I think hardly any discussion about giving birth can be complete without mentioning at least a couple of anecdotes about unassisted births – "parking lot births", "traffic jam births", "cleaning-the-floor-thinking-there's-still-time births". Those are usually mentioned in humorous context, complete with panicky husbands vowing to tear off to the hospital next time as soon as there is a first sign of contractions. There are also, however, women for whom unassisted birth is a conscious choice.
When I first heard about women opting to have their babies at home, unattended by either doctor or midwife, the whole concept sounded awfully risky to me. Also, as someone who had never given birth before, I was highly doubtful of my own capability to give birth naturally. Only later, after my daughter was born, I told myself "yes, I probably could have done this on my own"; although I must say the midwives who attended my delivery were sincerely kind, caring, motherly older women who were very attentive to my wishes, and having them there was very comforting and reassuring. Once the baby was in my arms I was hugged and kissed by them and told how great I did and how amazing I was (although, I must say, I believe it's them who were amazing). They told me it's rare to attend a drug-free, active and peaceful birth, because most women opt to have an epidural without even considering another option. The excitement for us clearly shone in their faces, even though they, of course, deliver babies every day and clearly had many years of experience under their belts. I can only hope I fall under the care of such fantastic midwives this time, too.
I do support midwifery; midwives were present in all traditional cultures. They were usually familiar with the expectant mother, and assisted her in her own home. That's the downside of hospital births here: unless you pay for a private midwife, the ones attending your birth will be strangers. You never know who will happen to be on duty on that particular shift. You may get lucky, like I did last time – or, sadly, you might have to fight to give birth peacefully and naturally in spite of unnecessary interference. I have read some horror stories on the internet (I must say that's not a very wise move for an expectant mother) about really traumatic interference which prompted women to seek unassisted birth in the future, because of the insensitive way they were treated during birth, regardless of how safe or unsafe they believe it might be.
Anyway, I do believe that women ought to educate themselves on the matter of unassisted childbirth, even if they, like me, think they will probably never attempt one. The simple knowledge that most likely, if you are healthy and your pregnancy proceeded as usual, you are capable of giving birth all on your own with no complications, eliminates a lot of the fear and worry associated with birth, increases your awareness of the reactions of your own body, and boosts your confidence. The medical staff are there to assist you, not to deliver your baby for you.
Every year, many women have unplanned unassisted births, because they don't make it to hospital on time, or because the midwife doesn't turn up on time in their home. The fear of such a scenario, in particular for women who plan to have a hospital birth, prompts them to go to the hospital way too soon, when the labor is just beginning and can easily be stalled in a strange, unfriendly environment where the woman is constantly poked and prodded – thus the "need" for so many artificial inductions and the resulting snowball of interventions which would have been wholly unnecessary if only the doctors had enough patience to step back, allow the woman time and space to be, and wait for things to progress at their own pace. Women have been having babies since the beginning of time; what an arrogant misconception it is to believe that only the use of artificial hormones can help things roll!
Just an example we discussed this very morning during a neighborly chat: one woman told of her experience three months ago with her son. Labor started at home and she felt fine, contractions were entirely manageable while she was busy packing up the children's things. She went to the hospital when she believed it was time to go. In the hospital, she was forced to lie down for a prolonged session of monitoring. She was not allowed to change positions, which of course led to excruciating pain during contractions. Instead of allowing her to move, they insisted the only solution for her was to take an epidural (she was very surprised when I told her I was monitored while sitting on the birthing ball), which made her cease progressing and her labor had to be artificially sped up with pitocin. A perfect case of a normal birth process turned into a medical emergency for no reason at all. To add insult to injury, during the final stage of delivery the doctor mocked her for not being able to get the baby out fast enough: "what's your problem, you only have a 2,5 kilo baby there!" Her son arrived weighing 3,6 kilos. So much for professional accuracy.
Not long ago, there appeared a short story in one of the Israeli newspapers about a woman who had her baby during a bus trip. She realized the baby was coming, asked the driver to stop, came off the bus, had the baby then and there, then got up, boarded the bus again and asked to be driven to a hospital for her check-ups. Not surprisingly, this woman recently arrived to
Israel from , where the culture was so much more accepting of natural birth as an integral part of life, not an emergency. Had she panicked when she realized she won't make it to the hospital, I'm sure she and her baby would have been much worse off. She followed the natural leads of her body, relaxed, and let her baby arrive, while fear might have caused a fight or flight reaction which could lead to the birth process being stuck at a crucial stage. Ethiopia
I do believe it's probably better to be attended by a professional, at least during the final stages of delivery when help might be needed to safely guide the baby out. Emergencies do happen, and however few they are, it's worthwhile to minimize risks. However, it is comforting to know that most likely, even if you are stuck somewhere without reach of a hospital, birthing center or midwife, you can manage on your own and you and your baby will be fine. Today, the prevalent attitude is that if a woman doesn't arrive at the hospital on time something terrible will probably happen, which is not true in most of the cases.
My doctor recently told me that in
, there is now a shortage of medical students who are willing to specialize in obstetrics, which is considered less prestigious than other fields of expertise. The result is that there are less OB/GYNs. I actually think it's not such a bad thing. If there are fewer doctors, maybe the entire system will have to be re-evaluated, in a way that normal, straightforward births are given over to midwifery care and doctors only stand by for emergencies. If there simply aren't enough doctors to hover over every healthy woman who comes to have a baby and push unnecessary inductions and epidurals, I think ultimately it will be for the best of everyone involved. Israel
A good place to start reading about unassisted childbirth is this website. Obviously I disagree with some things she says, such as the case against circumcision (as Orthodox Jews, we will never question the "necessity" of circumcision), but some of the stories are quite amazing. The main concept is something I agree with: in the vast majority of cases, birth will go most smoothly and peacefully when the laboring woman is left well alone, and the attendants, such as midwives and doctors, should take the position of gentle observance rather than pushy interference. During birth, a woman needs all that is comforting and reassuring.