Natural Birth- Where Are You?

I show a video in my natural birth classes that only consists of squatting births. It is an old but powerful video, in part because you can see NO care providers at the births. Each woman gives birth with nobody assisting or touching her body. She simply squats and the baby drops out softly onto some towels below her. (They are all hospital births so the care provider is there, just in the back round).

What is amazing, and really shocking, about these videos is that they show that the act of birth usually needs nobody but the mother and the baby. You can see the baby twist and turn to exit the birth canal. Baby twists his head, baby turns his shoulders, one at a time, and the baby comes out. Mother pushes. Her body is prepared. She is giving birth NATURALLY.

Does natural birth happen in this country?

It probably depends what you consider "natural." I did a post the other day about "natural c-sections." I have heard moms say their doctor asked them if they wanted a "c-section or a natural birth."

Ummmm- I hate to break it to everybody but having a baby vaginally does not mean you had a baby naturally. In fact, I would go so far as to say that having a baby without pain medications does not mean you had a baby naturally.

I know, I just made myself sound like a heartless witch. Here is the truth- I have had three babies. All were born with midwives. Two were born outside of the hospital. Only one was born without head traction (pulling on the baby to help it deliver). Only one was born without medication for hemorrhage postpartum (I did hemorrhage with one of them, not with the other.) Only one was in my arms for two hours before anybody else touched her. Only once was the cord NOT cut until the placenta delivered.

It looks to me that we have moved so far from natural birth in this country that we don't even remember what it looks like.

We can have a woman induced, strapped to monitors, giving birth in a supine position, and we call it "natural" because she didn't have an epidural. This is ludicrous. It is also an unnecessary cruelty to women, babies and their families.

I had a good friend once who had been a nurse. She believed in natural birth. She thought it was better. Then she had two natural births. Both involved her pushing on her back. Both involved massive tearing. Both involved painful repairs. Guess what, she had epidurals for her other children, in part, because it made repairs that much less painful. She liked the idea of a natural birth, but in practice, it was incredibly painful in the hospital setting.

I love natural birth and love hearing how women preferred their natural births to their medicated births. It really makes me sad when I talk to women who preferred their medicated births. In fact, I almost want to tell them not to say anything to anybody because I am trying to change the way people think about birth.

But the sad truth is, a real natural birth is pretty difficult to come by these days in America. One of the reasons some women prefer their medicated births is because even if they do manage to have an unmedicated birth, it is pretty darn hard to avoid all the other invasive things that are not even considered unnatural, and yet are totally contrary to the normal birthing process.

It is not natural to be surrounded by strangers when you give birth.

It is not natural to have your babies head tugged on as it delivers. (Babies can and will turn and move to exit the birth canal.)

It is not natural to have drugs in labor to speed the process.

It is not natural to have somebody's HAND in your VAGINA while you are trying to relax through contractions or do pretty much anything else.

It is not natural to cut the cord immediately or even within five minutes.

It is not natural for the baby to be weighed on a steel machine.

It is not natural to poke and prod and clean this precious infant for an hour after it is born.

It is not natural to stick plastic tubes up a babies nose when it is born.

It is not natural to be told what position is best to deliver in. A fearless, unmedicated, unhindered mother should KNOW how she should deliver her baby.

In short, we do many things to laboring women that are nowhere near natural, only one of which is, of course, sticking needle in her spinal cord.

Don't get me wrong- I am not saying that women should think less of their birth experience if they did not have one that was as pure as it would be in the woods. I LOVED the births of ALL of my children. Every single one of them was an incredible empowering experience that I wouldn't trade for anything. (I think too many of us focus on the negative things that happen sometimes in birth as with life. But that is another story.)

What is particularly disturbing to me about modern obstetrics though is how we do not even realize what we are doing anymore. We don't realize that it might just HARM the birth process to do some of these things to a laboring woman and her baby. It might slow labor and make it more painful simply to have an unwanted stranger there. It might alter the mother's hormonal state to simply be asked to spread her legs and have an intern check her vaginal "progress" intermittently. It might change the experience greatly when a drug is given to make things happen quicker.

We must take birth back. We must remember first what it was meant to be before we can even do this. We must rediscover NATURAL BIRTH, and then get it. Fight the power ladies. Nobody is going to take this fight up for you.


Kaia/Joey/Orion said…
I love it! I'm having my first , natural birth in "April" when the baby is "due" (letting nature do her thing), and all I've heard from family and friends is that birth sucks. It's sticky, messy, gooey, painful, boring and etc. From what I have read on your blog and some other midwives' blogs is that birth should never be accepted as "boring". It should be an empowering process that will bond baby and mother closer together. I had my DS by c-section 4 years ago, and I felt like that magical moment of giving birth was stolen from me. "You have a healthy baby! What more can you ask for?" is what I heard from everybody. Now, I am taking my next birth in my own hands (so to speak) and I am letting my body do what it was designed to do.

Thank you for being so inspiring!
kariwhite said…
I've had two homebirths without any medications.

One was natural. It was an UC and I squatted and was also on all fours. No one was needed to "catch" my daughter. It was by far the most exhilarating point in my life.

I feel very sad when I realize most women never understand the divine nature of birth and life.
I believe the video you´re talking about is "Birth in the Squatting Position" it was made by a famous Brazilian doctor, Moyses Parciornik. The interesting thing is that HE learned about natural birth while assisting indigenous women. He was amazed at how they would have 10+ natural births (out-of-hospital of course) and have strong healthy pelvic floors (duh! no episiotomies! no supine births). His son, Claudio Parciornik, has continued the work of squatting birth in Brazil. Sadly, Brazil has one of the highest c-section rates in the world. Even still, women can have undisturbed births if they truly want to. I did. In a city were 8 in 10 women are having c-sections, I had a lovely birth, caught my own baby and had 2 wonderful midwives to watch over us.
Jen said…
Oooh Kaia/Joey/Orion, you're in for the experience of your life! I've had three births - one hospital with lots of cascading interventions (but thankfully not a c-section), one "natural" (read drug-free) in a birth center, and one truly natural birth at home where nobody touched me or my baby (except for my husband) until his siblings woke up to meet him the next morning. It absolutely changed my life. Keep up the good work here!
Mama Birth said…
Thanks ladies- and yes that is the video- great one-
I know what you mean about people not really understanding natural birth. My mom keeps telling people I had a natural birth, when I have to keep telling her I had pitocin, and no, it does not count as "drug free", I really start to get annoyed!
whitney said…
If you feel strongly about this topic I think that's great. That's what's for you. But it's not what is for everyone. I have loved all three of my birth experiences in the hospital, both with and without epidurals. I have absolutely no desire to have what you call a "natural birth". From what other commentators have said - "It should be an empowering process that will bond baby and mother closer together" "I feel very sad when I realize most women never understand the divine nature of birth and life" These things are still possible with a hospital birth, even with an epidural. My best friend contemplated a home birth with her second. The doctor said from what he could tell everything should go smoothly at home. In the end she opted for the hospital, and without an emergency c section and numerous blood transfusions she and her son would have been dead.
If people opt for a natural birth at home, or even with a midwife or doctor that's fine by me. But I think they need to understand the risks they are taking by doing this. Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, including those of us who choose to have a hospital birth with all the interventions and drugs. Because that is what is important to us.
After all, a baby is the ultimate outcome either way.
Side note, I'm a registered nurse in pediatrics and maternal care. And I work VERY hard to make my patients feel that I am not a stranger to them. They CHOOSE to have a baby in the hospital after all.
Avtar Ram Kaur said…
I think it's really unfair to say that a healthy baby is the ultimate outcome.

That is a given, from the moment that line shows up on the pregnancy test. That is the bottom line, basic requirement of all women who want to have a baby.

And sometimes those babies aren't healthy, right? Sometimes, no matter all we can do, a baby dies, or is incapacitated in some way during birth or during gestation.

But what about the mother, the person who is responsible for caring for that child? Do we not matter? Is our desire for a fulfilling experience just superfluous? I don't think so.

I had an emergency c-section with my 2nd (prolapsed cord) and ended up with postnatal depression because of the stress of the labour and delivery. At the time, I said that I didn't care what happened as long as the baby was ok. But now, I certainly care that I had PND and can't remember my son's babyhood. I mattered. My birth experience mattered.
Mrs. H said…
What a great post! Every birth has such incredible value - I desire that every mother has the birth of her choice, and that she is also informed as to what choices she even has!

I am still on a giddy high from my beautiful home birth, even though it was ten weeks ago. I even wrote "born at home" on our birth announcements because I felt that it was such a huge part of the identity of the birth.

When my son was being born, I heard many kind, loving words from my husband, and my midwife. But the best words I heard all day? "Andrea - pick up your baby!" I was the one who carried him for 41 weeks, delivered him, picked him up from the towel beneath me, held him, and nursed him.

If I ever say otherwise, my midwife reminds me that she helps catch babies ... she does NOT deliver them!