What is natural childbirth anyway?

Most people who subscribe to a midwifery model of care aspire to natural childbirth.  This term has become quite problematic, however.  It used to be clear – a woman who had a natural childbirth did so without pain medication.  But what about fetal monitoring – is that natural?  What if it is intermittent?  How about an IV?  If Mom is GBS positive?  Can a woman who wants a natural childbirth give birth in a hospital?  If she is at home, can she have a midwife present?  What about a friend or family member there to assist her?

Let’s go even deeper.  Women in certain world communities often have very poor chances for a healthy pregnancy, due to poor sanitary conditions, no antenatal care and prevalence of disease.  If we immunize these women, is that natural childbirth?  What about if we clean up their water supply, making their drinking water separate from their latrine?

Because of the squishy term of natural childbirth, many birth professionals and birthing women have started to use the term “unmedicated childbirth”.  I find this term great for women who have made it through childbirth without drugs- they are proud of the accomplishment, and rightly so. For some women, experiencing a drug-free birth can be a profound rite of passage that can open doors in many areas of their life, immediately and years down the road.  They learn they can do anything.

But what about the women who plan a birth with very few interventions (to lessen risks to themselves and to their baby) but did feel that they needed pain medication?  Don’t they deserve bragging rights too?  Some women who are rape or sexual abuse survivors decide that they cannot go through childbirth in pain and in a birth trance for fear of triggering painful memories when the occasion should be filled with joy.  Is it not a brave choice they are making if they choose an epidural or a cesarean birth to mitigate what could have been a horrifying experience?  How about the women who plan an unmedicated birth but go hours and hours through a tiring labor and never progress past 1 or 2 centimeters, and have to make the tough choice to see if an epidural can relax them enough to progress and thus avoid a cesarean birth?  What about women who have serious medical risks and they feel they are taking less risk for their baby if they make the decision to have an induction?

I’d like to propose a new definition to the term “natural childbirth”.  Natural childbirth is doing anything that comes naturally TO YOU during birth.  There are requirements – you must deeply explore and really listen to what your needs and desires are for birth, and do the work to understand where any fears are coming from, release the fears if possible and mitigate them if not.  You must get answers to your questions and weigh your risks diligently including whatever personal needs you might have.  You must stand up for your Self during birth with whatever attendants you chose if necessary.  You must be open to change and whatever the experience of birth brings you.  And you must come to peace with whatever decisions you made in the moment of your birth, and realize that even if you might do things differently later, you did the best with what education and information you had at the time.  And you cannot – absolutely cannot – tell another woman that the choices you made for you are the only choices she should make for her.

Even with all the statistics and studies laid out in front of them, a highly medicalized childbirth might be natural to one woman.  Nothing less than unassisted childbirth might be natural to another.  We don’t know all the reasons they need to make the decisions they need to make – only that they need to be the ones to make them.
So.  midwives, doula sisters, obstetricians, and most of all, women — let’s just all get along, okay?  Let’s do what comes natural and love and support each other and the women we serve.

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2 Responses to “What is natural childbirth anyway?”


  1. 1 Kaitlin October 11, 2007 at 11:28 pm

    brilliant revision of a term whose definition desperately needed some refinement. you nailed it! let’s hope that acceptance can spread as quickly and as far as judgement ever has….


  1. 1 In reply to “2 sides of the story” « AmericanMum Trackback on February 4, 2008 at 5:18 pm

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