Birth Options for Mothers Who Are Blind or Visually Impaired

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Once a woman learns she’s about to have a child, her attention is immediately directed towards prenatal care. At the mid-point of pregnancy, approximately 20 weeks, doctors will begin discussing a birth plan with the expectant parents. A birth plan is a document that lets your medical team know your preferences for your delivery, including things like how to manage your labor pain. Having your wishes recorded in the form of this written document ensures your healthcare provider understands your wishes with regards to the delivery of your child. It is important to note that although preparation for birth is essential, the new mother may not be able to control every aspect of her labor and delivery. Sometimes the unexpected happens, and you must remain flexible in cases where you may be forced to deviate from your original birth plan.

Two of VisionAware’s Peer Advisors, Maribel Steel and Holly Bonner, discuss their different birth plans and how that impacted the delivery of their children in today's post from the Blind Parenting series.

Birth Options

After developing an aversion to hospitals as a result of testing related to her retinitis pigmentosa (RP), Maribel chose to deliver all three of her children in the comfort of her own home. Holly, who lost her vision as a result of a neurological condition due to breast cancer, was forced to have cesarean sections with both her daughters as doctors feared labor could induce brain bleeding. With five healthy children between them, Maribel and Holly discuss what it feels like during a home birth and a hospital cesarean section as blind mothers.

baby surrounded by blanket

There’s No Place Like Home — Three Children, Three Home Births

By Maribel Steel

One of my reactions to becoming pregnant with my first child (over three decades ago) was not so much having mixed feelings about becoming a parent for the first time but being concerned about going to the hospital. I couldn’t bear the thought of giving birth in what I had previously experienced as a hostile environment.

My phobia of hospitals was due to a two week stay in my teen years when I had to endure painful tests in order to find out why I had mysteriously lost so much of my eyesight. Two weeks later, my family and I learned two new words that came as a great shock and challenge — the diagnosis of pending blindness. I had retinitis pigmentosa. Once out of that hospital bed, I never wanted to return — not even to have my babies.

With the news of our first child in my early twenties, my husband and I went in search of birthing alternatives. We were comforted in finding a solution that would work: a qualified doctor who supported women and their partners in their choice of natural home birth while being well cared for with medical assistance if required.

maribel holding baby

My doctor and his team of professional midwives ran monthly classes in ‘Responsible Home Birth’ to train new parents in natural home birth. My husband and I became well educated on what to expect when having a baby at home. So when the pangs of labor started, we felt emotionally prepared and physically ready with practical items for mother and babe in place.

My husband kept a track of the labor pains in a notebook (which I still have in a personal drawer) and we notified the doctor and midwife. During the birthing process, I felt a beautiful sense of freedom — being in my own surroundings and being so well supported by my team of helpers.

At home, it felt natural to give birth. I wasn’t fearful, and together we created a calm ambience to fill the warm room. Time moved as nature dictated; our doctor was in no rush and kept a friendly watch over the progress of the birth. In the dim light one January night, our baby was born with no assistance apart from Mother Nature taking her course to deliver a beautiful and healthy baby girl.

In the comfort of our familiar bedroom, I softly sang Amazing Grace to her all night long, while my loving hands traced over her little warm body asleep on my tummy.

I know that having a natural home birth is not for everyone, but I treasure having experienced the gentle way of bringing a child into the world. Not one but three of my babies have all taken their first breaths in the warmth of our home.

Two Cesarean Sections

By Holly Bonner

Halfway through my first high risk pregnancy in 2013, my obstetrician consulted with my neuro-ophthalmologist about revising my birth plan. Although I had originally wanted to have natural child birth, my medical team feared the pushing involved in labor could place immense pressure on my optic nerves, potentially causing a significant brain bleed. Collectively with my medical team, my husband and I opted for a scheduled cesarean section at 39 weeks.

Holly's newborn daughter laying in a crib at the hospital

On the morning of my delivery, the hospital was well prepared for my arrival and my overwhelming nerves. My obstetrician had told me he had met with all hospital staff tasked with my care to ensure they explicitly, verbally explained everything they were going to do. As a pregnant, blind woman, hearing what people were doing to me was helpful. It made me feel like an equal participant in the birth of my baby, rather that just a willing bystander. My husband and I were escorted to a private triage area where my baby’s heartbeat was monitored. I had tested positive for Strep B, a vaginal bacterium, and required intravenous antibiotics prior to giving birth. A nurse started an IV, and I attempted to relax.

Minutes before we were scheduled to go into the operating room, my anesthesiologist met with us to discuss the procedure. He asked me to open my mouth to ensure I had no loose teeth or fillings in the event I needed to be intubated. He explained he would be giving me a spinal block, which would burn momentarily and then cause numbness from my sternum to my toes. I reiterated how extremely frightened and nervous I felt. The doctor injected a small dose of anxiety medication directly into my IV and promised he would stay with me through the duration of the procedure.

A nurse handed my husband a pair of scrubs and directed him to get dressed. The anesthesiologist and two nurses wheeled me into the OR. I was told my husband would not be permitted into the room until my spinal block was complete and I was numb. I was also asked to keep my darkened sunglasses on. The surgical room is very bright and hospital staff did not want me to have any added discomfort from my eyes due to my previous history of light sensitivity.

Once in the operating room, I was shuffled onto a table. A nurse instructed me to dangle my legs off the side and curve my back like a scared cat. My obstetrician touched my leg and together with two nurses, the three held my hands as I waited for what seemed like forever. Behind me, the anesthesiologist injected the needle into the back for the spinal block. All I felt was a momentary little pinch. Then, as if we were in some kind of race, my legs were lifted and swung on top of the table and I was told to lay flat. Suddenly, everything went numb, and although I knew being numb was the general idea, I was quite surprised by how quickly it actually happened.

I could hear the rustling of a large paper drape being put up in front of my belly. I could smell the faint scent of alcohol and peroxide. A nurse explained she was going to tell me exactly what she was doing so I would not become more fearful by the overwhelming sounds of the operating room’s hustle and bustle. First, she cleaned my belly with antiseptic. Then, she informed me she would be inserting a urinary catheter. Finally, I was told to prepare myself for the sound of a buzzer, and the nurse shaved hair off my pubic area and stomach.

My anesthesiologist was extremely kind and stroked my hair, asking me distracting questions about my baby and promising me my husband would be there soon. That’s when I heard a door open followed by the sound of my husband’s voice. He sat next to my head and rubbed my cheek telling me not to worry. The obstetrician said he was “starting” and that I would meet my daughter soon.

Within minutes, they announced the baby was “out,” but I heard no crying. I could hear my husband’s chair move as he went to stand up to look at why our daughter was silent. I then heard a nurse firmly tell him to sit down. My baby’s umbilical cord was wrapped around her neck. Doctors calmly removed it. My husband stood up again, then said, “she’s pinking up, she’s pinking up.” That’s when I heard my baby’s cries. A nurse cleaned up my daughter and brought her over to me. “Say hello to mommy” she said as she pushed her cheek to mine. I vaguely remember kissing her and choking on tears of happiness before the anesthesiologist gave me more drugs that knocked me out completely.

I woke up in the recovery room about two hours later. My blood pressure had spiked during the procedure and the anesthesiologist thought it best to have me sleep through the rest of the procedure. Once I was able to move my legs, I was moved to a regular hospital room and got to hold my daughter for the first time.

Holly Bonner holding her newborn daughter at the hopsital

I remained in the hospital for five days before I was finally released home. My doctor also instructed me to wear a tight compression belly band. The tightness of the belly band made standing and sitting easier, it also helped lift the skin from my belly as it began to tighten again post partum. Exactly one week after my surgery, my stitches were removed.

Cesarean sections are considered major abdominal surgery that can take anywhere from six to eight weeks to fully recover. Although terribly sore and in a significant amount of pain after the procedure, it seemed a small price to pay for the wondrous feeling of holding my healthy baby in my arms for the first time. Maybe that’s why I chose to do it a second time when we welcomed a second daughter a year later.

Blind Parenting Series

Introduction to Blind Parenting Series

Preparing for Pregnancy: A Blind Mother's Checklist

Breastfeeding Baby As a Blind or Visually Impaired Mother

Bottle-Feeding Baby As a Blind or Visually Impaired Mother

Blind Parenting

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