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Lisa Gioia-Acres

Childbirth – My Way

In November 1980 I gave birth to the first of my two daughters.  By that time in my life I had a well established desire to live as natural a life as possible.  I grew and canned my own vegetables, shopped in natural food stores, and vowed I would give birth completely without drugs or intervention.  Toward that goal I set out to read as much as I could on the topic of natural childbirth and my “bible” became the 1975 bestselling book, Immaculate Deception by Suzanne Arms. 

Prepared with knowledge and a sense of my rights as a patient, my then-husband and I informed my birth doctor of our desire to have a completely natural childbirth.  The doctor agreed to honor our wishes, that is, until I was his patient in labor. 

When it was “time” we went to the hospital where we were met by my doctor.  Over the course of a few hours I progressed nicely but apparently not quickly enough according to my doctor.  He suggested breaking my water which I at first refused to do, but acquiesced at his insistence.  When I still did not progress to his liking, he then ordered a pitocin drip, a drug that would speed up my labor.  None of this was going as I had planned or had requested. 

It became clearer as the day went on that my doctor had no intention of waiting around for me to progress at my body’s or my unborn child’s own pace.  His pressure upon me to intervene in the process increased and became more aggressive.  At one point I asked him what the chances would be of a caesarian birth should I follow his recommendations.  His response was that of course the need for a surgical birth increased.  As my child, according to the fetal heart monitor, was in no distress I once again refused the doctor’s insistence for a drug-induced labor.

As day turned into evening I was no closer to giving birth.  My doctor, in a last-ditch effort to coerce me, told my husband and I that if I didn’t agree to his method then he would excuse himself as my physician.  We requested a second opinion but no doctor in the hospital would agree to examine me.  We contacted my birth coach, Clare, who had herself experienced two natural childbirths.  After hearing what we were going through, Clare contacted her birth doctor. 

Dr. Hai Abdul operated a birthing center in Azuza, CA and agreed to allow me to come to his facility.  With that promise, I signed myself out of the hospital, against medical advice, and we drove the 60 miles to the clinic that would allow me to have the birth experience I envisioned.

Dr. Abdul’s clinic, staff, and attitude were the complete opposite of the hospital we had just fled.  Each of the rooms in the clinic was decorated in a different theme.  Fittingly, we were placed in the “country room.”    I was allowed to move about, eat a bit for strength, and even showered before the moment arrived. 

Close to 10:00 am my baby decided it was time to make an appearance.  With Dr. Abdul supervising, an attendant midwife guided my child out of my body.  I recall Dr. Abdul saying to me, “Open your eyes, your baby is almost here.”  Just before she was completely free of my body the midwife told me to reach down and grab her. I pulled my beautiful newborn up and out and placed her upon my chest.  The memory of pain and fear melted away as I looked down at my little girl.  My husband and his best friend (who had accompanied us) were both looking at the miracle that had just taken place. 

Other than the birth of my second child, nothing has come close to the beauty of giving birth naturally in all its painful glory.  I have Dr. Abdul to thank for giving me this gift. 

Sadly, Dr. Abdul’s life and profession suffered because of his support and actions.  Although I don’t know all the details, I do know that once my doctor and his hospital learned of where I had gone, the Board of Medical Examiners conducted an inquiry into Dr. Abdul and his practice. 

This was an era when natural childbirth, patient wishes, and even breast feeding were just becoming a popular trend.  In fact, midwives were being hounded and prosecuted by the medical establishment at that time; I recall attending the trial of a well-known midwife accused of malpractice. There was even a newspaper account of my ordeal, written and published in the local newspaper about six months after I had given birth.

Times changed, however.  A few years after my experience I was once again mentioned in the local paper; this time it was in reference to the opening of a birthing wing in the same hospital that had been so against my personal wishes. 

As I prepared to write and share this account I thought I might Google Dr. Abdul to see if I could locate him to thank him once again for the gift he had given me.  I found a website created by his familyand dedicated to his memory.  I emailed his daughter whose address I found on the site.  I told her who I was and that I hoped Dr. Abdul had not suffered too much because of his involvement with my case.  Surprisingly, she knew of me and reported that in fact her father did not fare well after he was investigated.  I did not inquire further so I don’t really know what the circumstances are. I am, however, truly sorry that such a good and compassionate man and doctor suffered at all on my behalf.  I will always be grateful for Dr. Abdul and for the sacrifice he made that allowed me to experience the birth experience naturally and on my terms.

My daughters are now of childbearing age.  Both have decided that “going natural” is not for them.  I honor their choices but secretly wish they would allow their own children to come into this world the way women have been doing so for centuries.  That is their choice and thankfully in this day and age, they have the ability and the right to decide for themselves.  For me, I will always cherish the moment when the pain of labor vanished with the joy of seeing my newborn and knowing I did all in my power to bring them into the world the way I felt best for them and for me.

This post dedicated to the memories of Hai Abdul and Clare Whalen

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