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Tuesday, December 11, 2012

If You Want To Talk Me Out of Birthing Unassisted...

     In part, this is inspired by this post by Navelgazing Midwife and the comments it received; it’s a culmination of ideas I’ve had over the years as I’ve observed similar conversations unfold, or listened to the objections of medical professionals, and also an extension of the frustration I’ve expressed here about the “all that matters is a healthy baby” argument.

     If you’ve read any of my previous posts you may already know that my first three kids were born unassisted.  My fourth was a self-directed hospital birth – not because my feelings about unassisted birth have changed, but because I’ve always felt that following one’s heart/instinct/gut feelings about birth is of the highest importance and that is where I was lead.

     I don’t think anyone could talk me out of unassisted birth if that’s where my instinct was leading me. I don’t think UC is something women should necessarily be talked out of.  I believe there are certainly women out there who get too caught up in the idea if being unassisted rather than being self-directed, and maybe some of those women would be well-served getting talked out of their attachment to UC. More importantly, I think the conversation about the safety of unassisted birth needs to be ongoing and include opposing voices. The reality of the risks associated with not having help readily available in case of emergencies needs to be examined in a real way, not simply brushed off with a catch phrase.  Often the catch phrase is a defensive response triggered by the hostile and offensive way the subject is approached by the opposition.  One simply gets sick of the attacks.

     If you aim to talk me, or anyone else out of choosing unassisted birth, or debate the subject, please consider the following:


Don’t :

-         Claim to know more than you do about birth, or say you are a professional if you aren’t.  I’ve seen far too many nasty or just plain ridiculous comments on the Internet by people claiming to be midwives.  It doesn’t give your outrageous claims more validity. It just makes me hope to God you’re lying about your profession.  Commenting on an unassisted birth video that the baby looks sick/blue/floppy, when it pinked up appropriately and is clearly healthy also does not help your argument.

-         Go on about how selfish or ignorant I am.  “If you only cared about your baby…” should never enter the conversation (If I didn’t, would there even be a point in arguing?)   I know I’m intelligent and well studied. I know I love my children and carefully consider their well-being.  I know I’d cut off a limb to keep any of them safe. I know I’m not impervious to nature’s wrath.  If you assume otherwise, I’ll figure none of your arguments apply to me, because I’m not the woman you think I am.

-         Over-sell complications.  Making up statistics, arguing how ‘unsanitary’ my home is (when one would be exposed to a greater number of more dangerous pathogens in a hospital,) or claiming a woman is more likely to suffer from extreme tearing in a UC will seriously degrade your credibility.  Complications can and do arise during childbirth. Exaggerating to win an argument leaves the impression that the real concerns are non-existent, or just so rare they aren’t worth bringing up.

-         Compare UC to Russian roulette – a game in which has no beneficial outcomes and no ways to stack the odds in one’s favor.  While birth undoubtedly involves elements of luck and risk, there are many factors that influence the odds of a healthy outcome.  There are also benefits to birthing unassisted if all goes well beyond simply surviving.

-         Pretend that valuing my own experience is the same thing as caring only about my experience.  If women didn’t care about their experience at all, the epidural rate wouldn’t be so high. A mother having a degree of self-preservation is in the best interest of her baby because she will be his/her main source of nurturing.  Babies benefit from not having traumatized, depressed mothers. Wanting to immediately hold the baby and remain undisturbed postpartum is also not a selfish wish.  We have these instincts for a reason – to protect our babies.  I was pulled out with forceps, taken from my mother and processed in a way that was typical in a 1980’s hospital birth and I turned out “fine.” I also struggled with unexplained depression, self-injury and suicidal fantasies for years. I may not be able to prove causation, but it has nonetheless been a factor in my birth choices.

-         Use a story of a hospital birth gone bad to prove that unassisted birth is unsafe. I know how different a heavily managed birth is from an undisturbed unassisted birth; so even if your best friend’s cousin’s friend’s baby really would have died because the cord was around his neck, the story won’t sway me if you have no details to prove their situation is comparable to mine (especially considering I know that nuchal cord often occurs in births that require no assistance, including one of my own.)

-       Bother to compare my birthplan to returning to the dark ages or a third world country.  Anyone with an internet connection is better equipped to deliver a baby (probably even perform a C-section) than most doctors were a couple of hundred years ago -- if only because we understand how to avoid infection.  Not to mention general nutrition, sanitation and the fact that I can access modern medicine whenever I choose to.


-         Decide if you are really arguing for the sake of helping women and babies, or if you’re just venting anger.  If you find most of your communication falls into the “don’t” category, I suggest looking at your own emotional baggage and considering if there’s something more productive you could do with your time.

-         Ask questions. You might find that you respect my decision more than you thought… or you might find that you can help me fulfill the most important points of my birthplan in a hospital or with a midwife attending me at home.

-         Use “I” statements. If you changed your mind about unassisted birth, if you were overly attached to the idea, or believed that left undisturbed birth would always go smoothly; if there are things you didn’t consider, or you were putting your experience above all else, you may have some valuable insights to share. Honest testimony holds more weight than assumptions that all freebirthers’ process’ are the same as yours.

-         Share stories of births you actually experienced or attended – births you know all the facts about. Anecdotes carry useful information if they are really applicable comparisons and you can answer questions about the details. 

-         Share facts. “You’re crazy to even consider…” or “that is so dangerous!” add nothing to the conversation.  An Explanation of your concern, for instance,“ x can happen if y… in which case you’d need assistance z.” is much more productive.  Even if you don’t convince me (your friend, family or patient) against UC you might pass on some valuable information that will help me make future decisions.

-       Acknowledge that I find value in birthing unassisted even if you don’t. I feel it benefits my babies and myself.  If/when I decide to seek assistance – even if it’s obviously needed or I just know it’s the right thing to do -- it might be difficult and scary turning over care to someone else. I might grieve the loss of the birth I wanted for my baby and myself; but that will absolutely not mean my baby is any less celebrated.


  1. I love this! I really wish I had learned more about unassisted child birth before I had my second daughter. I was induced with both of my children, and both times it was in my OB's best interest. The first time, my OB was going on vacation and didn't think I would make it until she got back. The second time, after the birth, I overheard my OB complaining at how fast I progressed and delivered, because he had specifically planned my daughter's birth as a schedule conflict for a luncheon he didn't want to attend.

    I'm fairly certain that my second labor and delivery would have happened within a day or two of when it actually happened. I told my OB that I didn't want to be induced, since this was to be my last child, but he talked me into it. I had an epidural, but it didn't kick in until just after my daughter was born and therefore was completely unnecessary. And my daughter was severely jaundiced and we had to stay in the hospital for 2 weeks after her birth. I feel that had I allowed myself to go into labor naturally, my daughter would have been a lot healthier at birth.

    I'm not personally comfortable with the idea of birthing at home, but I have a lot of friends that have had truly beautiful home births and I fully support anyone who goes into home birth (or unassisted in any way) that goes into it knowing what they are doing.

  2. Well said!! People look at unassisted birth as so taboo but civilization has been going on for how many thousands of years and i guarantee there were no hospitals or doctors back in the day to help, and even throughout the world today civilizations are thriving by trusting their bodies! Birth is a natural process not an emergency.