Unassisted Birth – Part One

My wonderful friend @toniraquel sent me the book Unassisted Childbirth by Laura Kaplan Shanley because I am planning a freebirth, or unassisted birth after cesarean, with my next child.  She considered it interesting, but knew most information in it, and having read it, I can definitely see how 98% is just review.  And the remaining 2% can be perceived as crazy ramblings if you aren’t a radical birth nut like myself.

Freebirth is considered a crazy thought by even most people that work in the birth community.  It is seen as dangerous, not thought out, and people just spout more and more fear at you.  People have told me that I am going to kill my child, that they only support freebirth if the people prepare and most don’t, that so much can go wrong, and it always just comes back to their own fears and how they want to send them onto other people.  You can’t make other people’s choices for them, and if women are going to freebirth, they have done their research and preparation, they have let go of their fears so they can follow their instincts and have the best birth for them.

This book, since most was review to me, wouldn’t really be much more than anti-hospital and even anti-midwife dribble to most women.  And yet, that isn’t what this book is about.  This book is about educating women and men on another way to birth, with studies and authors and research proving why it is safe and a good option for women.  It isn’t crazy.  It isn’t brave.  It is just another option for women to choose.

This three part post will be my semi-review on the book, plus my views on freebirth.  Part one and two is all the review I read in the book, and then the third part will be the crazy drivel most women can see me spouting ;).

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Medical intervention is based on the belief that childbirth is inherently dangerous.  When we choose to believe otherwise, any sort of intervention or assistance becomes unnecessary. – Shanley, xvi

I am always amazed at how far my beliefs about birth have come.  I used to love different childbirth classes, the way homebirth midwives handled birth, that a vaginal birth was what to strive for no matter how it was attained.  I have definitely changed from this.

I think the biggest change for me has been the idea of intervention in birth.  Every time a medical professional does something in labor, they are intervening in a natural process.  Breaking your water, checking your cervix, giving you an IV for fluids, strapping you to a bed for monitoring, forced pushing, suctioning the baby at birth, rubbing the baby at birth.  It may seem okay since you might be having a natural, unmedicated birth, but every little thing done TO you, even if you want it, is considered an intervention.  It isn’t normal for the body to be disturbed during labor and delivery.  Every other bodily function happens in private, childbirth shouldn’t be any different.

Childbirth – an even that should idealy reinforce a woman’s sense of power and autonomy – has now become a painful, dangerous ordeal that often ends up reinforcing the belief she is indeed a helpless, dependent child herself. – Shanley, xvi

Childbirth was never something to be feared until it was taken over by men.  Until it became dirty, and we were strapped to our backs.  Childbirth was a natural thing for women, and depending on the culture she either birthed alone, or in the company of other women supporting her.  Most of their labors were short, rarely had any problems, and took place in the comfort of home, or outdoors, again depending on their culture.

Childbirth was normal.  Childbirth was natural.

On a more aesthetically pleasing level, giving birth can be compared to painting a picture or having an orgasm.  It is more a matter of allowing it to happen, rather than making it happen. – Shanley, 23

When you try to control a process, especially a natural biological process, it doesn’t happen like it is supposed to.  It can stall, stop, receed, and then providers worry and control the process even more with drugs and surgeries.

Chidlbirth has become something so terrifying that women are scared of the pain.  They are told they are overdue if they go past their due date.  They are allowed to schedule inductions and cesareans for no reason other than they are tired or they don’t want to ruin their vagina.  They can numb the pain of labor and delivery because they are told it won’t affect their baby.  They are told that their body might not be able to birth a baby through machines and not human interaction.

Women have become purely patients and no longer women.  They are told what to think about labor and delivery, and if they go against that, they are punished.  Many are court ordered into inductions and cesareans.  They are dropped from the practice days before their due date.  They have procedures like stripping of membranes without knowing it.  They have their water broken to be put on a clock for delivery.  They push flat on their backs.  They are medicated.

The fact that the mother may have been drugged at birth and didn’t herself necessarily (or consciously) view the experience as traumatic doesn’t mean the child was unaffected.  To the contrary, say some psychologists, the drugs actually add to the trauma of birth. – Shanley, 38

When you drug yourself, you are truly hurting yourself and your child.  Whether you know it or not.  Yes, there are times when medication and drugs are necessary during labor and delivery, but they are few and far between.  They are being used to the point of addiction in our country.  When you are first pregnant, it seems that most people tell you to get the drugs and not be a hero.  They are the saviors from the pain of childbirth.

These drugs have made it even easier to control women.  Instead of having a woman wandering the halls of the hospital, she is in bed with a belt across her waist.  She is disconnected with the process and therefore with her child.  She is told all that matters is a healthy baby.  And until something happens that opens her eyes, she believes this.

Birth trauma, because of a highly controlled system, happens more often than we would like.  Even the necessary things in this system can leave trauma behind.  Major surgery to have your child can leave lasting scars.  Especially if your child has to be in a NICU because of problems associated with the birth or before.  PTSD is common in NICU parents, and PPD can occur more frequently from women with controlled births and disconnection with her child because of this.

Unfortunately, an unpleasant experience doesn’t end simply because it is no longer physically occurring.  The fear, shame, and guilt associated with a traumatic birth creeps into every aspect of a woman’s life. – Shanley, 42

Almost three years out from the birth of my daughter, I am still feeling like my body failed and I failed myself and my child for not researching.  It creeps into every aspect of my life.

I was submissive, and I have myself for it.

Sometimes I hated the birthing women for being powerless.  Sometimes I wanted to shake them, yell at them, insist that they stand up for themselves.  But then I’d feel the pull of an undertow; I’d feel them wanting us to abuse them: I’d feel them pleading for the repetition of the pattern in their lives.  My fury would die.  I’d realize that I’d been angry with them because they didn’t want my respect. – Penny Armstrong, A Wise Birth, 117

I see these women, lying down to birth their children.  Watching television while everyone watches the monitors to show her body is working.  To show that her baby is okay.  They don’t want to be involved.  They want to be passive participants in their births.  They want to sit there and be apart from the pain and their child.  The two are synonymous.  The child’s birth is causing the pain, and therefore it needs to be numbed and ignored.

Often I don’t like the women I’ve delivered.  I don’t like them for their submissiveness…. For me, the submissiveness of one woman becomes my own, as though we were all one organism.  Their imprisonment adds to my own sense of powerlessness in this hospital. – Michelle Harrison, A Woman in Residence, 129

We as women are all considered one person now.  We are put into averages and charts instead of treated on a case by case basis as we should be.  We are all treated as the same.  That we will all dilate at the same rate, that will we will all push our children out at the same rate, that we will all be okay with being told what to do.  That we as women are all the same, as are our children.  There are no individuals, just pregnant women giving birth to more children.

If we are to succeed in childbirth, we must stop viewing physicians, or even midwives, as our saviors.  They are human beings – no more, no less.  We are our own saviors.  Isn’t it time to exercise our courage and take our lives into our own hands? – Shanley, 52

Will we as women take back our right to birth our own children?  Will we ever truly believe that our bodies were made for this and it isn’t something to be numbed?  Will we, as women, ever believe that birth isn’t dangerous and we can do it without saviors for our children and ourselves?

Will we ever have true faith in ourselves?

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3 Responses

  1. Great post Kayce! I agree 100% with everything you said. Even though the beginning of the book was a review of things we already know, it still got it’s point across. Once you accept that our bodies are made to birth, you are able to understand that the only thing keeping you from birthing your baby is you. It might sound a little extreme but I believe birth is like 98% mental and 2% physical. It’s all about getting ourselves back to that tribal mentality, where we are in-tune with our instincts. Which was what I loved about this book! It was a little hard on midwives but midwives also can interfere with the process and get in the way of women trusting themselves instead of trusting a “professional”.

  2. I’ve been reading TopHat’s blog (itsallaboutthehat dot blogspot dot com) for years as well as mama-is dot com and Hathor the Cowgoddess and ever since we’ve been TTC, I’ve wanted a homebirth with midwives. More recently, I’ve been wanting a freebirth or unassisted birth. My body knows what do to – I do not want to end up on MyOBsaidWhat.com posting crazy things doctors say to laboring mothers!

    But I have severe stage 4 endometriosis. When I get pregnant from my first IVF this month (I’m thinking positively here), with several surgeries literally under my belt, I will be classified as high-risk. As much as my heart and soul want an unassisted homebirth, I don’t think I get to chose homebirth. For me, it’s a medical condition that makes me not very eligible for homebirth this go-round.

    Hopefully I’ll get pregnant again naturally in a couple years, after nine or ten months of pregnancy, plus extended/toddler breastfeeding, give my body a break from the endometriosis. Then I would like to give birth at home.

    After four years TTC and the grief that accompanies infertility, I’m surprised at how much more I’m even grieving the loss of homebirth. My body has already been so medicalized with surgeries and Lupron and here I have to have a medically sterile birth too.

    My doctor has had midwives in his office in the past and is seeking to hire more midwives. I think he understands that birth is natural. But he’s already cut into me several times – I’m afraid he’ll, think, “What’s one more incision?”

    I’ve been a doula at local hospitals and I think I know which ones are more mother-and-baby-and-breastfeeding-friendly than others. But it won’t be a homebirth. They’ll still try to restrict me to no eating, to stay in bed with a monitor, to have an IV chaining me to a pole; there will still be strangers wanting to put their hands inside my body whenever they want. They will still write “difficult” on my patient chart when I decline frequent cervical checks and refuse an episiotomy.

    I’m going to go back to my happy place now and stop fussing about things I can’t control. 🙂

  3. I agree with everything, and I’m a big fan of home births and midwives. I’m a big fan of hands-off and trust birth.
    But I know that they can’t happen for everyone, because many women do have conditions or situations or pregnancy-related complications that need monitoring or quick access to emergency equipment or expertise.

    So I just don’t know if I think unassisted or freebirth is always a good idea. You can trust birth and bodies implicitly, and something could still occur that you would need assistance with.

    What I’m thinking of is birth in the past and birth in developing nations. In the natural birth community we praise the women who get to labor where and with whom they’re comfortable, according to their culture, and that women used to know that childbirth is completely natural for us. I do it too. Its important to keep in mind that even though throughout history and in other cultures women knew that it was natural there were still a lot of complications that arose that they didn’t foresee and many women died (and still die) as a result. And they’re women just like us.

    I know that obstetrical emergencies do not happen with as much frequency as many women and medical professionals think, and that they can usually be foreseen. But what if something occurred that you really, actually, couldn’t handle or knew nothing about to even make a decision?

    So while I think any form of childbirth is the personal choice of each woman, and I’d try not to impress my personal fears on anyone, and even though I want to birth at home, I don’t know if I will ever be a fan of unassisted birth. But I’m interested to read all your posts on it!!

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