Homebirth & Unassisted Birth
by Maya I Johansen
When I was 14, I witnessed my first birth. Sure, it was my cat giving birth to her kittens, but I still remember the excitement and beauty of it all. The mother knew exactly what to do, and the procedure was very calm and graceful. She purred peacefully while she was laboring and giving birth to her little ones. Since that time, I've witnessed the birth of several more kittens, two calves, my little sister, my nephew, and given birth twice myself.
I was privileged to watch the birth of my little sister when I was 18. After having watched my animal friends peacefully give birth to their little ones, I was amazed how complicated this human birth was! IV, epidural, stirrups, monitor etc. A doctor who looked more like he was directing a truck in the process of backing up than assisting my mother bring her baby into the world. After my sister was born, the nurses suctioned her harshly and wiped her off. We all got to hold her, after which she was sent to the nursery for the standard newborn procedures. My sisters and I watched through the glass as a nurse poked her heel, put antibiotic drops in her eyes, administered the vitamin K shot, and the whole package. She cried so hard, she turned blue, and couldn't even gasp for air, but the nurse continued with her "torture". We were all furious and shocked! Already then I knew that something was wrong.
I have since studied and learned that most hospital procedures in childbirth are in fact dangerous for both mother and baby. Just being in a hospital itself can be a threat for laboring mothers. By being in a hospital you are most likely guaranteed to have invasive procedures which could adversely affect the outcome of the birth and postpartum.
There are several interventions which could endanger the mother and baby which include but are not limited to induction/pitocin, electronic fetal monitoring (internal and external), amniotomy (breaking the bag of waters), episiotomy, epidural, pudential blocks, confining a woman to bed, IV, fasting, vaginal exams, stirrups and the supine position during the pushing stage, pushing on command, forceps/vacuum extraction, traction of the cord to expel the placenta, and many more.(1,2) Many people do not know that the attendants who are suppose to help them and make childbirth safer are in actuality endangering their lives.
So where is the ideal place to give birth when the hospital poses such risks? At home. Very simple. Not all women want to give birth at home, but if they took the time to rid themselves of fear and misconceptions about birth, home is a superior place by far to birth a baby. Studies over time have shown that when a woman is relaxed and uninhibited, birth outcomes are much safer, and definitely more pleasurable for mom, dad and the baby.(1,2) In her own house, a woman is free to be herself. She doesn't have to defend herself, sign papers, behave any certain way or ask for permission to do something. She can be comfortable and devote all her energy and thoughts to giving birth without a group of medical professionals watching and monitoring. When she is in tune with herself, she will be able to focus on giving birth, and listen to Divine promptings which will lead and guide her to a much safer and more satisfying and spiritual birth.
Preparation for childbirth is of tremendous importance. We are given nine months of pregnancy and it is wise to use this time to prepare for the upcoming birth and parenthood. If you are pregnant or planning on becoming pregnant in the future read up on childbirth and parenting. Inform yourself about important choices you will be making. Learn about what is taking place and will take place in your body, and with your baby. Rid yourself of useless fear. Reading an article or two isn't enough. There are several books out there which emphasize natural and pleasurable childbirth. And there is a steady growing number of books on unassisted childbirth. I would recommend these as they emphasize the simplicity, safety and pleasure of giving birth.
Of course the question of pain always comes up. Why suffer if you don't have to? Let me get this straight. Most women I know who have had home births did not suffer. Childbirth can be compared to any type of challenging activity. Whether it be dancing, running a marathon or skiing, only more intense. If you've ever exercised intensely before you know that it can be challenging, and you may feel a considerable amount of discomfort, but there are benefits as well. That's why we keep on doing it, and the discomfort isn't necessarily bad. The same is true of giving birth. It is an activity in which you are working towards bringing your child into the world, and it can be a pleasurable, empowering, and spiritual experience. A woman's body is designed to give birth, and it is most natural and rewarding.
Childbirth in itself is not inherently painful. Extreme pain indicates that something needs attention. Something as easy as changing positions, using the restroom, or eating or drinking may be of tremendous help. When a woman is relaxed and positive, she allows her body to work the way nature intended. The mind is powerful. Fear alone can cause labor to stall, or deplete the uterus of oxygen. The uterus in turn must work harder to get the same results, and this may in turn cause labor to be more painful. If the woman is confident and positive, the body actually produce endorphins (natural painkillers) to aid her. (3,4,5)
There are several ways to cope with the intensity of the contractions naturally resulting in a more pleasurable labor and birth. These include using water for birth, counter pressure, labor balls, warm packs, aromatherapy and more. When a woman is comfortable and can relax and trust that her body is capable of giving birth, the uterus is able to work more efficiently.(3,4,5)
If you allow yourself to be a victim, you will be one. Knowledge, education, and taking responsibility are all a part of birthing at home. The woman who takes this responsibility does not suffer. The woman in pain is the one who puts all her trust in a medical system and ends up with unnecessary interventions, disregard for physical, emotional and spiritual needs, and humiliating and painful procedures performed on her while she is most vulnerable. A number of women who have experienced medicalized births feel cheated and abused. Husbands who see this happening to their wives feel guilty and helpless. So often the husband is pushed aside and rendered useless in aiding his wife, when he actually is the most qualified to giving love and support. An opportunity for growth and strengthening in the marriage is gone when medical professionals invade unnecessarily.
It is often said that women who give birth at home are selfish, and do not care for the well-being of their little ones. This is so far from the truth. Hospitals are in many instances dangerous for healthy babies. Hospitals are a place for the sick, and germs and bacteria are often transfered to the newborn. Drugs given to the mother cross the placenta, and cause distress in the baby, and the health risk increases with each hospital procedure that is performed, not to mention psychological trauma from painful medical procedures. Babies born at home are usually more alert and ready to interact and bond. Their minds are still open as they have been handled gently and lovingly. Often babies who have experienced a great deal of trauma will literally withdraw into themselves.(6) Mothers who have given birth at home are in an optimal state to greet their babies because of the natural "high" from endorphins and the hormone oxytocin. These hormones are an important part of producing nurturing feelings. I believe this is an important part of forming the loving mother child relationship, and it helps a women get off to the right start in nursing and caring for her little one.(7) Sadly, this is overlooked by the medical profession. Doctors and nurses whisk babies away from their mothers when they need their mothers the most, and at a time when they are most alert and ready to interact.
After attending the hospital birth of my nephew a few years ago, I was standing outside of the nursery looking at all the babies. Next to us stood a couple who were the parents to one of those infants. The mother looked longingly at her baby through the glass while she said "I haven't even held him yet, and it has been two hours since he was born." It broke my heart! There was no apparent reason for this separation. Yet, her baby was laying there alone and the mother's arms were empty when she should have been embracing and cuddling her little one. There is something so utterly wrong with this picture. Studies have shown, and it is completely logical that mothers and babies are best off when they are together.
For too long we have been told that birth is dangerous and too painful to manage, and we need doctors to deliver our babies. This is simply not true. Women have the inherent wisdom necessary to give birth. Babies assist in their own births if they are not drugged. We need to trust our instincts and intuition and be in tune with what is happening during birth, and be open to receive divine guidance. We have the right to birth our babies in a place where there is love, safety, and peace. Only then can the fullness and beauty of birth be experienced.
Davis-Floyd, Robbie E., Birth
As An American Rite Of Passage. University
of California Press, Berkeley and Los Angeles,
Goer, Henci, The Thinking Woman's Guide To A Better Birth, The Berkley Publishing Group, 375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014, 1999.
Dick-Read, Grantley, MD. Childbirth Without Fear, fifth edition. New York: Harper R Row, 1981.
Lieberman, Adrienne B., Easing Labor Pain. The Harvard Common Press, 1992
Andrea Robertson; The Pain of Labor - A Feminist Issue
Leboyer, Frederick, Birth Without Violence, Alfred A Knopf, Inc., 1974.
Odent, Michel, MD. Birth Reborn. New York: Pantheon Books, 1984.
Safety of Home Birth
the evidence that births to
healthy mothers, who are not
considered at medical risk after
comprehensive screening by trained
professionals, can occur safely
in various settings, including
out-of-hospital birth centers
and homes ...Therefore, APHA
Supports efforts to increase
access to out-of-hospital maternity
“Several methodologically sound observational studies have compared the outcomes of planned home-births (irrespective of the eventual place of birth) with planned hospital births for women with similar characteristics. A meta-analysis of these studies showed no maternal mortality, and no statistically significant differences in perinatal mortality between the groups.”
Murray Enkin, et al, A Guide to Effective Care in Pregnancy and Childbirth. Oxford University Press, 2000.
“It is safe to say that a woman should give birth in a place she feels is safe, and at the most peripheral level at which appropriate care is feasible and safe. For a low-risk pregnant woman this can be at home, at a small maternity clinic or birth centre, in town or perhaps at the maternity unit of a larger hospital. However, it must be a place where all the attention and care are focused on her needs and safety, as close to home and her own culture as possible."
Maternal and Newborn Health/Safe Motherhood Unit of the World Health Organization, Care in Normal Birth: A practical guide. World Health Organization, 1996.
“Excellent outcomes with much lower intervention rates are achieved at home births. This may be because the overuse of interventions in hospital births introduces risks or the home environment promotes problem-free labors.”
Henci Goer, Obstetric Myths versus Research Realities: A Guide to the Medical Literature. Bergin & Garvey, 1995.
“This study supports previous research indicating that planned home birth with qualified care providers can be a safe alternative for healthy lower risk women.”
Anderson RE, Murphy PA. “Outcomes Of 11,788 Planned Home Births Attended By Certified Nurse-Midwives. A Retrospective Descriptive Study.” Journal of Nurse Midwifery, 1995 Nov-Dec;40(6):483-92. (Abst)
Copyright © Citizens for Midwifery 2002. Permission to reprint with attribution.
Autonomous Unassisted Childbirth
Many women today are choosing to take responsibility for their own births. They are learning to trust their bodies to know how to give birth. While they are glad that medical technology and doctors are there when there is a real need, they are realizing that pregnancy is not an illness and does not require a doctor's care, and that birth is a private and intimate experience that should only be shared with those closest to you.
Many women who choose Autonomous Childbirth choose to deliver their own babies alone, without even the company of their husbands, family, or friends.
All the knowledge that you need in order to give birth is within you. You must simply learn to listen to that sacred, inner knowing which tells you exactly what to do. However, in order to overcome the cultural programming which leads women to doubt their inner wisdom, most women who are going to take responsibility for their own health and births do a lot of research and studying. All the information you need is available to you, and you don't have to be a doctor to understand it. Every pregnant woman is completely competent to take over her own care, and to make decisions about her own health.
What are some of the reasons that someone would want to give birth unassisted?
First of all, many of the routine hospital procedures can actually cause more harm in the long run than if the woman's body was allowed to labor and deliver as it sees fit. Many women object to these procedures and want to avoid them. Also, since not every woman gestates for the same length of time, any decisions about whether a baby is late or not are arbitrary. Many women are tired of being induced with pitocin and having a labor from hell, especially when babies can be born normally and naturally without intervention when the babies decide it is the right time. By looking at the statistics I have gathered, you will see that we have women in our group who give birth anywhere from 35 to 44 weeks with no complications. I am even aquainted with women who have gestated for 47 weeks with no complications. This is possible when a woman has had excellent nutrition and has prepared herself physically, mentally and emotionally. Women are tired of their wishes and beliefs about birth not being honored and respected. They realize that many hospital procedures which doctors are required to adhere to are more about avoiding malpractice suits than about what is really best for the woman and baby. Many women are not willing to be pawns in this game any more. Pregnancy is a perfectly natural, normal function of a woman's body. I realize that there are people who can cite terrible stories about births in which the mother and baby almost died, and were saved by medical intervention. And for every one of those stories, I can suggest to you several reasons why that birth trauma could have been avoided. This is not to belittle anyone's experience, but simply to let you know that the are alternatives. Childbirth does not have to be a nightmare, and complications do not have to happen. They are not things that just "happen"....they are caused by something. In most cases, we can eliminate the cause. Doctors will tell you that they don't know why certain complications happen. However, if you hang around this website, and learn more about your body's abilities, you will certainly see why complications happen.
Childbirth is a powerful, intimate experience. It does not fit into a pathological paradigm. It is a normal, natural event, special and sacred.
Copyright 2001 Judie C. Rall and The Center for Unhindered Living
Unassisted Birth: Is It for You?
By Shel Franco
Women today seem to fall into two categories where childbirth is concerned: medically managed or natural. The first group wouldn’t think of delivering their babies any place but the hospital. The second sweetly chants, “There’s no place like home.”
At first glance, neither group seems to have much in common. But upon deeper consideration, one correlation can be made: Both groups deliver their babies into the hands of a birth professional: a doctor or a midwife.
Many people are surprised to hear about a small number of women in the natural childbirth group that hold such faith in the innate power of females to bring forth their young, they choose to birth alone – without a doctor or midwife.
“In an unassisted childbirth no one acts as a midwife,” says Laura Shanley, author of Unassisted Childbirth (Bergin & Garvey, 1993) and the mother to four children born unassisted. “Instead, the birthing woman herself determines the course of her labor. Partners or friends may participate to varying degrees, but no one instructs the woman as to how to give birth, when to push, what position to be in, etc. Occasionally, suggestions may be offered but it is assumed that the woman giving birth is the true expert on her own body.”
Why and how these women birth unassisted are only part of the intrigue. Their experiences impart on them a profound wisdom that may change the way modern society views childbirth – a wisdom that can empower all women, regardless of how they choose to give birth.
The Power to Believe
“I constantly recommend Laura Shanley's book to people who have no intention of birthing at home, much less unassisted,” says Josephine Joyner of Omaha, Neb. “I find that regardless of the birthing environment, if a woman is looking within and prepared to give birth rather than be delivered, she is in a much better position to understand what her and her child's needs are and can go about getting them met much more efficiently.”
Joyner has experienced two pain-free unassisted births, one of which is featured in Judy Seaman's documentary film, A Clear Road to Birth.
While many women would find the idea of being alone during childbirth scary and stressful, Shanley points out that some women are actually inhibited by the presence of others during birth. And at least one childbirth professional seems to agree.
Grantly Dick-Read, author of Childbirth Without Fear (Heinemann Medical) writes, "If left alone in labor, the body of a woman produces most easily the baby that is not interfered with by its mother's mind or the assistant's hand. If left alone, just courage and patience are required. Faith, if she is a believer, is the secret to having a healthy baby and being a happy mother."
Faith is abundantly present in the stories of unassisted birth and is something all birthing women can benefit from. For some, like Shanley, faith is inherent with their first pregnancy. For others, it takes time to believe.
Leilah McCracken of Vancouver, Canada, didn't always think "outside of the box." Her first five births took place in hospitals. After everything from induction to Cesarean sections, she lost faith in the painful process of birth in a hospital and turned to a lay midwife to birth her sixth child at home.
By the time she became pregnant again, McCracken had a new perspective on birth and had found new faith in the miraculous process. “My seventh child was born unassisted at home – not out of experimentation or rebelliousness, but because I knew my body and spirit work for birth,” she says. “I knew in my deepest being, finally, that I could give birth as all my ancestors have: with splendor and perfection.”
McCracken’s experience left her so moved that she went on to become an outspoken advocate for homebirth and unassisted birth, dedicating her time and finances to her www.birthlove.com Web site.
Forty-five weeks from the first day of her last period, Jenny Hatch of Boulder, Colo., gave birth to her son, Andrew. She recalls how she danced and sang through the three-hour labor. “I had no physical pain before, during or after the birth and never used any form of pain medication,” she says.
Hatch, organizer of the second International Husband/Wife Homebirth Conference, delivered her 11-pound son into the waiting arms of his father. Despite the fact that her son required breathing assistance from a volunteer fireman and she required hospital transfer for excessive bleeding, she does not regret or blame the unassisted birth. “I have this reoccurring fantasy of [the volunteer firefighter] handing Andrew back to me, tipping his baseball cap and saying, ‘Have a nice day Ma’am!’ and then leaving,” she says. “I honestly believe that had he done so, I would have latched Andrew onto my breast which in turn would have stopped my bleeding and we both would have been just fine.”
After all that, Hatch still believes in childbirth as a normal, non-agonizing, natural act, and that's something every woman could benefit from, whether she births at home or in a hospital. Replacing the fear with faith just might deliver women from the throws of childbirth agony and into the open arms of the miracle they helped to create.
About the Author: Shel Franco is an associate
editor for iParenting.com and the mother of
Homebirth: An Act of Love)
Click Here to Read My Unassisted Homebirth Story
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