Recently I read a fantastic article about natural childbirth that really excited me and made me glad to be planning one: The Most Scientific Birth Is Often the Least Technological Birth. Then I scrolled down to view the comments, which I don’t recommend doing, because it left me feeling frustrated, disgusted, and honestly quite shaken by the strength and depth of people’s vitriol. To sum up quickly, some people strongly feel that all birth should happen in a hospital with an epidural and supervised by a medical doctor, while others strongly feel that all births should happen naturally at home. The whole long comment string bothered me enough that I wanted to respond.
For thousands – heck, millions – of years, women have been giving birth naturally. This is a fact, because otherwise we wouldn’t be here talking about it. Before the advent of modern medical technology, childbirth was a dangerous endeavor: there was always a percentage of women who could give birth naturally and healthfully, and a percentage who had serious trouble. These percentages vary depending on the region and culture, but overall, childbirth was feared because you never knew until you got there whether you’d die. And what modern technology has done is to remove that fear and uncertainty by making childbirth safe for those for whom it would otherwise be dangerous. This is an amazingly wonderful thing. However, there is still, as there always has been, a percentage of women for whom a natural childbirth isn’t dangerous, and to insist on applying the same technology to this group, simply because it helped the others, is to introduce costly medical procedures that may not be needed, won’t necessarily help anything, and might introduce complications. That isn’t to say that the women who need those things shouldn’t get them – I have friends who are alive today with healthy alive children because of modern medicine, which I’m incredibly grateful for. But for some women, if it’s working all by itself, why change it?
I’ve been lucky enough to have a completely normal pregnancy so far – very low-risk. Considering that I’m a vegetarian yoga teacher who practices meditation, it probably won’t surprise you to learn that I’ve planned for a natural childbirth with a midwife. I still worry about the birth – what first-time mom wouldn’t? – but I have confidence in my caregivers, in the birth center facility I’ve chosen, and in myself that I can deal with the pain. I honestly feel less scared by the idea of doing it naturally than I do about the idea of having an epidural. Personally, I feel like a natural birth is the right choice for me; yogically (because this after all is a yoga blog), I feel like a natural birth fits in well with my other life choices. In a natural birth setting I’ll be able to be in touch with my body, to move around as I need to, to let my body lead the process, and I’ll be able to control my responses to pain and manage my pain with my own mind. This path seems to fit in well with the yamas and niyamas and other tenets of yoga, which I truly believe in and follow as best I can.
However, believe me, if there’d been any indication whatsoever that a natural birth could harm me or my baby, I’d be making different plans. What’s more, my birth center would immediately refer me to a specialist if any complications came up. My birth center has a very good record (approximately 500 births per year with a c-section rate of only 10% or so), but they know their target audience (healthy women with uncomplicated pregnancies), as well as their strengths and limitations. The health of mother and baby is most important, so my midwife won’t hesitate to send me to someone else for my care if a complication arises, or, if something happens during the birth, to transfer me to a hospital. That’s why my birth center is located right across the street from a major hospital with an excellent record of maternity care, so that if any problems arise during the birth, I can be transferred quickly and efficiently for whatever services I might need. The idea of a home birth really made me nervous – for trivial reasons (like worrying that I’d spend the whole birth worrying about who’s going to clean up the mess) and for more substantial reasons (that our home is 10-15 minutes away from the nearest hospital, which is not a hospital known for maternity care). Using a birth center seems like the perfect choice for me, because it will allow me to have a natural birth in a comfortable setting, attended by experienced professionals, with proximity to all the wonders of modern technology if I need them.
So, going back to that original article, I think that the people making virulent comments about the cult of natural childbirth are not exactly accurate. My experience so far has been that my midwives and nurse practitioners are all eminently reasonable people, knowledgeable and well educated in their field, and worthy of being trusted to put my and my baby’s health and safety above anything else. No, natural childbirth isn’t for everyone – and two months from now, depending on the circumstances, it may even turn out that natural childbirth isn’t for me. But technological interventions aren’t for everyone, either, and each woman should be able to decide for herself in conjunction with her caregiver about what path is best for her.
(In commenting, please remember that this is a personal blog and I reserve the right to delete any comment that I feel is rude or derogatory. Thank you.)
Hey Roxanne, I support your decision. I had my first baby at home (maybe you know that…), and the last three at a birth center with a midwife. It was a wonderful experience each time and I didn’t need any drugs. Childbirth is unfortunately a highly charged issue, but I believe that the right choice is the one the mom in question feels the most comfortable with. People should NOT erode a new mother’s confidence in her decision. It’s her business, her choice.
You are gonna do really well! It is such an exciting experience. YAY!
Thank you, Beth! I would have guessed that you did it naturally with your children – thanks for sharing your story. I’m feeling really good about the plans we’ve made.
Really well said. I think some people have it stuck in their heads that midwives are witch doctors or something, and that they aren’t affiliated with any medical establishments/practices. I recently had someone ask me if I was nervous about giving birth at home because I mentioned I’m working with a midwife, and I had to explain that no, I wasn’t because that wasn’t what I’d be doing, etc. (partly because I am totally with you on the “but who would clean up the mess” if I gave birth at home, and partly because all the midwives I’ve found here are affiliated with hospitals, which is where I’m most comfortable in case I need medical intervention).
I think your last sentence gets to the heart of the matter, which is that the situation is different for each woman, and she and her caregiver should decide what to do without judgment from outsiders. The sort of judgment you mention from those comments is the kind of thing that makes women second guess themselves and feel guilty if their births don’t go exactly as planned, or encourages them to act superior to others who had a different birth experience. That isn’t helpful or productive for anyone.
To a certain extent, giving birth is like actually raising the kid: you have to go with the flow, and ignore the jerks who tell you you’re doing it wrong because you didn’t do it their way!
Exactly – the situation is different for every woman. No matter how fervently I support something, I’m never going to say “Everyone should do this” becausepeople are all different and it’s not going to work for every single person. That sort of thinking drives me nuts in any situation (others I can think of that have bothered me recently include sizist statements assuming that all “obese” people must just be lazy and the assumption in the book Skinny Bitch that it’s healthiest for everyone to be vegan when in fact lots of people can’t stomach soy milk, including me).
In the area of childbirth specifically, everything is very intense and emotional, and nobody should be judged or lectured for her choices. I’ve seen friends internalize all kinds of guilt because the day didn’t go perfectly according to plan. I felt that way about my wedding day for a long time and it sucked, and I can only imagine that feeling that way about the birth of a child would be even worse. But with a wedding or a childbirth, there’s only so much you can control, and like you say, eventually you just have to go with the flow.