There are stories all over the news this week about the end of the “campaign for natural birth”. Most of them are missing out a gigantic part of the story. Quite simply, a vaginal birth is not necessarily a natural birth. Obviously it’s totally unlike a journo to exaggerate or inflame(!) but my blood has been boiling reading some of these articles.
Natural birth in the news
There’s a piece in the Evening Standard that talks of the “natural birth cult” and how the writer’s friend (an injury compensation lawyer) has no time for non-hospital births. We all know that the second hand opinion of a journalist’s friend is well regarded as an evidence based source. Or not!
The title of this literary masterpiece: Risking a baby’s health for the sake of having a natural birth is irresponsible.
I think it’s pretty clear (surely?) that nobody in their right mind would want to risk their baby’s health. While the writer is all too happy to share potential pitfalls of a “natural” birth, she seems ignorant of the downsides of a caesarean. She states:
Certainly, a study by the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists suggested three-quarters of 1,136 births which ended in neonatal death, injury or stillbirth in 2015 could have been avoided with the right care. Not all of them are attributable to the natural birth cult but some will be.
The right care. She’s taken three little words, and twisted them to fit her objective. So here’s my version:
Certainly, a study by the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists suggested three-quarters of 1,136 births which ended in neonatal death, injury or stillbirth in 2015 could have been avoided with the right care. Not all of them are attributable to the caesarean birth cult but some will be.
Can you imagine my version being given the time of day to print in a big newspaper like the Evening Standard? Nope. Me neither!
The Australian Daily Telegraph have printed a different version of the same storyline. A woman is joining the campaign to stop talking about normal birth in Australia after she suffered massive birth trauma. Her “normal birth” was a forceps delivery. She gave birth to her baby vaginally and so it’s considered natural.
These women shouldn’t have suffered as they have
There’s no doubt about it. These women have suffered terribly after their birth experience and although that doesn’t mean the same is true for every woman in that situation, there’s no denying that they shouldn’t have been put in that position. But you can’t blame the normal/natural birth campaign.
After my first baby was born, I had birth trauma related PTSD. Contrary to what the midwife bashing articles would have you believe, it was nothing to do with a normal birth failure. Rather it was from an emergency caesarean.
It wasn’t even so much the procedure, but more the failure to communicate crucial bits of information. Simple things like I wasn’t going to be able to hold my baby until my catheter was removed and I was wheeled into the neonatal unit!
One small piece of information that one midwife probably assumed another midwife had already told me. Small but vital, as it led to me fearing my baby would die before I got to hold him for the first time. Hence the PTSD.
My experience is different from the next person’s, I get that. Unfortunately there are women all over the world who have had a crap experience sitting down to type it up and blaming the midwives. Blaming the natural birth campaign. Blaming anybody and everybody, as if it’ll make them feel better.
Whatever birth route you take, there’s always a risk. I could rant about this, but I’m going to stick to the point here, which is the vast difference between having a vaginal birth & a truly natural (aka physiologic) birth.
The difference between vaginal and physiologic (the REAL natural birth)
So many people think that if a baby comes out of a vagina, it’s a natural birth. It’s not – it’s just a vaginal birth. A physiologic birth is one in which the innate intelligence of the baby is honoured. It’s one in which the biological process that kept us going as a species for thousands of years is trusted to know what it’s doing.
Note: Of course there are times in which it’s not appropriate to allow nature to take its course, and I was extremely grateful for medical intervention when I had placental insufficiency. With that said, I strongly believe that these two words – vaginal & natural – are confused far too frequently in the hospitals and in the media.
A birth in which the baby is born vaginally.
This is pretty much an umbrella term and covers many different scenarios and interventions. So long as the baby comes out of the vagina, it’s deemed a natural birth by many.
Impending Due Date
With the due date coming up (a guesstimate – only 5% of babies will actually come on this day), you’re offered the opportunity to make an appointment for a membrane sweep. You’ve been told at your hypnobirthing class that it’s a guess date, but your hospital trust has a policy that sweeps are offered as soon as you hit 40 weeks, so that you don’t go “too far over” your due date. This starts the process of you questioning whether your body is capable of birthing your baby or not, and so the fight/flight/freeze gears up. You make the appointment but you secretly hope your labour will start of its own accord.
40 Weeks Pregnant
You’re 40 weeks – but your baby isn’t here! Although you know from your classes that the 40 weeks isn’t an exact science, you’ve been told by your birth team that you really should take the sweep to get things off to the right start and minimise your need to be induced with chemicals. You reluctantly agree because you really don’t want to be induced. At your appointment, your midwife inserts a finger inside you as she tries to stimulate your cervix to ripen and start off labour, which, you’re told, should start within 48 hours.
So you’re stressing now. You’ve had a couple of sweeps, which have been pretty uncomfortable. You’ve shown no signs of labour but you’re really fed up of being pregnant. Everyone keeps telling you to just go for the induction and get it all over with. You’re feeling a bit overwhelmed and decide to go for it.
Induction of Labour
You’ve been induced, and while it started off ok, things kinda slowed down. You’ve been having strangers stick their fingers inside you for vaginal exams (VE), and while you’ve been having contractions, these VEs are showing that you’re not really dilating. Your midwife explains this to you, and your fight/flight/freeze response grows with every passing minute.
The contractions are stronger since you’ve had the syntocinon. So strong that they’ve become extremely painful and you wonder what kinda drug your hypnobirth teacher was on, when she said some people have blissful births. You’re offered an epidural to help with the pain and you take it. You’ve lost all faith in your body’s ability to give birth naturally, and now hate the idea of a normal birth.
You’ve been in labour for hours but nothing is happening. You’ve been strapped up to the CTG monitor, so that your contractions and your baby’s heart rate can be monitored. This means that your plans for an active birth are out the window and you have to now lie on your back so the monitor can stay attached. The CTG tells your midwife that your baby is in distress, and so you have three options depending on the severity of the issue: forceps, ventouse or caesarean.
If you birth your baby with the assistance of forceps or ventouse, then to an obstetrician, this is a natural birth. All because your baby exited your vagina.
Unfortunately, this is the type of “natural birth” that an obstetrician sees. It’s what makes them believe that a home birth is inherently dangerous and it’s what makes them have a totally different perspective to an Independent Midwife. It’s world’s apart from the physiologic births that IM’s see every single day.
This is a totally different kettle of fish. It’s a birth in which your body’s automatic processes are honoured. Your due date is rightly recognised as being as much of a guess as your baby’s weight and sex. A physiologic birth is one in which the people attending your birth are hands off as much as possible. They respect your privacy and recognise that your body is entirely capable of birthing your baby in the vast majority of cases.
A physiologic birth often takes place at home because many see the drive to the hospital as being the first intervention. A natural birth in the physiologic sense will frequently take place in the same dark, romantic atmosphere as conception. There are no questions to answer, no consent forms to sign, and nothing for the birthing mother to concentrate on, other than the connection between herself, her birth partner and her baby.
A truly natural birth is one in which the universal natural laws are respected and encouraged, where women are free to eat, drink and move throughout labour. Birthing women are able to listen to their body and their baby, and follow their intuition.
It’s a sacred space where a woman has had a single (or small group) of caregivers who have got to know her fears, her dreams and her birth preferences inside out. It happens where she feels safe and where she trusts everyone around her.
This is my version of a physiologic birth anyway – and it’s pretty much the subject of a post I wrote last year about my birth without numbers. As far as I can see, this new fight against natural birth is coming around to create a divide just like the breastfeeding gestapo rubbish did, a few years back.
If you want a natural birth that leaves you feeling truly like a goddess who is completely connected with yourself and your child, then don’t go for a natural birth at all – make sure it’s physiologic!