Update 12/16/11 – I understand many women don’t have the option for whatever reason to pursue a natural birth OUTSIDE a hospital. My opinions below also go for those pursuing a natural birth inside one! I simply talk mostly about home birth/out-of-hospital because that was my personal experience.
The conversation inevitably goes like this:
Concerned family member/friend/stranger (CFMFS): “In what hospital will you be giving birth?”
You: “Oh, I’m not. I’m planning a natural birth at home/in a birthing center.”
CFMFS: “Ha. We’ll see how you feel once the contractions and pain set in. Plus, why wouldn’t you want every available medical equipment/expertise there ready for you in case of a complication?”
CFMFS: “When are you going to be induced?”
You: “I’m not. I’m going to let nature take its course and go to the hospital when the baby’s good and ready.”
CFMFS: “Well, you know they don’t let babies go past 39 or 40 weeks anymore. It’s just not good for the baby or the mother. Besides, 37 weeks is full-term.”
CFMFS: “Why would you choose to endure all those hours of pain? They have medication for that now. Besides, epidurals don’t hurt the baby.”
You: “I want the full birth experience. And in fact, epidurals and induced labor can hurt the baby. They are correlated with a higher rate of c-sections, too.”
When I started telling friends and family that I was planning a natural birth, I was shocked and disappointed at their reactions. I expected them to be happy for me and proud, even, but that wasn’t the case. Most would say something negative about how much it was going to hurt or about how “if their so-and-so hadn’t been in a hospital, she would have died.” My own mother wasn’t even supportive of the idea at first – but her reasoning was totally valid and sweet. She told me that she didn’t want me to have to endure the pain, and that as a mother, she never wanted any of us to have to suffer. That made sense to me (unlike most of the other arguments against my choice). But still, I was determined to convince her – and everyone else – that my decision was for the best.
First, though, I had to understand where they were all coming from. Through the course of my pregnancy, birth and even now as a mother, I’ve realized naysayers’ arguments against natural child birth usually have nothing to do with the expectant mother. Instead, they are usually dealing with their own cognitive dissonance between what they’ve always believed and reality.
From my observation and reflection, here are the reasons so many friends/family/strangers disapprove of natural birth plans (and why many women who think about going naturally end up abandoning their plan):
They care about you. This was the case with my mother. She sincerely didn’t want me to have to undergo the pain of childbirth. And of course, since I had never been through it, I had no idea what it was really going to be like. There is no way to describe the pain of childbirth to someone who hasn’t experienced it for themselves. It hurts. Like a bitch. For a long time… But then, you have this beautiful little baby, and all is (mostly) forgotten.
There were moments during the birth of Harper when I swore to myself and my husband I would never do it again. But now, I can’t wait. I believe that an uncomplicated and natural childbirth is 100% worth the hours of pain. There are many statistics out there that correlate an increase in c-sections and other drastic measures with induced labor and epidurals, but for me, it was more about the experience. I wanted to feel that ultimate release when she finally emerged into this world, and I wanted to share those sacred moments with her and my husband.
Plus, this indescribable pain is different than the pain from, say, smashing your finger or breaking a bone. It’s natural. It’s beautiful. And it has a positive outcome. My husband used to laugh when people would say birth is “empowering.” But ya know? It is empowering! I feel like my sacrifice of enduring that pain for one day in my life was absolutely worth it for my own well-being and the well-being of my baby. The absolute best moment of my entire life was when Harper finally made her way out of me and into the world.
They are scared. It’s only natural that those who care about you and your baby would want you to be safe. They’ve probably heard all the horror stories about backwards babies and small hips and, you know, the infamous ultrasound that PROVED so-and-so was going to have a 14-pound baby (and that she would undoubtedly need a scheduled c-section). DON’T GET ME WRONG. I know that things can and do complicate childbirth. But you know what? Most (90-something percent) of childbirths are TOTALLY WITHOUT COMPLICATION. So why are 30+ percent of women having c-sections these days?
You got me.
Oh wait, I forgot: Money. The almighty dollar. For-profit hospitals. Don’t believe me? Then watch The Business of Being Born. And while you’re at it, buy a copy (or refer people to it on Netflix) for everyone you know.
Okay, so I digressed. Back to explaining why people are scared… So we’ve been taught in this country to believe that women’s bodies can’t do what they’re naturally designed to do. And we’ve been taught that giving birth in a hospital gives us access too all the available medical equipment/expertise should any complication arise. Well, guess what?! Did you know that hospital births
sometimes often create unsafe situations that could have been avoided had the woman given birth at home or in a non-hospital setting?!
Think about it. Woman starts getting contractions. Woman goes into hospital. Woman is checked and found to be only 2cm dilated. Woman is given pitocin to speed up labor. Pitocin intensifies contractions so that woman can no longer stand them. Woman is given epidural to numb the unbearable pain. Baby’s heart rate fluctuates because of the undue stress being placed on it by the unnatural induction of labor. In addition, woman fails to progress because woman is lying on back with feet in stirrups. Doctor warns woman that baby is in danger if she doesn’t opt for a c-section. Woman doesn’t want to hurt her baby, so she goes along with it. Baby is cut out of woman and whisked away to the NICU because of all the trauma it underwent.
…and then the stories ensue about how the woman and baby would have died had she not had a c-section. Right.
And the best part? The hospital gets to bill the woman’s insurance company not for a natural, uncomplicated delivery, but for a much more costly c-section done in a fraction of the time. Oh, and don’t forget the baby’s week in the NICU and mom’s extra couple days in the hospital after the surgery. Grand.
If you don’t believe that birthing out-of-hospital is potentially even SAFER than birthing inside one, check out this peer-reviewed article from the Canadian Medical Association. It’s not just some random blog post (like mine, hehe) or opinion piece.
Which leads me to my next reason why people disapprove of your natural birth plan…
They are misinformed. I have never been able to figure out why so many people seem to take doctors completely for their word without even blinking an eye. Doctors are fallible, too – just like pastors, lawyers, teachers and everyone else. They make mistakes. They have agendas. And their hospitals have shareholders with million-dollar marketing plans and pharmaceutical kickbacks. Yes, really!
I’m not saying there aren’t some STELLAR doctors out there, but here’s the thing: when it comes to your health…and the health of your unborn child…you should question everything! Here are some of the common myths about childbirth that are proliferated by the medical community:
- Hospital births are safer (not true – see this previously mentioned article).
- Home births/out-of-hospital births with midwives are archaic.
- Midwives don’t have the appropriate medical training to deliver babies.
- Many women end up needing c-sections.
- It’s unsafe to go beyond one’s due date.
- Labor hurts too much without an epidural.
- Epidurals don’t hurt babies/mothers.
- Pitocin doesn’t hurt babies/mothers.
- C-sections don’t hurt babies/mothers and are often even better for moms/babies.
- Breech babies can only be delivered in a hospital.
- Breech babies don’t usually turn on their own.
- “Big babies” are dangerous to deliver outside a hospital.
- Some women just don’t have “birthing hips.”
In most cases, all the bullet points listed above are just plain false. Again, I am completely aware that there are situations when hospital births and interventions are 100% necessary. But usually, they aren’t.
I think the items above that bother me the most is that people believe that inductions/pitocin/c-sections don’t affect babies and mothers. Ahem, how many women do you know who’ve had trouble breastfeeding their babies? A ton, right?! Now, I’m not saying this is ALWAYS the case (again, I know there are exceptions), but I tend to think that pumping a woman full of an artificial hormone (baby, too) when her body should be allowed to do all that on its own could be a primary culprit. Babies born naturally and who are allowed to immediately go to their mother’s breast almost always latch on and begin sucking (and therefore avoid future breastfeeding problems). Mothers and babies who aren’t allowed the natural flow of oxytocin (the NATURAL inspiration for pitocin) tend to have problems both with bonding and with breast feeding.
The body is a pretty fabulous machine, you know?! It works really well when you allow it to do its thing!
They are jealous. Okay, I know this one is going to get some people riled up. But hear me out. When I say “jealous” here, I don’t mean that in the hateful sense. I just mean that as a result of so much misinformation out there, many women have been duped into thinking their bodies are incapable of birthing naturally. As a result, they blindly follow their doctors and end up having negative birth experiences or feeling potentially shorted by the whole thing – like they missed out on some spiritual experience with their new babies.
So, I think that when mothers hear about other women who are committed to the natural route, it naturally makes them feel a little bit jealous. Remember our good friend cognitive dissonance? People naturally seek out confirmation for their currently held beliefs. So when a woman who was previously convinced that the hospital was the only way to go is confronted with a woman who is doing things radically different than she is, the woman feels a sense of discomfort. Add to that the fact that the new information she’s hearing suggests that going naturally might be a more positive experience than hers, and jealousy rears its ugly head.
It’s not a personal thing. And the jealous person isn’t evil. It’s just natural. Like childbirth.
They are weak. Too many people are afraid to march to the beat of a different drum. I’ve even heard of women who wanted a natural birth with a midwife, but who were afraid to tell their lifelong gynecologists their decision. Okay, well, I booked a checkup with my gyno six weeks after giving birth to Harper just to let him check to be sure everything was back to normal. I was very apologetic for not using him for my delivery, but he didn’t sweat it. In fact, he congratulated me for going naturally and said everything looked great. And you know what? I was stitched up after birth by a student midwife. He was quite impressed by her handiwork.
So when I say people are weak, what I mean is that people are afraid to challenge those around them, and they don’t want to put themselves through exactly what you’re going through right now if you’ve read this far. They don’t want to have to explain time and time again to friends and strangers alike why they’d like to experience a natural childbirth. They don’t want to tell their partners that the hospital isn’t for them. And they certainly don’t want to see the disdainful eye of their OBGYNs when they opt to go a different route.
Stop the madness! And get informed! You are a smart, powerful and caring woman who is perfectly capable of making your own decisions about your body and your baby. In fact, I’d argue that a mother’s intuition is the absolute best thing you have going for you right now if you are pregnant. If you want a natural birth, stand up for yourself and the health of your baby. I honestly don’t know a single woman who had opted for a natural birth and regretted it. But on the other hand, I know dozens of women with horror stories after hospital births.
Birth can actually be quite lovely – I promise. OH, and, there is just something quite magical about eating a burrito just a few hours after giving birth while lying in one’s own bed next to a sleeping newborn. Take it from me.