That's right… the natural birth hoax. Plain and simple! But before you rally against me and boycott my website, please, hear me out. Birth is a super emotionally charged subject, but it's one we need to talk about.
It's Just Natural
You hear “birth is just natural” all the time. I've been going back over my own website, updating some of the articles, and find myself shocked at just how many times I wrote that! Being an advocate for women, birth, and especially healthy babies for over a decade now has shaped my perceptions on things in an amazing way.
I have so much respect for the pioneers of the natural birth movement – brave women who helped bring birth home, and to a humane level. Families fought to bring dads into the birth environment (again). It has been a good and worthy fight.
But leaving women with “it's just natural” is wrong.
Yes, birth IS natural. Your body WAS designed to give birth. But telling a woman that “birth is just natural” and “just trust your body” is really equivalent to putting her in a kitchen and saying “just trust the appliances.” What do you *do* in there? How do you *use* this fancy equipment? If you use a stove the wrong way, you'll get burned. And if you use your birthing body the wrong way, you're probably going to get burned, too.
I know the analogy loses its value taken too far… but my point is, we need to become skilled, or at least competent in the basics to work in the kitchen. It's the same with birth.
Low, Medium, and High
You can tell somebody – the stove has a low, medium, and high dial. But what does that really mean? How does that help me cook? What do I do with each of those things?
You can tell a woman “labor has a first, second, and third stage.” But how does that really help her?
You need more than that. You can have all the information in the world about the stages of labor and still end up with a birth experience that makes you weep (and not with joy).
It's not enough to just give women information about how labor works. You can't just tell her the stages of labor and various interventions she may face and expect her to walk off into the sunset to have a wonderful birth. She needs to know what to do during those stages. She needs to know what to do if she faces those interventions.
Light and Power
We say to women that birth is powerful, amazing, enlightening. It's a awesome experience. It is. Really. I've had five babies and all of their births have been empowering, fantastic experiences. Birth can be exhilarating and yes, some women find it painless. Some find it pleasurable.
But holding that up as the gold standard for natural birth is wrong.
The truth about birth is that it's hard work. Usually, it's painful.
There's no shame in that.
It's hard to be balanced — how do you let a mom know that birth can be completely pain free and enjoyable… yet still let her know that her experience can be amazing, fulfilling, and empowering if she feels pain. She doesn't have to enjoy every minute of it.
I find myself feeling caught up in conflicting opinions about childbirth. Some say that you should focus on the pain and relieving it (or even removing the pain, as modern medicine tries to do with drugs). Others say you should re-write the birth/pain paradigm… that if you take pain out of a woman's belief structure, she won't experience that.
Could it be that both of these opinions are off-base? Is there a way to validate that some women will have a pain-free, enjoyable experience, while some may really work hard and may experience some pain? Can one labor have the experience of both???
I think the answer to the above is “yes.” You can affirm a woman's desire to experience the raw power and joy of bringing forth a new life in ecstatic pleasure while you also affirm her sister's desire to go deep into the hard work of birth and the pain that may come with opening yourself to the co-creation and birthing of new soul. Both are deeply satisfying, even spiritual experiences. The woman who feels pain isn't robbed of her experience — and the woman who births free of pain isn't somehow cheating her way out of a painful rite of passage.
Both birth experiences are valid.
Where Does That Leave Us?
When I say “us” I mean us as birthing women, us as a society supporting birthing women, and us as the entire industry of professionals helping birthing women in any capacity (obstetricians, midwives, nurses, doulas, dieticians, educators, “been there, done that” mamas, and so forth).
It's obvious that birth still needs change. Practitioners still need to realize the inherent wisdom in the body, and leave women free to listen to that wisdom as they birth their babies.
But we also need to stand up and support every birthing woman (and family) with practical, usable skills. There are many such skills out there — and I think so many of them are valid. Discovering tension and relaxation, and developing control of them is vital… no matter how painful or pain-free your birth is.
I feel like the discussion of pain, however, needs to move away from removing pain for the sake of removing pain. That's where modern medicine went wrong. Pain isn't always bad, and sometimes it's your body communicating something. Sometimes moving away from the pain of birth means working against your baby. Sometimes you need to explore the pain, find the reason “why” — and move into a position that opens you for your baby.
What's really needed in natural birth is an open mind to support opening. Support skills and age-old wisdom that teaches the mom to get deep into labor and open, working with her baby. Don't teach her pain is bad and should be drugged or counter-pressured away. Don't teach her that pain is simply invalid conditioning from a society hostile to birth.
Teach her to open, to welcome birth. Learn to welcome the experience you get — honor the dance your baby wants to dance on his or her way to your arms.
Part of this is lofty and ambitious… to teach a world that's forgotten what hard work looks like and what sacrifice feels like be open to how much hard work and sacrifice are intertwined in the epic dance that is one baby's birth. Part of it is dead practical… to teach moms and families skills that they can take and use for their unique birth… that they can apply to embrace, open, and welcome their new baby.
This just barely brushes the surface of a topic close to my heart. A single exploration of an journey of epic proportions. I, personally, help one mom at a time, impacting her life and her upcoming birth in what I hope is a powerfully positive way. Others are called to a wider reach, to touch society with ideas that rock tradition to its very core.
I think all of us, especially birthing women, need to come to realize that “natural birth” and “trusting birth” aren't about walking forward blindly simply trusting nature. Nature has truly given us a great gift in the female body and the dance of the mother-baby. But we have also been given wisdom, empathy, storytelling, and the ability to teach. These gifts need to be combined with the awe-inspiring power of a laboring woman so we can move away from drugged denial, blind trust, pointing fingers, and butting heads… and toward better birth for moms and babies everywhere.
Toward births where women don't just have their amazing body to work with, they also have practical wisdom to go deep into their own experiences of birthing their babies.
Toward an experience where both the body and the mind come together and open for the epic entrance of a new soul into this world.
love it. i strongly agree with you on this
I totally agree with you on this. While reading I couldn’t help thinking, Yes birth is natural, but we as a society have lost the knowledge that makes it so. In traditional societies knowledge about pregnancy, childbirth, and. breastfeeding were passed from the older women to the younger in an endless cycle. When the medical establishment took over these things the knowledge was lost and thankfully we are now beginning to get it back. Thank you Kristen for being part of that regaining of knowledge.
good write up! andI’m a UCer