Friday, November 03, 2006
I wrote this in response to a forum question that a woman posed asking if anyone on the list had had or would have an unattended or unassisted birth, meaning a homebirth without a midwife or doctor present:
If I ever have another baby, which I still pray that I will, then I plan to have an unassisted birth. My boys are 11 and almost 13 y.o. and their births were both attended by a midwife, resulting in one hospital transport and one gentle, straightforward homebirth.
I have been practicing as a lay midwife for the last 7 years and just attended my first stillbirth last month on my birthday. I had been feeling for quite some time that I was ready to quit practicing midwifery, and that most recent birth has propelled me to accept my own resignation. But you see, the reason I had been feeling that I was done practicing was not because I do not want to attend births, but simply because over and over again I felt like I had no business attending these births as the "manager" or the "expert." I believe so strongly in our bodies' ability to give birth and I also believe just as strongly in the natural cycle of birth and death, that I had begun to feel like the women whose births I was attending, the typical, american, homebirth client, the women who were already taking good care of themselves and eating well and educating themselves about pregnancy and birth and motherhood, they did not need me. I felt there was too much potential for me to disempower them. And perhaps some women wouldn't make the leap to have their babies at home without a midwife, and they feel they need that support in our crazy society that doubts them so heavily and instills them with fear, and so I am glad there are midwives out there to do that good work. But me? I am ready to let go and let birth happen on its own.
When that little girl was born dead into my hands I realized that there was nothing anyone could have done to "save" her, and I also realized that there was no need for her to be saved. It is normal for some babies to die, it is the way of the earth, it is the way of nature, it is part of the cycle of life. I began to feel that all of the prenatal testing that we do and most of our society's choices around prenatal care and birth are all rituals we have ascribed to in order to ward off death, and you know, they just don't work. No matter how hard we try to save them all, there will always be babies that die, at home, in the hospital, in utero and sometimes in our arms. And it is sad, so, so sad. No one wants to lose their child and face that grief. But for millennia human and other mammal mothers have been giving birth and losing their young, and no matter how much we intervene what you will find is that most babies survive their pregnancy and birth just fine, and there are always some who don't, but what I believe to be true is that our culture has such an abject fear of death and has vilified it so seriously that we are no longer capable of accepting the normalcy of death and taking it in stride. We act as if a lost child is the greatest of tragedies, and though it is in some ways (my miscarriage was one of the hardest challenges I have ever faced and I thank god for the safety of my living sons every day), it is also a normal part of life. It is our fear of death that has lead us to behave so irrationally about how we birth.
So, I will support my sisters and friends on their birth journeys. I love birth. I want to be there if I am needed to serve a woman and her family as they go through that life changing experience. Of course, I fully support education for all women, in particular in regard to their needs in child-bearing. Women need help learning how to care for themselves during pregnancy, what to eat, how to exercise, how to care for their changing emotional and spiritual needs, in particular because we have lost much of that wisdom that used to passed down from mother to daughter and from sister to sister before we abandoned our care into the hands of obstetricians. Women need to hear birth stories, read birth books, watch birth movies since most of us are no longer blessed with the gift of being present since childhood at the births of our siblings and our cousins and our neighbors. We need to work towards normalizing the concept of birth, and of death as a sometimes part of birth, so that more and more women will feel empowered enough to birth autonomously.
Many women who believe firmly in homebirth with a midwife in attendance will eschew the idea of birthing unattended, and most of the time it is not because they feel like they need one more person at their birth; they have partners and family and friends to hold their hands and look into their eyes and feed them sips of tea while they labor, but because they want one "expert" present at their birth. Truly for most women, they feel they need that expert there to keep them and their baby alive on the off chance they are the one in thousand or a million who will lose their baby or won't live themselves. And I would be remiss to state that there are never situations that can arise in a birth scenario that could lead to dire consequences, including death, in which a trained professional could manage to keep all parties alive, for that is true, there are situations like that. But does every woman who gives birth need to give up certain autonomies and freedoms, does every woman need to thwart what may be the natural consequence of death simply in order so that a few will be saved? I cannot answer that question for anyone but myself, but I know that I am willing to risk that myself or my child is the one that dies so that I can experience birth as authentically, naturally and spontaneously as the universe intends for me by choosing to birth of my own recognizance.
I support all women to have complete freedom to birth wherever and with whomever they choose. Blessed be.