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I Say Classy Things About "Natural Birth"

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During “Best of” Week, a discussion was generated over Molly Remer of Talk Birth’s post called “What to Expect When You Go to the Hospital for a Natural Childbirth.” The question that came up was “What is a natural birth?”

Good question.

I don’t know.

I jumped in the discussion and proceeded to have a very, very busy week with minimal internet time. Yesterday I stopped in my tracks and asked myself, “Did I really write ‘blow it out your ass’ on the Facebook Fan Page?”

Indeed I did.


“Natural birth” remains a catch-all phrase but it’s really not the most accurate when talking about working to make sure that a range of options is available to women in the perinatal period and that women are treated respectfully and with honesty. Plus, the term carries with it a few generations of baggage. I sometimes fall back on it, too, just because… I don’t know.

My views on natural/normal are focused more on what would be the best health care decision. I guess it would be looking at what the body would do if uninterrupted. Then add needed interventions that are in the best interest of the laboring mother-baby dyad. Set that as optimal in terms of health. Then factor in patient preferences such as pain relief and anesthesia, noting that sometimes these are included in with the necessary interventions depending on what’s going on.

As with any transition in life and potentially unpredictable event, birth opens itself up to lots of spiritual, philosophical and mystical beliefs. Frankly, I can’t think of events more powerful that sucking in that first breath of air and exhaling the very last. In the last century, we’ve seen the burden of producing a psychologically perfect child heaped on the mother and that belief also worms its way into discussions of birth. I do my best to avoid that when talking about the health benefits of avoiding unnecessary surgery. To me, birth is a beautiful event and it’s really, really amazing when women know their rights, understand what is happening, are treated respectfully, are supported in being as close to their baby as they want to be and letting “nature” unfold under a trusted and watchful eye. If “nature” isn’t going as planned and intervention is needed or wanted, I believe that most women will welcome needed interventions (or wanted interventions) if they are treated respectfully and can trust that they are receiving accurate, honest information.

However, with defensive medicine in action, who can you really trust?

Anyway, I don’t like having spiritual beliefs and judgments dumped on me anymore than the next person. If you’re going to tell me that the fentanyl I took made my birth spiritually flawed or my daughter is less of a child of the universe or whatever, I’ll tell you to blow it out your ass. You can work your spiritual beliefs out for yourself. But if you tell me that fentanyl has some crappy side effects that they don’t tell you about and has the potential to compromise fetal health and could delay bonding if that’s important to me, I’ll listen. Because that’s true. THAT is natural birth advocacy and education to me. But the whole natural! birth! makes! superior! humans! mindset freaks me out on many levels. Know what I mean?


So now I have two questions:

How do you define “natural birth?”

Did Fentanyl actually relieve any pain for anyone? Because THAT WAS THE WORST EXPERIENCE OF MY LIFE. The pain magnified but I was too doped up to do anything but moan, grunt and writhe around. Thankfully it wore off, a kind nurse set up the squat bar and I got active. I didn’t realize until after my second birth that birth doesn’t have to leave you feeling like you got hit by a bus. Except for maybe your tailbone.



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Reader Comments (23)

You did write "blow it out your ass" and it ROCKED! As do you ;-) I still want to write about this topic on my blog as well. Not sure when I'll have time, but I did save what I wrote on your FB page just in case I could use it...

September 29, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterMolly

Strangely enough we were discussing what "natural childbirth" means today at work. I will be part of a panel in Oct and Nov in my community on natural childbirth. It is being run by midwives and they wanted me there because I experienced a highly medicalized birth/C-section and a VBAC with midwives. I will be there to share my experience and answer questions. I hope to god I don't tell any participants to "blow it out their ass," even though I think it is hilarious that you said that!

September 29, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterReality Rounds

more like the vagina (for blowing it out)

September 29, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterNaomi

You go- unnecesaerean- keep telling people to blow it out their ass. Why is it in child birth there is sometimes a complete departure from reasonable thinking! Choice in childbirth is our perrogative. (no Bobby Brown jokes please) The goal is safe birth for all any way they so choose. Can you please link to this ass blowing out comment? I need a good laugh.

September 29, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterCC Jen

Natural birth is one that starts on it's own and proceeds without intervention. Natural birth is most healthy for mom and baby, and I believe most emotionally fulfilling for mom as well. I don't, however, think that it creates spiritually advanced children. More easily attached, maybe, but that is very different than somehow different spiritually.

September 29, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterKristin

So many people define the term in so many different ways! I've heard some women say that a particular birth wasn't "natural" because the midwife suggested a position change or something, rather than the mother doing everything -- and I mean *everything*. Others use the term as any vaginal birth, or at least any vaginal birth w/o forceps or vacuum. When I use it, I mean birth without drugs of any kind, particularly pain meds. But most women who get pitocin will get pain meds anyway, although I always give extra kudos to women who have had Pit w/o an epidural or other pain meds. But I don't get anal about it. To each her own!

September 29, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterKathy

Fentanyl - I loved the stuff. I wish I'd stayed with it a little longer instead of getting the epidural. But I also am a freak of nature who responds VERY WELL to medications other people hate. If there is a side effect 1% of people get? I get it. If 50% of people hate something? It rocks my socks.

See also: the lovely lovely epidural that dulled the contractions pain, let me feel when to push, and allowed me to feel my son come into this world, and I was up walking on my own in less than two hours and felt like a million freaking bucks (physically.)

That being said? My son was so stoned when he was born and my overall birth experience was so traumatic I still have nightmares. I will be attempting a drug free birth this time, in a new setting with a new doctor, if I don't just stay home with a midwife.

And I think when my family and friends say "OMG YOU HAD HIM AT HOME ARE YOU INSANE?!" I will tell them to blow it out their asses. ;)

September 29, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterSasha

I can't define "natural" birth, but what you said is pretty much how I would define "ideal" birth:

Basic bodily functions that, assuming health, are going to happen even if we don't do anything
+ Loving and knowledgeable support from caregiver(s) / partner(s) of the woman's choice
+ Any interventions that are NECESSARY to ensure the health and safety of both mother and child, with informed consent and without coercion
+ Any reasonable (reasonable meaning no going out to score the mom some coke or anything, LOL) interventions that the woman WANTS, including information about what she's trading for her preferences (ie, side effects, risks) so she won't be surprised or feel cheated later

That sounds so simple, doesn't it? Plenty of room for everyone to choose to birth their own way, no need to feel guilt when actual medical intervention is required, support for all. And yet it seems like a lot of hospital births don't meet ANY of those criteria. Natural functions are preempted by doctor-elected, often coerced, inductions and cesareans. Loving and knowledgeable support is replaced by contempt from doctors and generations of female friends and relatives with extremely limited understanding of birth. (Which is not so much their fault as the fault of generations of doctors passing out half-truths and misinformation.) Mothers are told that anything and everything is necessary, while informed consent and personal preference are trampled under efficient hospital policies. Fun.

September 29, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterMichelle

I guess I would define natural birth as one in which pain medications were not used. If a mom has pitocin but no epidural or narcotics, I would say she had a natural birth.

I don't know if that is a "pure" natural birth, but I would call it natural. Or maybe I would just call it un-medicated. Though there was medication used, just not pain medication.

Hmm, I agree it is not easy to define. Why must we define birth anyway?

September 29, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterSheridan

I remember Jennifer Block wrestling with this one in "Pushed" as well. If I recall correctly (I don't have it in front of me), she too concluded that the term "natural" was losing its meaning - though she definitely found it exasperating that, in so many contexts, "natural" is becoming synonymous with "not a c-section". Epidural, Pit, cEFM, IV, purple pushing on her back, as long as it's vaginal, it's natural! AY CARAMBA.

Block suggested using more accurate - and just plain relevant - terminology for what WE (meaning us birthy folk here) generally mean by 'natural': spontaneous, physiological birth supported by expectant management (as opposed to the hospital status quo "active management"). I like this. but it's not going to become the colloquial replacement for natural anytime soon. Not very catchy.


September 29, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterDou-la-la
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