During my first year of college I took an Anthropology 101 class that simply caused me to fall in love with the subject. One of the books we read was called Nisa, and was an anthropological study of a woman in the Kung tribe in Africa. It covered many aspects of her life as told to a female anthropologist. One thing that was mentioned was the births of her children. In her culture the ideal was for women to give birth alone. It was seen as a normal female right of passage and in a way proved their womanhood much like in our culture war or military training makes men out of boys. Typically though, even though a solitary birth was the ideal, a woman was assisted by experienced women for the birth of her first child. But Nisa, the woman in the book had her first child (around the age of 16) alone. She went out to the bush, squatted next to a tree and caught her first born. It was something she was proud of.
Fast forward a few years, I have had a few kids and am involved in the natural childbirth community. I hear of a woman in the area I live in who has had an unassisted birth and it has gone badly. There were complications and unknowns and a baby that is damaged. (I have no idea if this was because of the birth choices or just simply something that would have happened anyway.) I am horrified to learn of this "new" trend of unassisted birth. I fully believe in and support home birth assisted by a trained professional midwife but this- so weird! As I ponder this subject though, I realize that this is not the first time I have heard of this. I learned about it years earlier but it seemed fine for a non-western woman, why so scary in this country?
I have a birth video of a family welcoming their fifth child into their family. I had the opportunity to watch the video with the people who filmed it and and I notice that there is no midwife there. So I ask, where is the midwife? The filmmaker jokes, "Well, the father [who caught the baby] had a Doctorate in Geology so he was kind of a doctor." As it turns out this family had had all their children unassisted at home with dad catching and had agreed to share this experience, the only time people other than immediate family had been present at the birth. It is a beautiful birth with entire family there and strikingly, a very smooth posterior birth with no tearing and mom giving everybody orders!
Fast forward a little bit more, now pregnant with my third, and feeling pretty comfortable about the idea of birth, but feeling very broke, the idea seems less and less odd. As it turns out, a low income woman, without health insurance doesn't have a ton of options when it comes to birth. In some states government assisted health care covers out of hospital birth (usually birth centers) but home birth, think again. Though much cheaper and proven as safe as hospital birth (for low risk women) often health insurance of any kind does not cover home birth. So what is a woman with no insurance and little extra cash to do? Home birth with a trained midwife runs around $4000 dollars, plus any testing or other expenses that mom must take care of. Just go for the hospital birth and hope for the best? What if mom is shooting for a v-back? In the small town I live in the local hospital does not permit v-bac. So, a v-bac hospital birth is out of the question for many women. Midwives who will cover this are getting harder and harder to find as fear on the subject increases despite many studies showing that it is really quite safe. When a woman strongly desires a home birth, but lacks insurance and can't afford to hire her own midwife, it suddenly becomes apparent that she does not have as many options as we might think. Add in any past surgical births and things get even more complicated.
Enter unassisted birth. Suddenly the idea makes a little more sense. I personally would never encourage anybody to have an unassisted birth. But, I would never encourage anybody to have a hospital birth or a midwife assisted home birth either. That decision and all responsibilities and risks associated with it are the mothers burden to carry, nobody else's. I do not feel like I can make that decision for anybody else and I am flabbergasted that so many feel like they are perfectly able to decide how everybody else should have their babies.
There are many many women in this country who are so fearful of birth that home is the last place that they should bear their children, much less alone. There are many women also, so fearful of the hospital that they should probably stay far from it if they want to have a normal birth. Women need to make the choice that is best for them. Honestly, I think it should be made prayerfully, thoughtfully, and with a keen awareness of what is best for you and your baby, not to mention taking full responsibility for the possibility of problem no matter what your choice. So often all we listen to is our fear and it makes it really hard to listen to our intuition. This is possibly one of the biggest problems in birth in modern America. We are so afraid, most women have lost all faith in themselves and their babies and their bodies. This is a modern tragedy. This is what this blog is really about to me, believing in ourselves and our bodies and our natural abilities and recognizing the inherent power in them.
Now, I won't say what my choice will be or what anybody else's should be. But I have noticed that as time goes on I am more understanding of the choices of others and I personally, have no desire to make those choices for them. By the way, the idea of unassisted birth no longer seems so scary or dangerous to me. It is done in many cultures and has been going on for many years. When I look at obstetrics in this country today, I am not surprised to see that there is a growing unassisted birth movement. It will probably continue to grow as hospitals become more and more inhospitable.