What is a natural birth?
A lot of women associate natural births with vaginal deliveries but there are actually two sorts of natural births. Physiological ones, where you give birth completely undisturbed by medical intervention and vaginal births where some degree of medical assistance (induction of labour, episotomy, ventouse etc) or pain relief (anything from gas and air to the epidural) is used.
No matter how women give birth, C-section, forceps, home birth, water birth, there’s always a lot of speculation and media attention given over to childbirth approaches, trends and statistics.
In fact, how women give birth is a topic that often leads to controversy. It seems that as soon as a woman becomes pregnant she is no longer an individual but seen as a generic ‘mum’ that can have various ideologies, theories and advice thrown at her. Everywhere from social media to birthing books and pregnancy forums, there’s an opinion about the best way to give birth – and inevitably the answer is always ‘natural.’ But is this always the case?
To say that there’s a huge amount of pressure on mums-to-be to have natural births, i.e. unmedicated, unassisted vaginal births, where there is no pain relief or intervention, is an understatement.
As a midwife, a lot of mums I see have the intention to give birth on their own, without any medical interventions or pain relief. There’s nothing wrong with this at all, and straight-forward births of this kind can be extremely positive but I’m always aware that this vision of natural birth is often idealised, which can make anything less than this perfect natural birth experience feel less valid.
So why are we so obsessed with natural birth?
There are lots of reasons why an unassisted natural birth has something of an elevated status. It’s seen as pure. Fundamentally natural. Worthy. Miraculous even. It’s suggested that it is the full and proper experience of labour and childbirth and that the experience is about giving birth to the mother as well as the child.
It’s seen as easier to recover from. More in tune with your body and a better route to bonding with your baby in those early moments of their life, but attributing these values to a natural birth only serves to take away from mothers who give birth in other conditions, and no one has the right to make any woman feel less of a mother because of how her baby came into the world.
As a midwife I’ve often seen completely natural birth fetishized by the media, birthing books and antenatal classes. Of course, our bodies are absolutely designed to give birth. Yes, we do have all the equipment to deliver a baby. And yes, women have been giving birth the same way for centuries. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with hoping for or working towards a physiological birth, but putting it on a pedestal as the be all end all is the wrong way of looking at your childbirth possibilities.
Labour of love
The primary aim of labour is to produce a healthy baby and healthy mum but there’s often a lot of noise made about the ‘experience’ of giving birth naturally, which can sometimes get in the way of thinking about childbirth in more practical terms – that is to say – getting the baby out safely and keeping mum safe too.
The best way?
Having delivered hundreds of babies, I know that birth comes in many forms and various complications can arise. Childbirth is unpredictable and completely unknowable until you’re in the midst of it. That’s why we midwives and doctors are focused on ensuring the safety of both mother and child. I’d be overjoyed if every mother could give birth completely naturally and complication free. It’d be a wonderful world to live in and it would quite frankly make my work a lot easier – but the reality of childbirth is very different.
It’s simply impossible for everyone to have or expect an uncomplicated natural birth. That’s why medicated births exist. To assist and help women and their unborn babies. Simply put, in some cases a natural birth puts mother and baby at too great a risk.
Reasons for wanting to give birth naturally are varied and personal but a lot of themes and ideas often crop up. Sometimes it’s down to family expectation, if your mother or grandmother gave birth naturally you should be able to as well. Other times it can be due to a fear of pain relief, or a need to want to stay in control and avoid medical intervention. Other women almost see it as a right of passage as a woman and a mother.
All of these reasons are totally valid, and popular too. I’ve delivered babies in all kinds of other scenarios and I can hand on heart say there is no right or wrong way to give birth. There is no superior or inferior way to give birth. There are only mothers and babies. Individual circumstances. Unique scenarios. There is only love, new life and new beginnings. All of these fundamentals are innately natural. Individuals starting their lives as mothers and babies starting out in the world.
Pregnant and want to know more about preparing for labour and childbirth? Sign up to HATCH – our online midwife led antenatal class.
Photo credit: Krista Evans