For me, natural birth has almost always been less frightening than the “hospital” aspect of birth. Although the mechanics of birth were once daunting to me, I was fearful most of all about the idea of being in the hospital where I would be under the control of doctors and nurses who would decide things about my body and baby, and I would be helplessly at their mercy. This sounds dramatic, but unfortunately, it’s not far from reality for many women.
OBGYNs can be respectful, wise, gentle, and comforting, I’m sure. Yet in most stories I hear, they are not. Instead, they pressure pregnant women into making choices that are not what is best for them or their babies. They encourage fear with negative language, and they push for practices that they prefer, even when they are not evidence-based. Likewise, I know that hospitals can be pleasant places, with kind and caring staff. Yet they can also be rigid places that treat patients impersonally and enforce unnecessary policies that end up causing unnecessary stress or harm on mothers, babies, and loved ones.
These issues seem to stem from the basic idea that pregnancy and birth are medical problems, which need to be treated. The truth is that pregnancy and birth are a natural and normal and healthy part of a woman’s lifecycle, if she so chooses. Women don’t need to be saved from this process. We need to be empowered, to remember that our bodies were created to do this!
Viewing birth as a medical issue encourages the use of unnecessary interventions. When medical “authorities” start intervening in the natural birth process, women’s bodies are less able to cope. Interventions lead to more interventions, and ultimately, increase the likelihood of unnecessary cesarean sections.
The most common interventions I hear about are labor induction and augmentation, and the ever-popular epidural—both of which increase the chances of having a c-section. Health care providers induce labor, or speed it up, using methods such as sweeping the membranes, manually breaking the water, or administering Pitocin. In many cases, there is no need to rush the birthing process, and these interventions are unnecessary. Forcing the body to birth sooner or faster than it naturally would can place extra stress on the mom and baby, making the birthing time longer and more difficult. This can lead the mother to request an epidural, when she may have been able to cope just fine if her birthing time had been allowed to proceed naturally.
Using an epidural can cause labor to stall or slow down. Often times, health care providers then respond by adding or increasing Pitocin. This adds even more stress to the mother’s body and to the baby. Not only that, but the epidural eliminates the possibility for the mother to push in a more optimal position than from her back. Birthing while laying on your back is one of the most challenging ways to push a baby out, compared to squatting, hands and knees, kneeling, or even side-lying. As a result, it will often take longer and be more difficult to push the baby out with an epidural. Because the mother is numb, she also cannot feel the sensations which would normally lead her to push. This means she must be coached, and must push “blindly.” All of these issues add up to a more difficult birth process. And of course the longer and more difficult a birth becomes, the more exhausted and defeated a mother may feel, and the more pressure she will receive from the doctor to go ahead with a surgical birth.
The cycle of interventions is a brutal one. One of the benefits of natural birth is that it removes this cycle from the process, enabling women to trust their bodies and birth the way they were created to.
Although I am passionate about natural birth, I also want to make a few comments about medical birth. I am by no means a “hater” of c-sections, doctors, and hospitals. These tools are life-saving for the small percentage of women and babies who truly need them. And there is absolutely no shame in having a c-section, or any other intervention, when it is necessary. The important thing is that mother and baby are healthy and safe!
Even when interventions aren’t necessary, I would never want to shame a woman for choosing to use them. Ultimately, every woman must choose for herself what she wants to do during her baby’s birth. I only want to encourage women to explore the possibilities of natural birth, to learn about the benefits, and to become empowered through their choices. We do not need to approach pregnancy and birth with fear or dread or helplessness. We can be confident, strong, and powerful when we trust our bodies. They were created so incredibly and beautifully!