Why Is My Nurse So Uneducated About Natural Childbirth?

My favorite semester of nursing school was my maternal-child class. I spent a couple of days on a post-partum unit, a couple in the NICU, and was scheduled to do two days in Labor & Delivery. In both days there, I saw zero vaginal deliveries. None. Zip. Nada. My instructor scheduled me for a third day on the unit so I could observe vaginal deliveries.

I saw two: one with an epidural, one natural. The woman with the epidural had a quick delivery, but I just remember watching the epidural placement and thinking how painful it looked and how awful it would be to have that tube just sticking out your back.

The second delivery was much longer. She had been laboring for so long, she was completely exhausted. She was wearing an oxygen mask, and was in bed on the monitors. She looked miserable. The nurse and midwife were coaching pushing, counting to 10 three times during each contraction.

The father wept when his baby was born, and we took the baby straight to the warmer. I remember thinking how cool it was that my classmate and I got to do the newborn exam all by ourselves, since the nurse was busy helping the midwife control bleeding. As far as I could tell the mother was starting to hemorrhage.

Personally, this is one of my biggest regrets. I stood between that woman and her child. If I could go back now, I would take that baby and put him right back on his mama’s chest. I can’t imagine after such a difficult delivery not being able to hold my child. I wish I could apologize to her.

I wish I could go back and encourage her to breast feed, which would also help with the bleeding. In fact, if I could go back there would be a lot of things I would different.

When I found out we were pregnant with our first child, I embarked on a journey of enlightenment. As a nurse, I thought I was pretty educated about pregnancy and childbirth. I had no idea what I didn’t know.

I knew nothing of birth hormones, of how our bodies are MADE to birth babies, how empowering birth can be when the mother is educated, informed, and in control. I had to ask myself, “Why didn’t I know any of this?”.  After much thought, I’ve realized a few things about my education.

First, nursing education is based upon and centered on the medical ideology of birth. Nurses work closely with doctors, and therefore must know what to expect and how to treat clients under medical care.

Our school only had so much time to teach us the massive amounts of information necessary for hospital births, including what to do in basically any medical emergency, as well as pre and post-natal care. Education on natural birth processes could easily be deemed not as important because most women don’t birth that way in a hospital setting, where a nurse would be working. What nurses are taught, what I was taught, is consistent with what nurses “need” to know.

Additionally, even if nurses were trained in natural childbirth, they would spend their shifts caring for women birthing in a medical manner. Any natural childbirth education would be forgotten among the days and nights of epidurals, Pitocin, IV fluids, monitors, coached pushing, bedridden deliveries, and unfortunately, failed birth plans.

Seeing all this, it’s no wonder nurses don’t have faith in a woman’s ability to birth naturally! And, because of our “sue happy” society, nurses may often feel that to encourage a woman to birth the natural way she desires could place them in the way of a lawsuit.

Or a nurse may feel that if later on the woman changes her mind, she (the nurse) will be held responsible if the new wishes of the woman cannot be fulfilled; such as an epidural not being available due to the anesthesiologist being gone, or the woman being to advanced in labor to give pain medication.

Basically, it goes back to the mindset of birth in America. Birth is treated as a medical problem with medical treatments. And in some cases, it is. Nurses should continue to be trained in how to handle medical emergencies related to pregnancy and birth.

However, as we continue to educate the public and change the general opinion of how birth “has to be,” being a voice to local hospitals, and lovingly educating the nurses caring for us, I hope that nurses will become more familiar with and be able to support and assist women who chose a natural birth. (Written by Nicole Thomas)

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