Monday, September 20, 2010

Why Natural Childirth is Not Important

My goal is not for everyone to have a natural birth. Of course I believe that, in cases where everything is going smoothly, mothers and babies will be safest if medical intervention is avoided. However, there are times when things go wrong, making intervention necessary (though it is important to remember that not everyone's definition of "necessary" is the same). Holding an intervention-free birth up as The Ideal Birth sets a woman up for failure if complications occur, which is something she has no control over.

I recently followed an online discussion among student doulas about the use of the term "cesarean birth." Some women wanted cesareans to be recognized as births and some women felt that a cesarean is never a birth because it removes the mother from physically participating in the birth process--since birthing is a verb, and a women having a cesarean is not acting, but being acted upon, it can't be a birth. This lead me to re-examine my definition of what birthing entails.

What does it mean to give birth?

When we use to birth as a verb, we are usually intentionally distinguishing to birth from the more traditional to deliver. In the sentence, "The woman birthed her baby into the midwife's hands," the woman is the subject, actively performing the verb. However, if we were to say "The midwife delivered the woman's baby," the midwife becomes the subject of the sentence, implying that delivery is something the care provider does and not the woman. Yes, words really do have power. Once could say one of the purposes of birth education and advocacy is to help women be empowered to birth their babies instead of having them delivered.

It is true that part of the power of an unplugged birth is that women's bodies are in control and not the machines. A birth without immobilizing pain medication, in which the mother can use positions that are comfortable to her, is truely birth in which the mother is "active." But is natural childbirth the only birthing?

If a woman becomes exhausted and decides she wants an epidural to help her relax and get some rest and goes on to push her baby out, we still call it a birth, even though she needed the help of medical professionals and drugs. Some would say, "Of course it was a birth, it was vaginal." But what if that same mother has her labor slow down and needs pitocin to keep her contractions going and isn't able to push effectively with the epidural and chooses to have the doctor use a vacuum? Is the mother still birthing the baby? Is that really much different from a mother choosing to have the doctor perform a cesarean when the mother feels it is medically necessary?

To birth refers to what a mother does to bring her child from her womb into the outside world. Now, does her body have to do this all by itself in order for her to participate in the process? Not necessarily. I believe birthing can be about more than just he limited definition of pushing your baby out. Being actively involved in your birth can also include deciding that your body needs help from a professional, medications, instruments, or yes, even surgery, to bring your baby into the world. In such cases, the birthing is not in the pushing, the birthing is in the choices. I believe that if it is the woman's choice to have a cesarean--she actively decides that enlisting surgical help is the best way for her baby to come into the world, then she is still giving birth.

Natural childbirth is not important. A woman being involved in the decisions about the medical care of her and her baby--that is what is important. Helping women avoid feeling assaulted because they were not involved in what happened during their births--that is the goal. What I do--this blog, becoming, a doula and childbirth educator--that is what it is all about.


  1. Having a baby removed from your body by others while you are immobile is a baby-ectomy, not a birth. I won't argue with women who for whatever reasons want to call it a birth. But I don't want anyone to force that label on ME, since I have both given birth and had a cesarean, and know the difference.

  2. Anonymous--I strongly believe that women should be free to define their own birth experiences. If you don't consider your cesarean a birth, that is your right. I do not doubt that your experiences were different, just as my experiences of an epidural birth and a drug-free birth were very different, also.

    My purpose in writing this post was to explore the language, (since language in general, and particularly in describing birth is of interest to me) and consider a different way of defining "birth" so as not to automatically categorize all cesareans, by definition, as cases in which women are robbed of "giving birth" as the empowering rite of passage experience that birth advocacy seeks to promote.

  3. Brittany, thank you for this post. I just read an article on why epidurals are bad for you and it just makes me sad to see some people argue so fundamentally for natural childbirth in generalizing terms. I have had both, a natural all drug- and intervention-free birth and a birth with an epidural (and still very active pushing) because of the circumstances. I think it is more important for women to make an informed choice than have a natural birth under all circumstances! That's why I totally agree with you.

  4. I love this. I agree with you, I think the most important thing is that a woman is educated and makes the choices for herself...she needs to be an active part of her birth, she needs to own it. While I prefer natural childbirth because of the obvious benefits, I also understand that birth means different things to different people. I appreciate you putting it into perspective for me.

  5. wow. I am so glad I found your blog! I am your newest follower!

  6. Thank you for this. I hoped and planned for a water home birth and was instead in the hospital having a c-section at 43 weeks following four days of induction. I carried a lot of guilt for not having a natural birth, that somehow I failed or did not 'give birth' - I am lucky to have a doula who has the same philosophy as you do - birth is as individual as the person or people involved. I felt my baby leave my body during the section - it is possible to be an active part of the birth; there are choices within the choices.

  7. Anon: what should my children have instead of a birth certificate? Life came from my body. I have birth, and get very angry when anyone suggests I didn'

  8. Katy Teasdale OsteopathyJune 20, 2018 at 3:51 AM

    Thank you for this courageous post. I'm a paediatric osteopath specialising in the treatment of newborns, children, teens and pregnant and postpartum women. I'd love to see more on prevention in general. This means mother-baby connection and communication. This means following intuition as a woman and a mother, above all else. It means conscious living when having sex and conscious conceiving. It means knowing your body and your baby (foetus and even embryo) and what works for YOU. The value of calm in pregnancy is undervalued: t's priceless and far more important than the early postpartum period. It means not moving house, not overworking, moving but not straining, eating vitamins and minerals in real, local whole food and connecting with your partner/nature/yourself in pregnancy. <3