Unassisted Childbirth (UC) refers to giving birth without the assistance of a trained birth professional, but most women who choose UC will tell you that they did have support and assistance in many forms throughout pregnancy and birth.
The first relationship to consider, if you have one, is your spouse or partner. One of the most common questions I hear from women who desire an unassisted birth is, “How do I convince my husband?” Just like any other situation where conflict or disagreement occurs, making decisions about your baby’s birth will require productive communication. As unfair as it might seem, you’ll probably have to really take the lead in discussing things. You may need to dig deep to find out what is really behind your partners apprehension. Often, spouses who have only seen modern, industrialized childbirth (even worse, fictional depictions of birth on TV) will feel fearful and concerned that they will be expected to deliver the baby or fill the role of “doctor.” Sharing birth stories or videos of undisturbed births or mothers catching their own babies might help him/her see another way that birth can occur and facilitate further discussion.
Sometimes, a spouse is completely against unassisted birth (or even midwife assisted homebirth) and cannot be convinced otherwise. In this situation, many women decide to compromise by hiring a midwife or delivering at a birth center. Others find their only alternative (or the only one their spouse will accept) is birthing in the hospital. As the woman carrying the baby, the decision is ultimately yours. You may find you have to choose between an ultimatum (which may involve birthing without your spouse’s support, or even without his/her presence) and a compromise.
My body, My birth? Or Our baby, Our birth? Ideally, we’d all have secure, healthy partnerships before having babies and this wouldn’t even be a question. In reality, many pregnancies occur before relationships have matured fully; your partnership might need work, or be stressed for a variety of reasons; and either or both partners might be seriously lacking in effective communication skills needed to work through conflict.
With my first son’s birth, I took the ‘My body, My birth’ approach. Though I never technically set an ultimatum because my boyfriend claimed he agreed with my decision, I knew he was unreliable and I don’t think I would have compromised my birthplan for him. I ended up giving birth alone. He only remained in my and my son’s life for a few more months. Given the circumstances, even though I didn’t fully understand them at the time, I made the right decision. I’ll be forever grateful that my son and I had an amazing birth experience, just the two of us.
I’ve since married a man who is a true partner to me (he also adopted my oldest son.) Convincing him to have our second baby unassisted was easy because, from the beginning he knew the story of my first birth and that I’d want to birth any future children the same way. If we had a disagreement about the birth of our child today, I would absolutely compromise – unless I was convinced that our baby would be put in real danger – with the best interest of our entire family unit at heart.
In many ways, setting an ultimatum says a lot about where your relationship is and can even set the tone for where it’s heading. If you are new parents, this might also be your first big parenting decision together. Emotions (and hormones) are often running high. Communicate your needs, fears and desires carefully. Stretch the conversation out over months if you have to; and be prepared with lots of information to answer your partner’s questions and concerns.
Besides your partner, there may be the question of who else will be invited to share the birth experience. Possibilities may include: older children, extended family members, a friend or a doula. Young children should be provided with their own support person, who can tend to their needs and give one on one attention while you labor. Anyone else present should be fully respectful of your decision to birth unassisted. If they are fearful, unsupportive, or if there is any tension or power struggle between you (as is often the case with family members) keep the negative energy out of your birthspace and don’t invite them!
If you hire a doula, it is important to understand her role as a non-medical support person. She is not there ‘just incase’ something goes wrong. Think of it this way, she isn’t there to play the role of the hands off midwife you couldn’t find (or afford.) She’s there to fill the role of the supportive friend/sister/mother you always wanted.
You will also want to identify your prenatal support system. Will you have prenatal care provided by a doctor or midwife? Will you seek the services of a Chiropractor, Acupuncturist, or other alternative health care provider during the pregnancy? Do you have friends or networks in the community where you will be able to openly discuss your plans to birth unassisted? Where will you seek education about childbirth? Who will you turn to if you have questions? You may find that the internet is an amazing source for information and support from like-minded individuals, but if you run into serious challenges having a support system of people you can talk to face to face is ideal.
You may also find it helpful to identify your extended support system – people and resources that help you maintain a healthy pregnancy – for instance, your baby sitter, yoga class or an organic farm share.
Last but not least, you’ll want to establish a ‘safe zone’ by identifying who needs to be kept out of the loop. If you’re concerned aunt is likely to harass you throughout your entire pregnancy, it may be best to keep the birthplans from her. If your mother in law threatens to call an ambulance, she should not be notified when you go into labor. Friends who feel the need to tell you every birth emergency story they hear in an attempt to change your mind about UC might need to be told, “If we are going to continue our friendship through my pregnancy, this topic is going to have to be off limits from now on.”
I am a mother of two boys; 26 months and 11 months. I had what I now understand to be a traumatic birth experience with my first son. During the last two months of my second pregnancy I stumbled upon a natural birth-minded Facebook page called Birth Without Fear. The author of the page sought to spread the word about natural birth and how when we face birth without fear, we empower ourselves and ultimately can have a wonderful birth experience. Needless to say, I soaked this information up like a sponge.
I was not exposed to the natural birthing community before this time. I knew what I’d seen on TV (horrible I know that now,) and the few stories from friends, most of whom had epidurals. I didn’t have any friends growing up whose mothers had babies, and my own mother had a slew of health issues that truly did necessitate a c-section. When I discovered this information I experienced a wide range of emotions from excitement and amazement, to shock and shame that I, a reasonably intelligent and logical 28 year old grad school student, didn’t know about things like why it is better to not clamp the cord until it has stopped pulsing, and that a strong birth support system can enable you to get through that part of labor when many women (including me) feel like they may in fact die, (or in my case wishing someone would just crack me over the head with a 2x4.)
As I read, I started preparing myself to get through labor and delivery without asking for an epidural this time. I was with an OB practice, and I live about 45 minutes from the nearest hospital (so homebirth wasn’t a good option for me, and there are no birthing centers in my area.) I knew that I needed to get some good tools under my belt and try to help my husband learn about what he could do to support me, though I realized that this was not enough time to reeducate him, and finances were too tight to hire a doula. I woke up at 6:30am in active labor and immediately called my OB who told me to head into the hospital. When I got to there (after an excruciating 45 minute car ride) I was out of my mind because I hadn’t been able to get up and move around for so long that the intensity of the contractions, and the lack of strong support weakened my state of mind and I did eventually ask for the epidural, (though I also knew that I could specifically ask for the lowest dose of medication so that I could still feel my body; a choice I am glad I made.) When I was checked right before getting the epidural, I was already 8 cm dilated; a fact that still to this day makes me know I could have made it without the epidural if I’d had more support. I went on to have a wonderfully peaceful delivery with self directed pushing, warm compresses to protect my perineum (I had torn hole to hole during the vacuum delivery of my first birth,) and two of the most amazing providers from my OB practice who respected all of my wishes in my birth plan. I knew then what I had to do (if we decided to have a third baby) to have a natural birth and get through it.
A few months after the birth of my second son, a friend of mine told me she was pregnant and that she wanted to know anything and everything I could offer her about pregnancy, labor, delivery, and being a new mom. As soon as I started giving her this great information that I had found, she couldn’t get enough. She went on to enroll in Bradley classes and decided to have a home birth. I found myself healing even more from my first birth because I was able to help someone else who I cared about, empower herself to have a birth that would be an amazing experience, free of the pressures and interventions of a hospital.
About a month before her due date, she wrote me a long email telling me how grateful she was that I had continued to support her and tell her that I believed in her ability to do this. She was being met by friends and family who told her things like “Why would you risk your baby’s life by having a home birth?” Better yet, “Why would you want to go through all that pain when you can have an epidural and not have to worry about the pain?” I was one of a very few who continued to support her decision and she asked me to serve as her doula. I was honored, humbled, and incredibly excited.
On Wednesday, January 11th, I received a text message that her water had broke at 8 am and that contractions were picking up. At 3:30 pm, I arrived at her house. She was in the middle of a tough contraction while leaning over her birthing ball. I walked in, dropped my purse and immediately went over and grabbed her hand and told her to squeeze it with all her might. When the contraction was over, she said she was glad that I had arrived. Her midwife came around 5:30 and she reported that she was 5cm dilated and that she could get in her birthing tub if she wanted. She immediately felt some relief in the tub as we spent the next couple of hours pouring water onto her sacrum through each contraction. As time passed, she started to mentally fade out and let labor take over. During the contractions she frequently asked us why we let her do this at home, demanded we just get the baby out, and said she couldn’t do it anymore. I remember at one point she screamed at us, “You don’t understand what this is like, I CAN’T do this!” I crouched next to her and told her that I remembered how tough it is and that I knew if anyone could do this it was her. Most of the rest of the time I tried to stay quiet; I remember that feeling of being so alone as the only one in labor, experiencing this excruciating pain and just wanting it to end. I remembered that nothing anyone said was going to make me feel better, because words were not going to stop the pain. So I focused on staying present for her, making sure she was sipping water or juice, pouring water on her back and trying to remind her husband (who was visibly shaken by the experience of seeing his wife who he loved with all his soul, in so much pain and not being able to do anything about it,) that this too shall pass.
While she was pushing, I thought back again to my births and how hearing the midwife give me running commentary on the progress of actually birthing my baby helped me stay mentally focused on pushing him out. The description of where he was helped me to believe that the end was near and soon I would be holding my baby. It was enough to keep me going, so I hoped it would be for her. With every productive push, I cheered her on and told her how much more of his head was visible. When I talked to her today, she said that was the one thing that kept her focused during pushing; knowing that she was making progress and it would truly be over soon.
Bradley was born at 9:52 pm on 1/11/12, a healthy 7 lbs 14oz, after only 2 hours of pushing. I was in awe of my friend’s strength, and I cried when I saw her reach down, pull him up to her chest and burst into tears as she greeted her son for the first time. I grabbed the camera and started snapping pictures of their first moments as a family, and my friend’s realization that she just birthed her son naturally without any interventions and medications. I realized that I had just witnessed quite possibly the most amazing experience in the world, and I was honored to have been present and played a part.
My friend wears a badge of honor that many women do not have. While I respect everyone’s choices (because what’s right for you may not be right for someone else,) I really do believe that when a woman has the courage to birth at home, she has summoned a belief in her own body that many of us are too afraid to do. We are bombarded daily with pills that can fix anything and everything, but rarely do we take responsibility for our own choices that led us to an assembly line lifestyle and manner of medical care. Every aspect of our lives is the result of our own choices, and the first step to changing how birth is handled, is by having the courage to make a choice (rather than being told what to do with someone who has a degree that will take them a millennium to pay off,) regardless of what that choice is.
As I came down from my own emotional high after this experience, I found myself conflicted; could I really commit to no medications if I have another baby? I know that it is the safest way to birth, but as I recount my own labor experiences, and the experience of watching my friend experience labor, I find that I doubt myself. My friend is one of the most resilient and courageous people I know. She has been through hell and back, she never plays a victim, and always takes responsibility for how her choices have affected her own life. I watched her in agony, heard her screams for help, and I know that these are often a part of labor. Sure there are lots of women who report little pain with labor and birth, but as Mama Birth said in one of her blog posts, most of the time it DOES hurt like hell.
I come full circle now, back to Mrs. Birth Without Fear and her message is even clearer; natural birthing without fear is not about no pain, it is about accepting that your body and your birth will be what it is because your body knows what it needs to do to get the job done. Birthing without fear is about accepting the potential for any number of things to happen, to enter into the experience with eyes wide open, and to accept that while it may be tough, you will survive, (even though at the time, you may be absolutely convinced that you won’t.)
I witnessed my friend recover instantly from her birth; it is incredible how the body floods a new mother with hormones and endorphins that help her bounce back so quickly. The natural rush of oxytocin that comes when a baby is born is incredible to see, (just as you can see a mother’s body shake uncontrollably as the hormones build up for another contraction during the pushing phase.) The woman’s body is an incredible piece of engineering, designed to create and bring life into this world. Each and every step that is difficult occurs to humble us, to remind us that we have taken on the ultimate job of becoming a mother, but that every sacrifice we make for our babies is worth it a thousand times over.
I know I can do it; I just have to remember to believe in myself, and to surround myself with people who love and respect me, just as my friend did. I know that if I have another baby, my friend will be my main support person, my rock, the person who I know did this and who will commit to me like I committed to her. I am so blessed to have been a part of this experience. Through this experience my friend and I have become more than just friends, and more than family. We have become spiritually bonded in a way that only a life changing experience can bond people.
My friend, you inspire me to strive to be strong, to be brave, and you make me proud to be a woman.
Once you have chosen a care provider, the next step in planning a hospital birth is establishing your support system. I would argue that this is possibly the single most important thing you can do for both you and your baby to ensure you have the birth you desire. Having a solid support system to guide you through pregnancy, labor and delivery has been shown to increase women’s reports of satisfaction and happy memories of their labor and birth. This can also be the most challenging aspect of planning a birth.
The process of establishing a support system can be difficult because it requires you to be familiar with what you want out of the experience (preferences for interventions such as induction or pain medications,) and that you find people who will support your decisions without question. You likely have already been barraged with people who have unsolicited advice for you. While it can be beneficial to hear many different views and opinions on what helps and what doesn’t, the choice is ultimately yours.
When I gave birth to my first son, I was astonished at how unprepared I was to handle labor. I had a very supportive husband, but we were not as informed about the process as we should have been. During the end of my second pregnancy I started reading and discovered an amazing amount of information that helped me get through labor much easier the second time around. I discovered a number of sources of great information about handling labor and delivery in a naturalistic and intervention free way. Unfortunately, I was less than a month away from my EDD and I did not have enough time to thoroughly educate both myself and my husband properly to get through transition and I ultimately asked for an epidural. When I continued to read after the birth of my second son, I found even more information and confidence that I know will help me get through a third labor and delivery, drug free.
I have outlined two of what I think are “essential roles” to help you through labor and delivery. These roles can be played by anyone you chose, as long as you know that these people will trust in your beliefs about what you want, and will support you 100%. The process of assigning these roles to people in your life does not have to be done at one time or another, but should be ongoing throughout your pregnancy. You may discover that people are supportive at first, but as you discuss your wishes for labor and delivery, they try to impose their own opinions and values on you. You may want to wait to officially assign people to play these roles until you are nearing your due date so that you can be sure that they will support you the way you want them to.
Your Partner: This person is usually the husband, boyfriend, lover or life partner. Your partner loves you, trusts you, and is definitely going to be there for the big moment. If you do not have this person in your life now, consider a close friend who shares your values. If this person does not share your values and beliefs about labor and delivery, you may try to educate them with information you have found that supports your decisions. It may also be the case that this person will still support you even if they do not understand your decisions or would do things differently. Either way, it is essential that you trust this person to fully support you during labor and delivery. If you do not have someone close that you feel you can count on, you should consider a doula.
A Doula: A doula is a trained professional, typically a woman who is knowledgeable about all aspects of pregnancy, labor and delivery. Doulas are typically paid (though some utilize a sliding scale rate, and many in training work for free while they gain experience towards certification.) A Doula essentially acts as a secondary support system for both you and your partner, and ensures that your wishes about labor and delivery are adhered to. A Doula is an excellent resource to have if you are planning a natural birth in a hospital because she will be able to ensure that the hospital staff does not try to influence you to agree to unnecessary interventions such as pain medication or monitoring. You can read more about what a Doula does here on the DONA International website. You can also use the DONA site to find a doula. The presence of a Doula can help your partner feel supported so that he or she can better support you. Doulas do not replace your partner, they are a compliment to the partner.
Birthing classes are also a form of support for you and your partner for labor and delivery. There are a number of classes and methods that you can choose from. I have outlined some of the most common and familiar methods here.
The Bradley Method: This method underscores natural techniques combined with viewing the pregnancy, labor, and delivery process as being a partnership between mother and her partner. It is an experience that both people share, and this method focuses on educating both the mother and her partner about pregnancy, labor and birth so that the partner is better able to understand the process and thus better able to support the mother. The Bradley Method involves a 12 week course that both the mother and her partner attend, and is taught by certified instructors. Class sizes are small (3-6 couples), so that the instructor can provide one on one instruction. Click here to view more information on The Bradley Method.
Lamaze: is slightly more focused on labor and birth specifically, though it does encourage healthy and informed pregnancy choices as well. Lamaze is not simply breathing techniques anymore. It teaches the “6 Healthy Birth Practices” that focus on the choices a laboring mother has about her labor and delivery. It educates women about why avoiding interventions is helpful and offers naturalistic ways to manage labor. While its naturalistic views are similar to that of Bradley, there is less emphasis on the partner.</p>
HypnoBirthing: Also known as the Mongan Method, focuses on relaxation techniques and utilizes self hypnosis to help the birthing mother work with her body throughout the labor and birth process. It educates women and their partners about the natural process of labor and birth with strong emphasis on a variety of relaxation techniques including breathing exercises, and deep relaxation techniques that can be practiced throughout pregnancy. HypnoBirthing also emphasizes healthy pregnancy practices and provides women with lots of information to take home including a work book and relaxation scripts. Class sizes are small and private instruction is available. You can find a HypnoBirthing class for more information on Hypnobirthing.
There are also a number of books and authors that are I highly recommend. I have only read a few of these, but they have been recommended by a number of people I trust in the birthing community. If you would like to locate a book at a low cost, check out Amazon. You can often find books used at significantly below the retail cost in a store.
- Husband-Coached Childbirth by Robert A. Bradley, M.D., Marjie Hathaway, Jay Hathaway, James Hathaway
- Natural Childbirth The Bradley Way by Susan Mc Cutcheon, AAHCC
- The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding distributed by La Leche League International
- Children at Birth by Marjie and Jay Hathaway, AAHCC
- Assistant Coach's Manual Susan Hathaway Bek, Marjie Hathaway, AAHCC
- The Birth Partner Penny Simkin
- Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth Ina May Gaskin
- Birth Matters: A Midwife’s Manifesta Ina May Gaskin
Also there are a number of Facebook Pages that I absolutely love including Birth Without Fear, Mamas and Babies, Mama Birth, and Breastfeeding Arts that are personal blogs by naturalistic mothers who share research information and personal stories to help mothers make informed choices. These pages offer a community of women who have experienced all different kinds of births and share their experiences and support for women looking for information to make informed decisions.
As you can see, there is a ton of information out there at your disposal. The key is finding it and figuring out what fits with your values and desires best. Even if you have only heard stories from women who said that labor is painful and you are expecting the worst, (which I was for my first birth), you will find a lot of great information in these resources that may help to reduce the chances that you will ask for pain medication and the need for other unnecessary interventions. I know I sound repetitive, but knowledge is POWER! Empower yourself to make the best choices for you and your baby so that you may have the best birth possible!
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