Over the course of my forty-plus-year career, I have been present for many thousands of births. Each one has deepened my appreciation for the boundless wonder of the natural birthing process and strengthened my commitment to affirming self-healing in my patients. I “discovered” homeopathy late in my career but have come to depend on it for everyday miracles as well as amazing once-in-a-lifetime ones.
As a midwife in a medical practice I have many tools at my disposal, but there are certain times when only a homeopathic remedy will do. The right remedy can change the whole dynamic in the delivery room. I can’t begin to count the times homeopathy has helped a woman avoid a cesarean section by moving labor forward, or the times it has calmed and centered her so that she could participate actively in a meaningful birth experience, or the times it has protected the baby’s well-being by keeping labor on track. The hospital nurses tease me because when a mom is having trouble and the baby’s heart rate falters, they panic and I don’t. “Susan’s here,” they say, “She’s going to tell us, “Just relax and let the homeopathy do its work.”
Aconite has eased many a birth by calming a frightened mother so that labor can proceed naturally. Sometimes Bellis perennis has been helpful after birth, particularly when a woman has been pushing a long time and her hips and back hurt and her tailbone is painful to sit on. Hypericum, with its affinity for healing nerve injuries, can be especially useful after cesarean sections because there are so many nerve endings in the pelvic cavity that can get disturbed. I have used it to speed healing, ease the exquisite and sharp pain from damaged nerves, and resolve numbness after c-sections. On two occasions I’ve seen Staphysagria calm moms who were in tears after a c-section. The need for this remedy was evident in their anger at having been “assaulted and violated” by the procedure, and I’ve found that sometimes it heals nerves better than Hypericum when this emotional dimension of humiliation and indignation is present.
There are also times when I need to use remedies that are less often indicated in labor and delivery, or I give a familiar remedy for unusual reasons. After all, the delivery room is a place where anything can happen.
28-year-old Charlotte was fair-skinned with dark hair and deep blue eyes. She dressed in rich colors with a dramatic style. Her partner often came with her to her prenatal visits, and she dictated her needs to him with both firmness and humor.
When Charlotte came to the hospital in early labor she was coping well with the contractions, walking the halls and chatting excitedly. On examination I found that her cervix was four centimeters dilated and her contractions were four to ten minutes apart. As I do routinely, I advised her to keep hydrated, to walk around, and to try the whirlpool bath when labor became more intense. Then I left the room to attend another birth.
A few hours later I was doing paperwork in the nurses’ station and overheard the nurses talking about a woman who was terribly abusive—she was just fine when she first came in and now suddenly she was a devil! I realized they were talking about Charlotte, so I went in to see her. She was lying on her side in bed, red-faced and glassy-eyed. The nurse had just taken her temperature and reported it was 100° F. Charlotte angrily ordered the nurse to stop touching her. She said she had a throbbing headache from all the noise and activity around her. She turned to me and shouted, “This labor is taking too long! You need to DO something!” She complained of pressure and wanted to “push this kid out” of her.
After many reassurances and promises to be very gentle and slow, I examined her to see if there had been any progress in her labor. Her contractions had picked up in frequency and intensity, but her pelvic exam indicated no change from 3 hours ago—still 4 centimeters dilated. My exam was extremely annoying for her—she screamed in anger and pain when I touched her cervix.
Without homeopathy, I would have had to give Charlotte some Pitocin, an intravenous medication to stimulate labor. This would have confined her to a monitor and the bed, making it far more difficult for her to cope with her labor, and might have led to the need for epidural anesthesia. The fever would also have suggested the need for antibiotics. If these medications didn’t help her labor to progress, she would be at risk for a cesarean section. I had seen this scenario countless times and hoped that with the right homeopathic remedy, Charlotte could avoid it.
Like the nurses, I was amazed at how suddenly this had all come on and how dramatically Charlotte’s mood had changed from excitement and anticipation to violent outbursts and irritability. She was ordering everyone around, demanding water and juice. She was very thirsty. I thought first of Aconite, which I’ve often seen help with a sudden and overwhelming change in labor pattern. Aconite also fit her sensitivity, pain level, and strong thirst. However, I didn’t sense the fear that’s usually present when a woman needs Aconite—just anger and distress made worse with each contraction.
I realized that what was before me was a perfect picture of Belladonna. The violent outbursts, the anger with great distress, the sudden fever, the throbbing headache, the flushed face and bright eyes, the pain from touch and jarring—all pointed to Belladonna. We often think of people who need Belladonna as being thirstless, but Belladonna also appears in many thirst rubrics in the homeopathic repertory (index of symptoms) including “Thirst; extreme” and “Thirst; unquenchable.”
I gave Charlotte a dose of Belladonna 200c and waited. Forty-five minutes later, her fever was gone. She looked calmer and was coping better with the work of labor. She still did not want to be touched nor did she want to get out of bed, but because her symptoms had improved I waited. Another forty-five minutes and she started to complain again of a lot of pelvic pressure and began to spontaneously bear down. This time when I asked if I could examine her, she readily agreed and showed no sign of discomfort. Her cervix was completely dilated and she was ready to deliver. One or two pushes, and she gave birth to her 8-pound, 15-ounce boy who cried lustily even before he was fully born.
As I looked back on Charlotte’s chart, I wondered whether Belladonna might have been a constitutional remedy for her. In labor, women usually need a first-aid remedy related only to the circumstances at hand, but sometimes they exhibit an exacerbated symptom picture of their everyday state. When I’d seen her before labor, Charlotte was always so “full of life” and so firm with her husband, while also good-humored. Hahnemann described those needing Belladonna as:
“Unrestrainedly and exuberantly merry, inclined to scold without cause, and to insult in a laughing humour.” I’m sorry that I did not have the opportunity to follow Charlotte’s progress further, but I hope that the Belladonna helped her in every possible way.
Back from the brink
Christine was a 30-year-old woman with placenta previa, meaning that the placenta was blocking the cervix and she would need a cesarean delivery. We had told her that if she had any bleeding she would need immediate care, because this could be life-threatening. At 37 weeks of pregnancy (40 weeks is considered the normal time for birth), she arrived at the emergency room with bright red bleeding. She said she had bled quite a bit at home already. We began preparing to get her to the operating room but we weren’t racing, because we saw just a slow trickle of blood, which didn’t indicate immediate danger to her or the baby.
Then all of a sudden it was as if someone had turned a faucet on. Blood started to pour out. Christine began to complain about feeling nauseated, a clear indication that her blood pressure was dropping. I remembered something I had learned in a seminar sponsored by the National Center for Homeopathy; now it was as if the teacher, M.J. Hanafin, whispered in my ear: “In the case of placenta previa that’s bleeding, Cinnamomum should slow it down and give you time to get to surgery.” I took the remedy out of my kit in front of the whole medical team, told Christine I was giving her a homeopathic remedy, dropped the pellets into a medicine cup, and put them into her mouth while the team went into high gear for an emergency cesarean section.
Within two minutes, the bleeding began to slow down, and three minutes later, there wasn’t even the trickle she had had before. Christine began to feel better, still weak but no longer in any danger. My hospital colleagues stared at each other in amazement and at me in bewilderment. Now we had time to get her comfortably prepared for surgery and to use local anesthesia instead of a quicker but higher-risk general anesthesia. The surgery went smoothly and although Christine’s hemoglobin was down a bit, she needed no transfusions. Her baby was born alert and crying lustily, a little pale but perfectly fine after receiving some intravenous fluids.
Afterwards, the supervising physician confronted me: “What did you slip under her tongue?” I answered, “A homeopathic remedy named Cinnamomum.” He was astounded because in situations like this, he would have expected the baby and often the mother to be on the brink of death. Christine’s sudden turnaround got everyone’s attention that day!
Painful back labor
Wendy was a healthy 26-year-old second-time mom. At 38 weeks of pregnancy she called me at midnight and said that her labor had started with a nagging, lower backache that was becoming worse with each contraction. When I met her at the hospital, she was leaning against the wall while her husband rubbed her back very hard. The stronger the contractions got, the more she wanted him to press on her back.
During Wendy’s first couple of hours at the hospital, her dilation progressed from three centimeters to six, but the pain was relentless. The baby’s head was posterior, which means facing upward and therefore pressing on her tailbone, the source of all her back pain. This position makes it difficult to push the baby out and often leads to a cesarean delivery. Wendy walked around and used the whirlpool bath, remaining on her hands and knees to try to relieve the pain, but without success. Moreover, another two hours later, an exam revealed no cervical change, and the baby remained posterior.
Tiring now, Wendy began to whine and complain, still demanding that we press very hard on her back. I knew that moving her labor along was our priority, even more important than relieving her pain, and I knew a homeopathic remedy that could do it. The location of the pain, her desire for the hardest pressure she could get, and her demanding mood pointed to the remedy Kali carbonicum. I gave her one dose of Kali carbonicum 200c, and within five minutes, Wendy felt the pain ease as the baby moved off her back. The baby had rotated to the more typical anterior position, and with a startled look on her face Wendy exclaimed, “Wow! I’m ready!” Sure enough, the baby’s head was crowning, and in the next contraction Wendy easily gave birth to her 9-pound, 2-ounce baby girl.
Not up to the task
Twenty-nine-year-old Tracy, pregnant with her fourth child, wanted a different kind of birth than she had experienced before. In the past, she had been given epidural anesthesia, had her labors induced with drugs, and had been generally disappointed with the birthing experiences. Throughout her prenatal visits, Tracy expressed her desire to take some control over this birth and to avoid any intervention unless necessary.
Tracy’s pregnancy was uneventful, but as the time drew near she felt more and more trepidation about the birth. By 40 weeks, she and the baby were healthy, but Tracy showed signs of general exhaustion and nervousness. She was very tired and slow moving. She’d had sporadic contractions on numerous occasions over the last week, but her cervix was still barely open. When I asked how she felt about the approaching task, she admitted that she wasn’t sure she could do the job. She said she felt too tired and weak to accomplish what she had set out to do.
Tracy’s body was showing signs of readiness to give birth, but her fear seemed to be getting in the way. Because of her feeling of not being up to the task, I gave her one dose of Gelsemium 200c, which is known as a prime remedy for anxiety in anticipation of an upcoming event, especially when the person is weak and shaky. Tracy had a good dinner and then a nap, awakening feeling more rested and relaxed than she had in weeks. She read her children a bedtime story, and at 10:30 p.m. that night her water broke and she started having contractions. By 11:30 the contractions were regular and powerful. Tracy arrived at the hospital at midnight, and her healthy baby arrived by 12:10 a.m.
At the 3-day post-partum checkup, Tracy couldn’t say enough about the exhilarating and wonderful experience. Gelsemium had helped her through her “stage fright” and the achievement of her goals for this baby’s birth.
Homeopathy changes how I do midwifery even when I’m not giving remedies. One of my most important lessons from the Florida Academy of Classical Homeopathy was the history-taking of a patient, which is far more encompassing than what I learned in midwifery school. To select an appropriate remedy, a homeopath needs information that in conventional medicine is considered peripheral but in truth is central to the whole person. My training in homeopathy increases my ability as a midwife to understand my patients and provide the best overall care for them.
I also love talking with my patients about how homeopathy works and guiding them to explore it. I give out a bibliography of pregnancy and baby books as well as some on homeopathy and homeopathic baby care. It’s an opportunity to talk about how my patients can keep themselves healthy, to let them know that at the end of the day it’s up to them, not me or the doctor. The birth of a baby is the perfect time to take charge of one’s health and set things on the right track for a new family.
Excerpted and used by permission from Homeopathy Today, magazine of the National Center for Homeopathy
[Susan Vaughen, CNM, ARNP, MS has been helping women deliver babies for decades as a labor and delivery nurse, a childbirth educator, a La Leche League leader, and since 2002 as a Certified Nurse-Midwife. She is a graduate of the Florida Academy of Classical Homeopathy and practices midwifery in central Florida]