1. Why (Not) a Natural Birth?

(Part I of “My Natural Birth” series / read Part II, Part III, Part IV)

There are many reasons for wanting a natural birth, and there are many reasons for not wanting it. Whatever the choice, a mother needs to ask herself: why do or don’t I want a natural birth? What is it about me, that makes me choose either way? This kind of self-knowledge is important if only because it makes us responsible for “our births” and because it can teach us respect for the decisions of others and thus overcome our divisions within and amongst ourselves.

Why did I want it so badly

We were discussing hospitals, midwives and our own natural birth experience with a pregnant friend, or rather, her husband. She kept strangely silent, until suddenly she stated: “I don’t want a natural birth”. It was said with such conviction that I accepted it right away, and we didn’t discuss it further. Afterwards I thought: what a strange thing not to want, only to be surprised by another question: why did I want it so badly?

During the 9 months before and the 18 months since Amie’s natural birth, I have often thought about the experience. The which and the how-questions were easily answered, though I’ll tell you, not as thoroughly as during the event itself! The why-question has been revealed to me in fits and starts, laboriously (ha!), and sometimes with ecstatic triumph.

Doctors, midwives, homebirth

I decided on a natural birth the moment I knew I was pregnant. Thinking “natural birth thus midwife”, I didn’t even look up any doctors. I had a bit of a tough time finding a midwife that my health plan would accept, and then I only found one who operated within a hospital. This wasn’t a problem, though, as home-birthing was still not on my radar, and would not have been an option anyway, in our circumstances (a small basement apartment with paper-thin walls and a not so friendly upstairs neighbor). I settled on my midwife and her team gratefully and without much ado. Our childbirth preparation classes were given by a woman who supports natural birth.

Rational reasons: birth is natural

I formulated hopes, justifications, and fears in a formal birth plan, in my journal and to relatives and friends. And I realized that, though wanting a natural birth seemed self-evident to me, the reasons why weren’t transparent at all.

There are two sides to this problem. First, the more general issue that all pregnant women, who at least consider the possibility, struggle with. The one that might seem a non-issue to some of you reading this, who might be thinking: “Why? But, girl, it’s simple!” and go on to list many general and rational reasons for a natural birth. Now, I am a reasonably rational and educated person, someone who finds a gap in her knowledge and efficiently sets out to fill it. One day of reading up on the issue and I was clear on the reasons why wanting a natural birth is rational. Very simply (and truly) put: birth is natural, duh!

Pressures and irrational comfort

But is it really that simple? Even for the healthy woman who is at no foreseeable risk? Here the second side of the problem butts in: it is me! I for one could not claim that I am immune to many societal, cultural and historical pressures and prejudices.

For instance, the too-commonsensical idea that a doctor should be present “in case something goes wrong”. Rationally, I did see that it is the wrong attitude to begin with. Medically, it might very well be a self-fulfilling prophecy (the Caesarean rate in the States is a 27.5% in 2003 – a staggering 23.5% for low risk women). But I still felt comforted by the proximity of doctors and sterile surgical equipment.

I call this an irrational comfort. But it is “irrational” not because it is an emotional feeling. I believe the majority of emotions to be “rational,” in that sense of “reasonable”. No, it was irrational because it clearly contradicted the rational reasons stated above.

Self-contradictions divide us

Many women fall victim to this kind of self-contradiction. We could even state that such contradictoriness is the plight of women especially when they become mothers: natural birth or pre-arranged epidural/even caesarian, nursing or bottle, stay-at-home or career, crib in a separate room or co-sleeping, traditional childrearing or attachment parenting, tv or no tv, martini-playdates or total abstinence, etc… and anything in between.

These contradictions often divide us against ourselves and against those who could be most helpful to us, namely other mothers. But they need not. If only we have the will and the courage, and take the time, to see through these contradictions, we could:

  1. tap into a great source of self-knowledge: what are my values, how come, am I following or rebelling against my upbringing, what in my past and present circumstances and in my hopes for the future makes me do this and wish for that,
  2. take responsibility for our decision and actions: just as we can’t be innocent of breaking a law if we know about it, we are answerable for the outcomes of causes and motives that we are aware of and that are (to a certain extent at least) under our control,
  3. thereby gain strength with which to live with and justify our decisions: informed and responsible decisions are the most confident and strongest resolutions,
  4. realize what others are going through as well, each from their personal experience: such a self-exploration must bring home the relative nature of our situations and thus of our decisions,
  5. thus find respect and consideration for decisions that are different from ours, but made with the same kind of knowledge and responsibility: just like we have the right to demand respect for our decisions if they are informed and responsible, we have the duty to respect others’ decisions that were made in the same way, even if different from ours,
  6. ultimately ceasing the divisions within and amongst ourselves: if we accept one another as responsible individuals, we can stop judging one another,
  7. and start learning from one another: we can then actually open a dialogue on common ground, open our eyes to alternatives, and learn from one another.

Why do I want to be that kind of a mother?

That’s all well and good, but what does that mean: if we could “see through” these contradictions? Well, I’ll try to show you. But it means, first of all, to face them, know them. We can get to know them by asking ourselves: why do I want to be that kind of a mother, why am I the kind of mother that I am? And so here I am asking, to begin with: why did I want a natural birth?

My Birth

Before I embark on the complex answer, I want to make clear that my main concern, my main interest in the Wish List above, is number 2: responsibility. I want to claim my decision as my own. That is why I always insist on calling my daughter’s birth “my birth” as well. This is neither self-evident nor trivial. It is a way of re-claiming my birth from the medical profession and from cultural pressures and prejudices. It implies that I – not my daughter, nor her father, nor anyone else – bear full responsibility: an empowering and frightening insight.

> Part II: “Pregnant: Dealing with Pain”

> Part III: “Giving Nature a Place in My Body”

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> Part IV: My Birth Story”

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