Unassisted Birth: Part Six

You can read Part One, Part Two, Part Three, Part Four, and Part Five first if you wish 🙂

Hopefully this is the last official segment, I have really loved writing it, and sad to see it end.  I will continue to post about Unassisted Birth (freebirth) but not in this series/review of the Laura Shanley book.



In the very beginning of her book she discusses the tribal mentality of birth.  Where does your mind turn to when I say tribal?  My husband told me to use a different words since tribal normally means third world and sub-par when in fact it just means a sense of community and maybe not the same first world beliefs we have now.  It doesn’t mean they are less advanced or civilized, it is just a tight community with the same beliefs and structure, and they do what works for them.  Nothing derogatory, and sometimes looking at these tribal communities can open up so many eyes and minds about why birth is so misunderstood in our culture and not theirs.

Many people have heard stories about women in less technologically developed cultures giving birth quickly and easily as well.  A friend of mine was actually in Korea in the 1960s said he saw a pregnant Korean woman working in the rice fields one day.  She walked over to the edge of the field, squatted down, caught her baby, strapped it on her back and was back picking rice minutes later.  Several people watched the birth from a distance, but no one helped or interfered in any way.  She did it quietly, by herself. – Shanley, 4

I have heard a lot of stories like this.  Grantley Dick-Read was called to the birth of a lower class woman in England, and he saw she had no fear, no pain at all.  He asked if she was feeling pain, and she responded back with a question of “Is it supposed to?”  Ever since I have wondered if it is just our idea of pain that makes labor painful.

Women in these “third world countries” and tribal communities don’t birth in pain.  They know when their labor starts and when it is time to push, but never is it in pain or fear.  It is just something they do.

In the Amish community, it is the same way.  Some do have midwives attend, like the Amish community outside The Farm in Tennessee, but they are homebirthers.  Penny Armstrong wrote in her book A Wise Birth:

I was struck by the casual, comfortable movements of the women laboring in their kitchen and giving birth among the quilts.  Having based much of my assessment of myself as a practitioner on my ability to respond swifty and accurately to emergency situations, I was undone by the infrequency of the need for me to display my masterly strokes.  Birth appeared to be another animal out in the country.  Labors were shorter than I was accustomed to.  Pain appeared to be less severe.  Cuts and tears fewer.  Hemorrhage controlled.  Babies did not need my suctioning devices or my tubes pressed down their throats; they gurgled when they were born and began to breathe.  Their mothers took them to their breasts and nursed without much complication.  If problems did arise anytime during a birth, most of them appeared to resolve themselves in short order.  I had an eerie sense of unreality.  The births had no only power, but grace and simplicity.

I am always amazed when midwives have never seen an unhindered peaceful birth.  That is the point they are there.  And when they suction baby, rub baby, even just touch baby, they are hindering this process.  Same with the mother.  Just leave her alone to her instincts and birth.  Just let her be!

S. Boyd Eaton, in The Paleolithic Prescription, wrote about a typical birth in !Kung san village in Africa’s Kalahari Desert:

A woman feels the initial stages of labor and makes no comment, leave the village quietly when birth seems imminent – taking along, if necessary, a young child – walks a few hundred yards, finds an area in the shade, clears it, arranges a soft bed of leaves, and gives birth, while squatting or lying on her side – on her own.  Unusual even for other hunters and gatherers, solo birth for !Kung san women is nevertheless an ideal : 35% of women attain it by their third birth and the majority do on subsequent births.  Showing no fear and not screaming out, they believe enhances the ease and safety of delivery.

As I said in Part Four, fear slows labor by taking blood away from the uterus.  It also increases pain because the uterus isn’t receiving oxygen.  It truly is just another muscle.  Screaming closes everything and tightens it, thus also causing more pain.

Judith Goldsmith discusses similar stories in Childbirth Wisdom from the World’s Oldest Societies. She compiled accounts of scientists, anthropologists, and historians who had observed tribal birth for over 400 years.  In most of her compilation she notes that the majority of tribal women deliver their own children.

There are numerous societies where women gave birth with no assistance at all.  Among the Chukchee of Siberia, for example, where babies were born with little trouble, the birthing woman attended completely to her own needs and those of her newborn infant.  She cut the umbilical cord and disposed of the placenta herself.  During the birth, the only other person present was an older woman, who aided the mother in the case of absolute necessity … The Fulani woman of Africa also birthed without expecting any assistance, catching the infant as it was born in her own hands – Goldsmith, 23-24

How wonderful would it be to just “be” during labor?  Not have to worry about anyone else in the room but yourself and your child?  To attend to your own needs?  To truly let go of all your fear, and just do what needs to be done, painlessly and unhindered?

Goldsmith also stated that infant mortality, although a little higher than our infant mortality didn’t occur during childbirth.  It occured in the first year of life mainly from malnutrition.  The births were rarely fatal to mother or infant.

A visitor to North America in 1641 wrote that the natives were rarely sick in childbirth, nor did any of them die either during or after the birth.  Another observer noted in 1884 that accidents in childbirth rarely occurred.  A physician who spent eight years living with the Canadian Indians reported he knew of no deaths from childbirth.  People who observed tribal births in Fiji, Uganda, and Argentina also claimed that death during childbirth was rare.

Complications normally associated with pregnancy and childbirth are usually quite uncommon in tribal societies.  A man who observed the Arikara of North Dakota during the 1930s noted there was no tubal or abdominal pregnancy, no placenta previa, no eclampsia, and no premature birth (except in case of an accident).  Phlebitis (inflammation of a vein) only occurred after tribal women became exposed to more “progressive” cultures. – Shanley, 7

Most of the fears in pregnancy are along the lines of things never seen in tribal culture.  Placenta Previa being a big one.  I know I wanted to get an ultrasound to find out if I had previa, just to make sure.  Another thing is premature birth.  So many babies are born prematurely.  Yes, most of them survive, and I am so glad we have the technology to help them.

However, we are hurting ourselves.  Back in the day, women that couldn’t birth, didn’t.  Women that had premature births didn’t pass on the genes for it.  Women who couldn’t get pregnant didn’t get pregnant.  When technology stepped in, we saved many of these babies, and have made our species weaker.

Tribal women didn’t have issues like this because they didn’t have worries or cares.  They had to stay strong to survive.  They didn’t fear that birth was painful or that bad things would happen.  They just did what was necessary to have their baby.  And they did it alone.

The tribal women, in a sense, has a consciousness that lies between that of the animal and that of the modern Western woman.  Her births are successful for several reasons.  She has not yet developed beliefs in fear, shame, and guilt, and therefore is free from their devastating consequences.  In addition to this, like the cat in the closet, she is generally left alone.  This privacy not only allows her body to perform its task easily because it is unhampered by outside interventions, it also allows her psychologically to reconnect with her inner self.  The inner self speaks to her – just as it does to the Western woman – through her dreams, impulses, and intuition.  The difference is, she listens. – Shanley, 9

Dreams can be important.  They can show you problems that might arise, or show you what your innermost fears are.  A woman could dream about having her baby come out through her stomach, and not realizing that is a fear or a thought, pushes it aside.  Most of these women end up having cesarean deliveries from this unknown fear.  Going with our intuition, our dreams, and our impulses can make a painless birth and one that is absolutely perfect for mother and baby.

Birthing without medical assistance is accomplished not by some willful eccentricity, but with the natural strength and sanctity that issue from unbroken trust in the process of life.  Enablement comes from doing, merging inspiration and action into a whole… The roots of fear are manmade, but the roots of intuition go deeper than that; following one’s heart unfetters the potential to become an artist in the greatest sense of the word. – Stephen and Kathy Lanzalotta, Two Attune

Letting go of manmade fear can not only open you up to a better option, but can open your entire life up to more beautiful things.

Autonomy means independence.  The term is generally used by social scientists, theologians or psychiatrists to refer to the individuated, self-actualized or authentic human being, a self-governing and self-defining person, subject primarily to his own laws of being and deeply sensed goals and values.  This does not mean that autonomous individuals reject social customs out of hand, but rather that their focus of control, their reference point for decision making, rests within… Autonomous persons consciously author their own lives. – Marsha Sinetar, Living Happily Ever After

Being your own person can helps so much in your life.  You can make your own decisions, you can be your own person.  And in birth, you can do only what you need to do.  You don’t have anyone to impress, you don’t have anyone to let down, you can do things how YOU want them, not how anyone else does.

Solitude, it appears, may actually be beneficial to the laboring woman.  When she has no overly concerned observers to “comfort” her, she can be free to look within herself for support and direction. – Shanley, 107

You can truly do what YOU need to do.  Not be told what works, and what may not.  Just follow your own wants and needs.

As with (Michael) Odent, (Pat) Carter believed a woman should obey her instincts and seek seclusion – not out of mistrust of others, but rather out of a trust for herself. – Shanley, 111

Many people would think that birthing alone is unfair to the father, and unfair to the mother if something goes wrong.  Autonomous birth isn’t about cutting anyone out.  Autonomous birth is about birthing the least painful way and how you want to birth.  Not having anyone watch, not having anyone telling you what to do, or worrying and messing with the vibes of labor.


Giving birth autonomously, as Carter states, does not necessarily preclude the presence of others.  What’s important is that the laboring woman follow her instincts and give birth in the way that she desires. – Shanley, 111

And the best part is that when a couple is truly in it for each other, they aren’t individuals.  They are a couple.

When the mother-to-be is alone with the baby’s father and he seems to really share the emotions, leaving our world at the same time as his wife – a scene that would have been considered unbelievable fifty years ago – it is also possible that the birth will be too long away or too difficult.  In this case, once more, nobody behaves like an observer.  It is not the woman who is giving birth; it is the couple. – Michael Odent, The Nature of Birth and Breastfeeding, 23-24

The couple is together in the labor zone.  Completely together.

When all is said and done, however, birth is still a solitary act – one individual giving birth to another.  True, we are all parts of a whole, but we are individuals nevertheless.  Only when we lovingly accept and embrace our individuality can we truly perform miraculous acts.  – Shanley, 112

Birth is about bringing another person into the world.  No one but the woman can do this if she has a natural, unhindered delivery.  It is all her.  Yes, some women love support and providers, but to have a truly painless delivery, it needs to be about her.

This book opened my eyes to so many new ideas.  I am more open to Freebirth than I ever was before.

Women need to know there is another option out there for them.  They need to know that birth isn’t supposed to be painful.  They need to know that the fears of others and their beliefs are what makes it painful and a “trial”.  Labor isn’t supposed to be hard.

We need to get back to the tribal mentality.  We need to instinctively believe that it is possible to have a beautiful birth.  Only then will we be able to have truly beautiful births where no providers are needed.  Only then will we be able to birth our children in confidence instead of pain.

We need to let go of our beliefs.

Can women in the United States truly let go and have the painless births that were meant to be?  Let go of the worry and anxiety that something will go wrong?

Will we ever get to that point again?  Or have we come to far trusting science rather than ourselves?


For more information on Laura Shanley, visit her site

You can also follow these great tweeps on twitter: @tophat8855 @toniraquel @birthroutes


5 Responses

  1. Very interesting post. It seems extremely ironic that perhaps the best way to tweak maternity care in this country would be to empower women and leave them alone. I doubt I’ll ever have an unassisted childbirth but it’s still very relevant ideas for birthing in a hospital or at home. If every woman went into their labor knowing her body was powerful and not a lemon, we wouldn’t have such high maternal mortality rates.

    • Or induction, cesarean, instrumental deliveries, etc. It goes more into than just mortality. I love how it can all stem into other parts of maternity care, and also life. Believing you are powerful and worth something can change you for the better 🙂

  2. Part 7 needs to be a post about your revised birth wishes. I am dying to read a post about your ideal birth. So, since you haven’t done much writing in the past few days, you should get on that 😉

    Btw, Great post. It’s amazing what our bodies are capable of.

  3. Wow! What a nice review/synopsis of my book! I will pass this on to my lists. Best of luck with your birth, Kayce!

  4. The psychology of birth has always fascinated me, this book is on my least as a MUST READ before I even attempt to conceive my first child.

    As I haven’t read it yet I haven’t got much to add, but your review and (and my impression) Laura’s book have confirmed something I have felt for a long time. This is that men and women lost they way to existing in harmony and working through their difficulties long ago and this has now been replaced with among other detrimental things, patriarchal capitalism and industrialisation. The medical management of reproduction and female health is maddening and of a huge concern to me being a young woman of child bearing age as well as a prospective mother to a daughter. For me it started with refusing to use chemical ‘birth control’ (oh the true irony of this name for contraceptive, just hit me!) or having annual pap smears and will probably end with me having a free birth. But this is still one of my ongoing internal debates at this point because the idea of a low interventionist spiritual midwife attended home water birth has become my ‘dream’ birth scenario but now I am having visions of telling everyone to actually leave the room during the final stage of labour!

    Anyway thank you again for sharing vital information and passing along true wisdom, there really isn’t enough of this going around these days.

    M 🙂

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