Do You Trust Birth?

trusting birth

After a few comments made on our facebook page, I feel I should clarify that this post is not intended to cause offence, or to ‘bash’ true natural birth advocates.  When I talk here about trusting birth, I am talking about the kind of blind trust that leads women to take ridiculous risks, as well as encouraging others to do so based on incorrect facts and the assumption that birth can be trusted no matter what.  This post was never intended to discredit those who have worked so hard to try to erase the modern-day fear of birth.

Do you trust birth? I don’t. But apparently, Trusting Birth is kind of a pre-requisite to being an advocate for natural, gentle birth. If that’s the case, perhaps I should hang up my Birthie Hat. The thing with birth is that it cannot be trusted completely. Yes, it’s natural. Yes, it’s beautiful. And like everything in nature, it doesn’t work perfectly 100% of the time. Many advocates for natural childbirth would argue that the reason why birth doesn’t work perfectly 100% of the time is because the complicated birth isn’t/wasn’t unhindered. They would also argue that women, if given space and time to listen to their bodies, will know if and when something is going amiss, so that they can seek medical help.

The above sentiments sound terribly romantic, and I can see the argument. But please, think about it – In what world could birth possibly be unhindered for most women? In what world do women not have to deal with any stressors in their lives that could possibly complicate a birth? Furthermore, blaming birth complications on the birth not being unhindered is pretty unfair to the mother, who may well already be feeling guilty that her baby didn’t get the gentle welcome to the world that she had planned. Many of us seek to compare humans to the animal kingdom – well, animals and their young die in childbirth too.

Childbirth is not inherently safe for any mammal on the planet. Complications in normal, low-risk, not-interfered-with birth are rare, but they do occur. Not every complication is due to somebody else’s interference – sometimes it just happens. Any good midwife will tell you that.I am all for natural birth. Do it at home, in the hospital, in a birthing centre, hell, you can do it in a forest if you want. I am all for erasing the fear that is instilled in our society about birth. Fear has no place in birthing. What I am not ‘for’ is blatantly ignoring the fact that sometimes birth DOES go belly up and that it’s not necessarily anybody’s fault. It makes me hopping mad when people pretend that high-risk pregnancy and birth doesn’t exist, and that everything is just a variation of normal.

Risk factors do exist. This is why I just cannot advocate for unassisted birth. I just can’t do it. I will always, always defend a woman’s right to choose to birth unassisted but it’s just not something I can get on board with myself. It just doesn’t seem to be worth the risk (but of course, I know nothing of other people’s situations. If someone chooses to birth her baby unassisted it really is no business of mine).

I think the phrase “Trust Birth” is to natural birth advocacy as “Breast is Best” is to lactivism. At best, it is unhelpful and inaccurate. Breastfeeding is normal, the physiological standard, not “best” – and birth is normal and natural, and therefore not 100% infallible; we are not machines, after all.

Sometimes, things don’t go to plan. Mother Nature is an unpredictable animal. That doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t trust our bodies – we absolutely should. A complete lack of faith in and fear of the female body is, in my opinion, causing a lot of the problems we see in our world today. Having said that, it wouldn’t hurt anyone to have a little more respect for the process of birth.

Having respect for the beautiful, incredible journey our bodies go through to bring our babies into the world doesn’t mean throwing caution to the wind and simply hoping that everything will be fine, any more than it means micro-managing it. We must ask ourselves, if birth can be wholly trusted, why was there ever a need for midwives? Why did those wise women of days of old oversee the births of the villagers? It is likely that these midwives were doing exactly that – overseeing.

They probably would have stood back, allowing the birthing woman as much privacy as she desired. They would only have stepped in if the woman appeared to be in trouble – and as she would have witnessed many births in her time, she would know what she was looking for. In all honesty, I think the phrase “Trust Birth” is to natural birth advocacy as “Breast is Best” is to lactivism. At best, it is unhelpful and inaccurate.

Related Post: What trusting birth means to me

Breastfeeding is normal, the physiological standard, not “best” – and birth is normal and natural, and therefore not 100% infallible; we are not machines, after all. And, most prominently, it’s yet another stick for mothers to beat themselves (and each other) over the head with. If you’d only Trusted Birth, it would have been fine. Well, to anybody reading this who feels (or who has been made to feel) as though it is their fault that their birth didn’t go as it “should” have, heed this – IT WAS NOT YOUR FAULT. You can prepare yourself, read reams and reams of empowering literature, have a great doctor or midwife, hire a doula and all that jazz… and birth will still be birth. Birth will still be that beautiful, intoxicating wild animal worthy of individual respect.

We continually talk about how our doctors just won’t treat us like individuals and yet we don’t treat our births as such. Birthing 2 babies without drama doesn’t mean the 3rd will be drama-free, just as 2 prior intervention-filled, trauma-inducing births doesn’t mean the 3rd will be devoid of calm. Each baby is different, and so each birth will be different also. I don’t trust birth, and I don’t fear it. I respect it. I trust my body to work as best it can in an individual situation and with an individual baby, and I trust my midwife to look after our best interests; keeping us safe and doing her best to allow us to have the experience we desire, also. What do you think? Can birth ever be trusted?

Image: leoboiko @ flickr

Comments

  1. Carina says

    Totally, totally agree. ‘women, if given space and time to listen to their bodies, will know if and when something is going amiss, so that they can seek medical help.’ – not all women, no matter how much they read up and prepare, can be fully ready for birth, especially a first-time mum. They may not have the slightest idea what is going on with their body during labour and birth if they have not experienced it before (or even if they have – as you said, no two births are the same). I think you’ve got this one spot-on. Now I must stop reading your blog-posts because they make me want to get pregnant again…..

    • says

      Thanks so much for your feedback, Carina! :)

      (and I totally know what you mean. Writing it kinda makes me want to get pregnant again, too. Oops! lol.)

  2. says

    I do trust my own body to know how to birth a baby, but I also realise that sometimes complications happen. Had I delivered my son unassisted, he might not be here today. For this reason, I would never give birth without a midwife present, though I do hope to have a homebirth next time.

    I think it’s good to have faith in yourself, but it’s also very sensible to have help at hand.

    • says

      Absolutely Becky. That’s my point. For me personally, and for many others, it just feels way too risky to give birth unassisted. idk… it would kind of feel like crossing the road without looking first. You’ll probably be fine but you’re taking a chance.

      • says

        That’s a good analogy and you’re right that it would probably be fine. But how horrible would it be for the worst to happen and know that a baby (or mum) could have died needlessly. I don’t think I could live with myself…..

        Unfortunately, there is an attitude among some that labour is almost a competition and the winner is the one who does it with as little medical assistance/intervention as possible. Pain relief (or lack thereof) is the most typical example, but I expect going it alone is the ultimate challenge for a few mums-to-be.

        Of course it’s nice to get through it all in as gentle and natural a manner as possible, but the most important thing is that baby is delivered safely. Everything else can fall by the wayside.

  3. ac says

    I don’t think it’s fair to say that birth is not trustworthy. It’s like saying pooping isn’t trustworthy. Sometimes birth needs help and yes, sometimes people need help with pooping. Our bodies do work. We can and should trust that they do work all of the time. You shouldn’t not trust the process of labor and birth just because something “might” happen.

    In days of yore, when midwifery was standard, midwives were there to be “with woman.” They weren’t there because women didn’t trust birth. A woman can’t always birth alone, for one reason or another. Humans aren’t the only animal that instinctively want someone near when they birth. With the knowledge we have today, along with our technological advancements – I think we’d trust birth even more than ever before. Yet, I think women are just as afraid as always. Why? Because life is involved. Two lives, or more sometimes. But it isn’t true that “the most important thing is that the baby is delivered safely” – the birth process is important too. Not only emotionally, but physically for both mom and baby, too.

    I have been in the homebirth/unassisted birthing community for over 10 years. I have talked to countless women and families about their birth experiences, hospital, home, birth center, unassisted… there is NO competition among these women. Women that give birth unmedicated, no matter where, do it because it empowers them to do so. They do it because they feel it is best for them and their child. The truth is that for the majority of women giving birth, an unmedicated birth IS better. Medicated birth is NEVER better for the baby when birth is normal. But I have never seen or heard any woman act like she is better than another because she had less intervention and no drugs. Honestly, I am horrified that someone thinks that about women. There are so many things that happen to a woman and child in a hospital during labor and birth, and I would argue until I died that every intervention is negative in a normal labor and birth. Does that make me think that less intervention is “better”? Yes. But am I competitive about it? No! It is not a competition in any way. It is empowering to know that we can get through such a powerful experience in our lives, and we are amazed, and excited about it. And now we are being told we are being competitive? No – I have never seen any woman be competitive. It is not like that. It is more like we want to share our experience because we know how powerful it is and what it has done in our lives, and we want other women to experience it too.

    If you can’t poop, you get help. If you can’t birth, you get help. You don’t need to seek out help prior to that, and when you do, you are insinuating that something will go wrong. That said, I do birth with a midwife, but I have had an unassisted birth as well. I do think women should know nearly as much as their midwife (of course without the experience) and/or that the midwife be a teaching midwife, so as to empower the family to understand what is going on. Things can go “wrong” – but midwives aren’t the only ones that will know that.

    • says

      I agree mostly, however I really don’t feel that the pooping analogy works. Yes, they’re both natural and normal processes but there is far more at stake during birth. And you have to admit that there are complications that can occur with little to no warning.

      I’m not judging anybody else for their choices or saying we should all be fearful of birth – far from it! I just think that with something as important as the lives of two precious human beings, it is not worth it (to me) to risk their lives unnecessarily. Birth is a natural process but nature doesn’t always equal perfection.

  4. Niya says

    I agree with your thoughts on this subject. My pregnancy and birth is a perfect example. I was super excited to be pregnant and read every single book on the subject of unmediated labor. My mid-wives were very supportive and I had an excellent doula to guide me through the labor. Things went very well during the labor at home and I when I reached the hospital I was fully dilated.(We had planned for a hospital delivery and it was very close to my house). I had no medication until that point of time and the baby was crowning. All of a sudden, I had a seizure and was zonked out. The baby, who was just crowning was pulled back into the birth canal. The mid-wives hit the emergency button and a team of ob-gym and ped saved our lives on that day.

    I still trust the body and its ability to birth the baby but there are inherent risks in the process that one has to be cognizant of.

  5. says

    Fantastic post and I could not agree more.
    I have worked around birth for a long time and nothing frustrates me more than reading a woman sharing her birth and her complications on Facebook or a forum somewhere….inevitably getting a mini-chiding for birthing in a hospital as if that would have *definitely* changed anything.

    Of course often times things go wrong in birth *because* a woman was in hospital – but sometimes things go wrong outside hospital just because sh*t happens.

    It’s important we keep some perspective.

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