By Debra Woods
What will you say when you look back on your birth and describe why it was rewarding and satisfying? How are you envisioning your birth experience? What’s most important to you? The majority of expectant parents answer this with ‘a healthy baby’ or ‘a healthy baby and healthy mom’. How can you achieve this? What are the crucial elements that can optimize health and safety? As in life, there are no guarantees, but you can certainly prepare for the best possible outcome. How? The answer lies, first and foremost, in the belief that birth IS a natural healthy experience, and secondly, the commitment to have that experience.
What exactly is natural birth? What are the factors that define natural or physiologic birth? Physiologic or normal birth means:
- spontaneous onset & progression of labour
- biological and psychological conditions that promote effective labour
- vaginal birth of the infant and placenta
- normal blood loss
- facilitates optimal newborn transition (skin to skin contact) and keeping the mother and infant together in first hours post birth
- early initiation of breastfeeding
“According to physiological law, all natural, normal functions of the body are achieved without peril or pain. Birth is a natural, normal physiological function for normal, healthy women and their healthy babies. It can, therefore, be inferred that healthy women, carrying healthy babies, can safely birth without peril or pain.” Dr. Jonathan Dye, 1891
Normal birth is designed to ensure safety. It optimizes the health of baby and mother. Having evolved over millions of years the ancient wisdom of birthing mothers has been proven.
Birth by its very nature:
- is a healthy, involuntary process directed from deep within the limbic system of the woman’s brain and body (out of her conscious control)
- allows a woman to respond and surrender to physical instincts
- proceeds with the action of hormones that keep this process safe
Normal birth isn’t a medical emergency or a medical event. For the majority of healthy, low risk pregnant women, birth proceeds without the use of medical technology. When birthing women are supported to respond to their instincts, with trust in the process and belief in their body’s ability, better outcomes are the result. In fact, when there is an overuse of routine medical intervention, this can lead to complications that otherwise wouldn’t have occurred, putting the safety of mother and infant at risk.
This quote from Dr. Kloosterman states:
“Spontaneous labour in a normal woman is an event marked by a number of processes so complicated and so perfectly attuned to each other that any interference will only detract from the optimal character. The only thing required from the bystanders is that they show respect for this awe-inspiring process by complying with the first rule of medicine – nil nocere (do no harm).”
As a doula who has attended several hundred births, I’ve seen firsthand how when birthing women are not unnecessarily disturbed, are supported to trust their bodies, feel they are not being watched, creating a sense of personal privacy, their labours progress normally. There is an energy in the body that takes over, driven by the autonomic nervous system that propels a woman forward, organically building momentum that culminates in the vaginal birth of her baby. It is truly magnificent to witness. Women are in their power, tapping into ancient DNA that provides them with an instinctual knowing. This enhances the capacity to open to the experience, entering into an altered state that seems to transmute pain, much like an endurance athlete experiencing a ‘runner’s high’. The level of beta endorphins available to the birthing woman are as potent as the narcotic morphine. The sensations, produced by birthing hormones, actually inform the woman so that she assumes various positions that facilitate labour progress, so it efficiently unfolds. The sensations are accepted as allies, to provide direction for the woman, so she intuitively navigates her labour.
For the most part, this is not the commonly held view that modern women read or hear about today. Western society perpetuates the idea that labour is unbearably, agonizingly painful. This belief has led pregnant women to be terrified of birth, far outside a healthy fear of the unknown. In some countries the cesarean section rate has reached astronomical numbers as high as 80%, because women wish to avoid birthing vaginally. Western obstetrics hasn’t helped with dispelling this myth of labour as so painful that women shouldn’t have to suffer. Viewed as something to eliminate, women avoid it completely, for example, by using an epidural. Entirely removing the sensations can disrupt normal labour, leading to a medically managed birth, due to increased risks for mother and baby. Beliefs of terrible pain combined with birth as a medical event needing interventions sets women up for that experience – a self-fulfilling prophecy.
“Resistance to the flow is one of the biggest triggers of pain in childbirth.”
Birthing women’s belief in themselves is severely undermined with fear crippling their confidence. A climate of doubt leads them to accept pain meds and interventions that may be harmful. More accurately, the ‘pain’ of labour is both purposeful and beneficial. Birthing hormones assist women to engage with their experience. Oxytocin, released in pulses working with endorphins, creates a sense of well-being and induces feelings of euphoria, confidence and self esteem.
“There is a power that comes to women when they give birth. They don’t ask for it, it simply invades them. Accumulates like clouds on the horizon and passes through, carrying the child with it.” Sheryl Feldman
What about women who come to their birth wishing to experience it, who understand the tremendous benefits to having a physiologic birth, for themselves and their newborns? Benefits that carry over into the immediate postpartum period facilitating secure attachment and bonding, early and successful initiation of breastfeeding, quick recovery, no separation of newborn and mother, and newborns transitioning smoothly.
As Dr. Sarah Buckley says, “When a mother’s hormonal orchestration is undisturbed, her baby’s safety is also enhanced, not only during labour & birth, but also in the critical postnatal transition from womb to world.”
Where can these women find support for physiologic birth? Who are the care providers who stand with them to stay the course and hold them to their intention? What is the most conducive environment that is fundamental for women to labour as they are designed for – moving freely, uninhibited, accessing their instinctual wisdom and in their authentic power?
“The whole point of woman-centered birth is the knowledge that a woman is the birth power source. She may need, and deserve, help, but in essence, she always had, currently has, and will have the power.” ~Heather McCue
For healthy pregnant women who joyfully anticipate this long awaited event, excited to fully experience it, to actively participate, prepared to be transformed, where can they access encouragement, guidance and support for this vision of birth? Fortunately the numbers of women are on the rise who desire and have had this experience. Its evidence is seen on You Tube videos, written about in birth blogs, on personal and group Facebook pages and through birth photography. Mothers are speaking out sharing entirely different birth stories than those inducing fear and doubt. A new paradigm is here – one in which women are choosing to birth from a place of autonomy, recognizing it as a normal healthy experience in their lives, so as to embrace birth as an act of loving surrender.
If you feel inspired to learn how to optimize a normal physiologic birth, to explore society’s and your own beliefs, to be freed from excessive fear, or to understand how your birth can be empowering and even pleasurable, you can attend The Childbearing Society’s seminar on natural birth. This class will change the way you view birth, opening to your innate intelligence within, to help determine how you want to give birth, for the ultimate benefit of both your baby and yourself.
To register here for the next natural birth seminar.