By Dr. Karen Gardner , D.C.
When the phone rang at 5:30 in the morning on October 12, I knew that Carol had gone into labor. We had been talking several times a day for the past week discussing all of the physical changes she was experiencing and comparing them to my own childbirth experience. Carol and I have known each other since the 6th grade and she has been a loyal patient of mine since we opened our practice in Pennsylvania in October 1996. She has a firm grasp of chiropractic and always keeps her appointments. It was no surprise to me, that after years of trying to get pregnant, she was able to once under regular chiropractic care. She had suggested months earlier that it might be nice to have her chiropractor at the hospital to check her baby as soon as it was born and to check her periodically during labor. I, of course, said no problem. I had been asked that very same question dozens of times in my growing practice of pregnant women. Many women came to the office actually in early labor on their way home from the midwife or on their way to the hospital just to make sure their nervous systems were functioning at 100%. But, at the last minute, most women did not ask me to adjust them while in active labor for a variety of reasons that are personal to each woman. You can imagine my surprise when Carol called me BEFORE she called her OB/GYN.
I was so excited I didn’t know what to do first. I knew we had some time before real labor started. She was getting adjusted weekly throughout her pregnancy and I knew from experience that regular chiropractic care reduces labor time so I didn’t want to take any chances.
I hate hospitals. I hate the smell. I hate the bureaucracy. I hate the white coats. I hate the instruments. I hate the drugs. I hate the egos. I have to admit, I was a little nervous crossing the river to a state where I was not licensed to practice chiropractic; to enter a hospital where I probably was not welcome. But I thought to myself, no one needs a chiropractor right now more than my friend Carol and it’s time to step out of my comfort zone. After all this was not about me.
At first I introduced myself to the nursing staff as a “friend”. Then, I read Carol’s birth plan. I was on it. She specifically requested in writing that I, her chiropractor, be present to adjust her spine as I felt necessary and to be able to check the baby as soon as it was born for subluxations. Once I wiped the tears from my eyes, I made sure everyone in that hospital knew that I WAS A CHIROPRACTOR!
Carol’s labor progressed very well. The nurses were so surprised at how quickly things were moving along. I wasn’t. I was getting very irritated with the medical “team” who kept trying to intervene in such a natural, beautiful process. Fetal monitors, suggestion of enemas (yes, they still do that to laboring women), not allowing any food for the mother, forcing the mom into the lithotomy position, checking the cervix for dilatation every hour or so (in my opinion, checking the cervix was the most painful part of labor) and not honoring many of Carol’s and her husband’s wishes were just a few of the things that irritated me.
Carol was left alone to labor without any “medical” support or encouragement. For a first time mom, the need to know that everything is normal and OK is very important. Feeling abandoned by the people you are depending on to make sure everything goes as it is supposed to is a horrible feeling. If her husband and I were not there she would have been completely alone. Carol later told me that I helped her deal with her fear of labor. “She made me comfortable with it”, she said. The medical team came on an hourly basis with a new proposal for more torture. I said no to everything. Carol and her husband were certainly not in a position to make decisions. They were faced with a magnificent life changing experience and the nurses wanted to know if they wanted their baby vaccinated against Hepatitis B. PLEASE. It took all of my strength not to strangle someone. I had to constantly remind the nursing staff to please refer to the birth plan. All of the parents’ wishes are in writing.
I think all of this intervention was causing some stress and performance anxiety in Carol, because her labor completely stopped twice. That was my cue. I stopped rubbing away her back labor and adjusted her sacrum. Instantly Carol moaned as her labor returned with a whopper of a contraction. I’ll never forget her husband saying, “Karen did it, not me!” On a second occasion her labor stopped once again, this time C2 was the culprit. I adjusted her in a modified cervical chair as I sat on the edge of the whirlpool. Again, labor resumed instantly. As I was adjusting her in that awkward position, I thought to myself, I’m glad I’m not being graded on technique. When I talked to Carol about writing this article she said,”The most amazing thing was when you adjusted me when labor stopped and it started up again immediately. My husband still talks about that with his friends and family. I know that chiropractic kept my body in communication with itself.”
I continued to check and adjust Carol between contractions as necessary until she was in transition. Most people would tell you to avoid laboring women while they’re in transition. This is the MOST painful part of labor and consequently, a very emotional and irritable time for the mother. My instincts told me to stay near and check her every ten minutes. I don’t know why, but I did. Her C2 would not stay put. I checked and adjusted her constantly. Her doctor checked her cervix and she was 8 cm. Dilated. The doctor said that in about 2 hours you’ll probably start pushing. I adjusted her again and Carol’s body innately started to push. The nurses yelled at her to stop pushing. I said, “Maybe her body knows more than we do.” After 15 minutes of Carol being told not to push, her doctor came back and checked her cervix again and said she was ready to start pushing. I believe she was ready when the whole pushing thing started 15 minutes earlier.
I thought, great. Here comes the big moment and I started to help Carol get on all fours to deliver. The nurses looked at me as if I had 3 heads and started to break down the bed and assemble the stirrups. I said, “What are you doing?” I was then told Carol needed to lie on her back so that fetal monitor can be hooked up and so she can deliver the baby. I again reminded them of the parents’ birth plan and this was something that was objected to specifically. The response I received absolutely floored me. The nurse told me, and I quote,” It’s not up to the parents; it’s up to the doctor.” If Carol didn’t need me there I would’ve walked out.
I believe that because Carol was placed in the position she was, she pushed for far longer than necessary. Although she only pushed for 45 minutes to an hour, not very long when compared to a lot of other women, I feel that time could have been drastically reduced if she had been allowed to do what her body was telling her to do. For instance, I pushed for only 17 minutes before my first child was born and only four minutes with my second. I was allowed to deliver in whatever position my body decided was right for me.
When Thomas finally entered this world and we all stopped crying, I checked him and his mom for subluxations. I am proud to say that luckily, neither needed adjusting despite all of the intervention. I think that was probably due to the previous chiropractic care Carol had received over the past 2 years and the adjustments she received while in labor. This whole miraculous process took only 9 hours. For
a first time mom, that’s supposed to be unheard of. Carol and I know that chiropractic care played a major role in her short labor time just as it did in mine. Just as it did in the dozens of other women that I personally know who were under chiropractic care during their pregnancies. . Carol said, in retrospect, “Dr. Karen checked me for breech and other things that may ultimately interfere with a good, healthy labor. I was impressed as I thought Dr. Karen went above and beyond what other doctors did.”
When I left Carol and her husband to bond with their baby and got into my car I started to cry, not just because I witnessed the miracle of birth. But, I cried because I was asked by my friend and patient to be there during such an intimate time in a person’s life. What an honor it was for me to be a part of this miracle. What a privilege it was for me to check a newborn baby for vertebral subluxations. Carol and her Tommy, who is now 5 years old, continue to get adjusted every week. Olivia, his 2 ½ year old sister gets adjusted, too. I had the honor to attend that birth as well. This beautiful birth was attended by a midwife, but that’s a story for another article. How wonderful to know that these children, like my own, will grow up having chiropractic care being a part of their normal, everyday life.
Because chiropractic care has been shown to reduce labor time, reduce the need for pain medications, change a breech or transverse presentation to vertex, change a posterior presentation to anterior, reduce the need for other interventions and even induce labor when it has stopped, I feel an experienced pregnancy chiropractor should be in the delivery room or at least be waiting outside to be called upon as needed. If a doctor of chiropractic can check the new born for the damaging effects of a vertebral subluxation (misplaced spinal bone that causes a disruption of the central and peripheral nervous systems by “pinching” off nerve supply), a leading cause of S.I.D.S., think of the advantages that child would have. The possibilities are endless.
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Dr. Karen, just wanted to say wow…I’ve learned so much and I’m only into the 2nd module. This is the stuff we need to know in everyday practice! I could listen to you all day long! ~ Dr. Katie Gelesko Stull