In these days of ‘medically managed’ birth it surprises me how often natural pregnancy and birth is considered to be dangerous.
Questions such as “With NO pain relief!?”, “You mean she had a home birth?” or “But doesn’t that put the baby at risk?” are still common responses.
Some years ago I was doula for a mother birthing in a large private hospital in Sydney. I was astonished at the lack of ‘natural’ pain management tools available in this popular maternity hospital, one example was the shower which barely ‘trickled’ from the ceiling, with no ‘hand-held’ shower head to relieve back pain for the labouring woman.
Very quickly into the labour Mum requested an epidural, the Anaesthetist duly arrived, I happened to glance at his notes and the words “Epidural – then natural delivery” leapt out at me! For me this seemed to be an oxymoron, for the Anaesthetist it was his reality.
An epidural is a useful intervention at times, for example if Mum is feeling exhausted after a long pre-labour and needs to rest and re-gather her strength for the important work of bringing her baby down the birth canal and out into the world. However, an epidural does inhibit the body’s ability to produce the hormones required for natural birth and statistics for the use of forceps or vacuum delivery are higher following an epidural.
Fortunately, nowadays many birth suites have great showers, baths, floor mats, heat packs, birthing balls… all wonderful tools for supporting a natural labour. More and more hospitals are aware of the needs of women to feel empowered in their birth and are adjusting their approach to medical intervention accordingly.
Where we sit on the ‘Intervention Scale’ is a personal choice, for example – some pregnant mothers may feel a caesarean birth is the only intervention they would like to avoid; for others being able to go into labour naturally without medical induction is an important consideration; and for a much smaller group the routine use of ultra-sound in pregnancy feels like an unnecessary procedure. At the other end of the scale, a student asked me recently “Is having Acupuncture to help bring on labour considered to be an intervention?”
When birth preparation and education includes information on medical intervention, it becomes easier to embrace this as supportive, and sometimes necessary, assistance for birth. The important thing to remember in all of this, is that each woman’s experience of birth is a unique and individual one. Each woman’s place on the ‘Fulfilling Birth Experience Scale’ is also a deeply personal one; one which will stay with her for the rest of her life and often define the way she approaches future births.
For new mothers, sharing birth stories in a safe and supportive environment, such as a Mothers Group or with a Doula or Midwife, is a positive way to integrate the journey of birth as a vital step along the path of transformation into motherhood.
Anna Watts is a Sacred Birth Educator, Counsellor & Healer, supporting birthing women and their families since 1990.