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: The Life and Words of a ! Kung Woman, and was an anthropological study of a woman in the Kung tribe in Africa. It covered many aspects of her life as told by 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.
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Typically though, even though a solitary birth was 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 firstborn. 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 is 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 is it 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 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 filming was the only time people other than immediate family had been present at the birth. It is a beautiful birth with the entire family there and strikingly, a very smooth posterior birth with no tearing and mom giving everybody orders!
Fast forward a little bit more, I’m now pregnant with my third, and feeling pretty comfortable about the idea of birth, but feeling very broke. The idea of unassisted childbirth seems less and less odd.
As it turns out, a low-income woman without health insurance doesn’t have many of options when it comes to natural childbirth. In some states, government-assisted health care covers hospital birth (usually birth centers) but not home births.
Though a home birth is 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 the mom must take care of.
Just go for the hospital birth and hope for the best? What if the mom is shooting for a VBAC (Vaginal Birth After a Cesarean)?
In the small town, I live the local hospital does not permit VBAC. So, a VBAC hospital birth is out of the question for many women.
Midwives who will cover VBAC are getting harder and harder to find as fear of the subject increases, despite many studies showing that VBAC is 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 childbirth
Suddenly the idea makes a little more sense. I personally would never encourage anybody to have unassisted childbirth.
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 mother’s burden to carry, nobody else’s.
I do not feel I can make that decision for anybody else and I am flabbergasted that so many feel they are able to decide how a mother should birth 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 natural childbirth.
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 bad outcomes 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, that 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 common 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 childbirth movement. It will probably continue to grow as hospitals become more and more inhospitable to laboring women.