Why Is Natural Childbirth Still A Dirty Word?

Why are supporters of natural childbirth still being shamed ?

On August 12th this year, the day after my fourth grandchild was born, The Times ran a story on their front page with the headline 'Midwives back down on natural childbirth'.

The sub heading was, 'current policy makes women feel like failures.'

I'm sorry but I'm not buying that. The only person who can make you feel like a failure is you. We feel however we feel based on our own thoughts.

Let's say I had a baby by natural childbirth and you had a forceps delivery, is it rational that you should blame me for your feelings of failure?

No, any feelings of failure you may have are nothing to do with me, they are stories you tell yourself in your own head.

Let's spin it around, would it be rational of me to feel guilty that I had a natural birth and you had forceps?

Would it be rational of me to feel guilty that I had a natural birth and you had forceps?… Click To Tweet

And in any case, how can anyone, including the writer of the Times sub heading, make  a statement as sweeping as:

'Current policy makes women feel like failures'?

What policy? What women? Is that all women? Where is your evidence? Does anyone have solid statistics based evidence to back up that claim or is it based on anecdotal evidence which, in other fields is usually discounted as being unscientific.

natural childbirth

So how has it happened that an organisation supporting natural childbirth is being blamed for 'making women feel like failures'?

The Royal College of Midwives (RCM) had been campaigning since 2005 to see a rise in the number of women giving birth 'normally'. That is, without Caesarean, induction, instruments or epidural.

(When I refer to a 'normal' birth from here on, I mean, a birth without any of the above interventions.)

The RCM's original campaign was called the "Normal Birth Campaign" but three years ago, that campaign was changed to the "Better Births Initiative".

Reading the Times article, you could be forgiven for thinking the Better Births Initiative had only just happened when in fact, this 'news' is actually three years old.

Reading the Times article you could think that the Better Births Initiative was new when in fact it is 3 years old.… Click To Tweet

It goes without saying, medical intervention in childbirth is, for some women, an absolute necessity for the safety of themselves and their babies.

That is not up for dispute here - I am not against medical intervention in childbirth when it is genuinely needed.

What I do question is this - women who use induction and Caesarean by choice for convenience when there is no compelling medical reason to prevent them from experiencing natural childbirth. And more to the point, to stop the baby from experiencing natural childbirth.

Have we become so narcissistic now that we don't care to consider the impact of our decisions on others involved?

And if you aren't considering your baby's right to natural childbirth and his needs as he enters this world, how are you going to cope with his intense needs once he is here?

According to the Times article, only four in ten women give birth normally now as opposed to six in ten 30 years ago.

Natural childbirth versus a birth with some kind of intervention is an extremely emotive subject. Click To Tweet

Natural childbirth versus a birth with some kind of intervention is an extremely emotive subject and it seems that their campaign for 'normal' births (which ended three years ago) has upset some people to the point where the RCM now 'backing down'.

Er - they 'backed down' three years ago. Why is this on the front page of the Times now and written as if it only just happened?

On page two of the Times, the article carries an analysis section in which the writer admits that 'The RCM may be right that no careful reading of its stance could justify pursuit of normal birth at any cost.'..

This is an important point and I wonder how many people who are now criticizing the RCM and playing the blame game have actually read its stance on the subject.

But an even more important point in the analysis is where it continues, '...yet it is hardly surprising that those who did not pay such close attention could conclude that the goal was to increase the number of normal births.'

There is a huge difference in what is contained in a policy and how much close attention the readers of that policy are paying to it.

There is a huge difference in what is contained in a policy and how closely readers pay attention… Click To Tweet

Who is responsible if I don't read the Highway Code properly and I don't pay close attention to what road signs mean? If I kill someone because I didn't read a stop sign properly, who will end up in prison? It won't be the policy makers or the writers of the Highway Code.

If I fail my driving theory test, can I blame the writer of the manual for my lack of close enough attention to get it right?

The shaming of natural childbirth advocates has to stop - it has gone on for too long.

When I had my first baby 37 years ago in Canada, all this shaming and blaming nonsense was going on then. The natural childbirth movement was being painted as extreme and a bit 'dippy hippy'. I had to fight to get a natural birth and was very aware that I was seen by my doctor as a rebel against the system.

When I say I had to fight to get a natural birth, I mean I had to deflect a whole list of standard procedures that I did not want applied to me or my baby. It was a case of, if you don't tell us beforehand that you don't want these things, they are just going to be done as routine.

The shaming of natural childbirth advocates has gone on too long - it has to stop.… Click To Tweet

So maybe that is why women like me started to shun hospital births completely in order to avoid the fight not to be shaved, not to be given enemas, not to be offered drugs while extremely vulnerable, not to have have bright lights and noise, not to have fetal monitors attached intra-vaginally, not to be kept on our backs, not have interventions too soon, not to have the cord cut the until it stopped pulsating, not to have the baby washed, not to wrap baby up so he couldn't feel skin to skin contact, not to whisk him away to be weighed and measured before he'd been put to the breast and cuddled quietly under dimmed lights.

This is how it was in 1980 - we had to fight for those things and it was tiresome being looked at like some kind of weird alternative hippy type just for wanting a non-violent birth for your child.

It was tiresome being looked at as some hippy type because you wanted a non-violent birth for… Click To Tweet

Surely it would have been more sensible and safe for the medical establishment to listen to what the advocates of natural childbirth were saying and willingly co-operate so we had the best of both worlds.

We could have felt confident going into hospital knowing we would be left to labour and give birth however we wanted while being close to all the right equipment should things go wrong.

But no, hospitals, at the time, were places where those of us wanting to give natural childbirth a really good go had to be on our guard against unnecessary intervention at a time when we were at our most vulnerable.

During childbirth, we had to be on our guard against medical intervention when we were at our… Click To Tweet

I know of many women back then who were driven away from hospitals by the arrogant attitudes rife in the male dominated field of obstetrics at the time and who chose to have their second babies at home.

For every story of a death or injury caused by failure to use medical intervention during a birth there are stories of babies who have died or been severely injured during hospital births where instruments or scalpels have been used.

So why focus on the horrors of natural childbirth when it goes wrong? Both natural childbirth and medically assisted births have their horror stories. And both have success stories.

Why focus on the horrors of natural child birth when it goes wrong? Medicine has its fair share… Click To Tweet

Should we have been blaming hospital policies in the 80s for driving pro-natural childbirth women away because we didn't feel safe around people wielding forceps?

Because make no mistake - forceps can and do injure babies. Women do die from complications during and after Caesareans. Babies are traumatised by bright lights and noise.

So the RCM, I believe, is quite right in campaigning for better births. What is so wrong with midwives trying to raise awareness regarding the benefits of natural childbirth and the dangers of medical intervention during childbirth when they are used unnecessarily?

Don't you, as a mother-to-be, want all the facts? Don't you want what is best for your baby's physical and emotional health? Because if you don't, you shouldn't be having a baby.

Don't you want whatever is best for your baby's physical and emotional health during… Click To Tweet

I still can't figure out why the Times printed this out of date 'story' three years after the RCM changed their campaign. Deeper inside the paper on page 27, there was more on this story under the title 'Born Free'.

The writer acknowledges that 'since the 60s, advocates of 'natural' childbirth have been pitted against defenders of medical intervention.'

Quite why they have placed the word natural in quote marks I do not know. Why not plain and simple, natural childbirth? If I were to write The Times is a national 'news' paper in the UK, what would I be inferring?

It is these kinds of thinly veiled prickles that have made the fight against the routine medicalisation of childbirth so long and tiring.

We shouldn't have had to fight this fight and it shouldn't still be going on.

Yes there are some compelling reasons around the risk of death or injury why some women can't give birth without intervention.

Yes there are some compelling reasons around the risk of death or injury why some women can't… Click To Tweet

However, there are equally compelling reasons why healthy women, with straightforward pregnancies should try to avoid intervention and I sincerely hope the RCM will never be bullied into staying quiet about those reasons.

If you want the facts behind this 'story', you will find them on the Royal College of Midwives website.

I have nothing to do with the RCM - I have written this because I feel passionate about the subject and always have done. And it appeared in the paper the day after my fourth grandson was born, by emergency Caesarean that saved his life and possibly that of my daughter-in-law.

Some things cannot be planned for, such as baby deciding to try and leapt out feet first without anyone realising until the crucial moment.

Hospitals definitely have their place but so does natural childbirth and it is time we stopped shaming women who want to try and have one.

And it is time we stopped blaming pro-natural childbirth people for making women who don't manage to achieve natural childbirth 'feel like failures' - our thoughts are our own choice.

What has your experience with natural childbirth or medically assisted birth been? Please leave a comment at the very end of this post to let me know what your thoughts on natural childbirth, or otherwise, are.

4 comments

  1. My first grandson was born via emergency c-section and it saved his life and my daughter-in-law’s life. It was traumatic and unexpected as she was followed by midwives and no one knew he was breach even after she labored for hours and was moved to the hospital. She felt pressured to have a VBAC for baby number 2 but was so traumatized by her first experience she opted for a second c-section. I believe her decision to do that was the absolute best for her and the baby as she carried some PTSD from her prior experience. If I had it to do over, I would have a midwife, but I had an older very experienced OB who was not into aggressive intervention, didn’t even have an ultrasound which was fine by me. Hospitals just can’t seem to help themselves from being technical and procedure oriented which is not conducive to any sort of natural process. I wonder if we’ll live long enough to see these issues resolved? Great piece, Gilly.

    1. Hi Molly and thanks so much for this contribution to the discussion. It really amazes me that with all this intervention equipment they are so keen to use, they don’t seem to have a way, (or the will?) to detect that a baby is breech while there is still time for it not to become a last minute life threatening emergency. I can’t imagine the agony involved when a woman is 10cm dilated, ready to push but has to fight it while she waits for an ambulance knowing that things are critical. So glad we both had happy outcomes with our daughters-in-law and babies but I wonder how many don’t.Thanks again for your input.x

  2. Gilly, I LOVE this!! My first child was with a midwife, and the only intervention was, she snipped me after Crystal’s head had been stuck for 3 minutes. The cord was wrapped around her neck 3x, and my contractions had stopped. Charlyn saved her life!
    My second baby was a C-section that I did not want, but I was a Navy wife, and they didn’t allow midwives. And because of all the risk factors, mentioned above, plus an over 9 lb baby, both times, I was forced to have the C section. Worst experience of my life. I advocate strongly for women to have natural births, if at all possible! I know if I had been left alone, and had a midwife, it would have been a whole different story.
    And no one talks about the difficulty bonding with your baby, because of the tremendous pain!
    Thank you for posting about this topic, that is so vital to women, and children.

    1. Thanks Melinda – its so lovely to hear your story and to know you feel strongly about natural births where possible.That stupid article in the paper made me so cross! Where are their stats? You just can’t make blanket statements like they did. I’m a woman and they don’t speak for me! And yes, the bonding thing – that’s a really good point. If we just came home from hospital after major surgery with a big wound, we wouldn’t feel like having a newborn to look after but that is exactly what happens! You get to feel crap AND look after a needy new born baby all at the same time. Yay!Thanks for your thoughtful comment. x

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