Want to learn all you can about being pregnant? Just Google the word pregnancy and you’ll get about 354,400,000 results.
“There’s a vast ocean of good and bad information now available,” says Meaghan Woodford of Portland. She found a lot more with her third child, who is nearly 2, than with her first, who is 7. “You have to be discriminating regarding what you take as fact,” she says.
Pam Tozier, a labor and delivery nurse at Maine Medical Center, agrees.
“Now, because of the Internet and YouTube, people do a lot of online or self-learning. And also the television series that are out there that show deliveries all the time,” she says. “I’m very concerned about that because patients get a very skewed view of childbirth when they just watch it on TV.”
Lindsay Marlow, who is expecting her first child in February, has learned a lot from hearing other women’s stories.
“It’s so interesting when you become pregnant how many people want to tell you all about their pregnancies, all about the labor, all about their delivery,” she laughs. “It’s really opened my eyes to, OK, this person had this experience and made these decisions and what do I want my experience to be?”
Today, the focus is on what the patient wants, says Dr. Ann Trask, an ob/gyn at All About Women, who delivered babies for 17 years. A lot about delivering babies hasn’t changed over the years, but one of the most thrilling advances Trask has witnessed is being able to intervene early if there is a problem.
“We still can’t prevent everything that could potentially go wrong,” she says, “but we certainly have gotten better at early recognition of a lot of problems, and early intervention of those problems, if needed.”
One widely used screening tool is ultrasound, which in addition to telling the baby’s gender, enables the health-care provider to take a close look at anatomy and pick up tiny abnormalities that might have been missed a decade ago heart defects in particular. The technology makes it possible to even see a three-dimensional video of the fetus in real time.
Ultrasound paired with a special blood test is now offered to women of all ages to screen for Down syndrome. Marlow, 28, and her husband were also screened to make sure neither of them carried a cystic fibrosis gene that could be passed on to their baby. And, at 34 weeks, she will a have a test that is now routine to make sure she doesn’t have Group B strep, which can cause a deadly infection in newborns.
Improved technology and earlier and better testing mean, “We’re not surprised as much anymore,” says Dr. Michael Pinette, medical director of Maine Medical Center’s Division of Maternal-Fetal Medicine. “Diagnoses are made much more readily than they ever were before.”
Marlow, who lives in Cape Elizabeth, understands more than most about sick and fragile newborns because she’s a nurse in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at MMC. She’s not worried about her baby, but is trying to do whatever she can to have the healthiest pregnancy possible.
Woodford, 38, had the same goal with all three of her pregnancies, each of which was a different experience. Her first was a C-section, her second a vaginal delivery, and her third a home delivery by a midwife. She ran into a potential roadblock to the home delivery because the baby was breech, and turned to Dr. Janel Voelker, a Cape Elizabeth chiropractor for help. Voelker works on aligning the pelvis and loosening ligaments to open up space in the uterus so the baby can get into proper position on its own.
“I was adamant about delivering at home. The techniques were non-invasive, so I figured why not? He turned relatively quickly. I was amazed,” says Woodford.
The adjustments also helped relieve pain in her hips, pelvis and lower back.
“It’s really just so exciting,” says Voelker, “because I see a lot of moms who want to have a natural birth and they get this fear in them because their baby is breech, and we help them to achieve their goal to have that natural birth. And do it in a very natural and healthy way.”
Marlow feels more comfortable being in the hospital, but is aiming for “the least amount of intervention possible.”
In contrast, Tozier has found that during the last 10 years, women have become more interested in interventions such as being induced or having an epidural to lessen the pain. Whether a woman chooses to have an epidural, Tozier, after 35 years of helping women through labor, knows what works.
“I want her to be able to trust her body and work it through. One role I think the labor and delivery nurse can play is taking the fear away,” she says.
Many hospitals, including Mercy, let women labor, deliver, and recover in the same room, something that was not the norm 10 years ago. Another change Marlow can look forward to is a Jacuzzi tub right in her room.
“Jacuzzi’s help with pain relief during labor,” explains Trask. “Some mothers find the warmth and buoyancy make them feel more relaxed.”
Marlow has enjoyed being pregnant and admits she’s “finally embraced that my life is going to change.”
Very soon, like so many women before her, she’ll bring a new life into the world. For a moment time will stand still – as she feels her baby’s skin against hers, gently touches its delicate little head, counts its fingers and toes. Some things never change.