about it but I wanted to do everything I could to make sure it was a more gentle beginning. He was eased into the world, as gently as possible. The midwife helped receive him, but he went immediately into my hands. He didn’t leave them for hours afterwards and even then only to the end of the bed for a quick newborn exam. A midwife gently checked him over, always touching and soothing him, so that he never cried. He was immediately cuddled again by a loving relative and anytime I wasn’t the one holding him someone else who loved him was. Again, I don’t know if it is directly caused by their births, but he feels much different about wanting to cuddle with his mom and he always has, and either way I wish that Roxy had gotten the same warm, gentle welcome.

Meeting Erik, instantly

I’m grateful for my cesarean with Roxy, things had gone rotten and she needed to be helped out by doctors and I’m very thankful for their skill, but I still mourn for what we missed out on. I can’t help but wonder if I had been up walking around instead of lying in a bed on a monitor if her little head would have fallen into the pelvis where it belonged. If her head had engaged then she might not have been able to do a somersault and the cord might not have prolapsed. Or maybe if I hadn’t been bent over a table for 10 minutes while an epidural was being placed, what effect did that have on her position? Obviously crazy stuff happens and I could have done lots of things differently and she may have still have done that same somersault, but I can’t help wonder how even those small interventions may have taken her birth off course.

Nothing can be done differently for my daughter’s birth, it is in the past now, but what about the babies that are yet to come? I really hope that we can think more about the ways we disturb birth and whether it is worth the ramifications for our babies. The U.S. cesarean rate is abysmal which means that 1/3 of all babies get a beginning almost as crappy (or crappier) as my daughter got. That sucks America, it really does.

Now for the caveats…yes, I know that many cesarean babies get a more gentle beginning than mine did. Most of the time the baby’s dad is in the room and the mother is awake and able to greet her baby, but it is never ideal. I’m grateful for the care providers who do work hard to make things gentle, and hope that more providers learn from them.

Cesarean moms, this post is in NO WAY intending to make you feel guilty about having an abdominal birth. We all did the very best thing we could for our babies in that moment in time. We all did the noble thing and laid on that table to be cut from hip to hip so that our babies could be safe. Unfortunately we know that with a 33% cesarean rate, not all those operations were necessary and that is the part that I want to change. I truly honor the women who sacrifice their own bodies to get their babies here safely.