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Has undisturbed birth become a mythical creature?

Fresh from the oxytocin high of supporting my daughter as she gently gave birth to my granddaughter in an undisturbed home waterbirth, I attended a workshop with midwife, Rachel Reed, author of Reclaiming Childbirth as a Rite of Passage. Rachel’s response to my exciting news suggesting this was a ‘Unicorn Birth’ has remained with me.

Wondering if normal physiological birth has in fact become ‘something unusual, rare or unique’ prompted me to reflect on my early years as a childbirth educator and how the experience of birthing has changed over the 30 plus years of supporting birthing families, including training doulas in holistic birth support for the past decade.

My journey as a prenatal yoga teacher, childbirth educator and birth support attendant began in the late 80’s, this was a pivotal time in the birthing world when positive changes were being embraced by mothers who wished to reclaim the sacred art of childbirth. Natural childbirth activist, Sheila Kitzinger, grandmother, anthropologist, and author of over twenty books, was traveling the world as a committed advocate for change. Sheila was a strong believer that all women who are not at high risk should be given the choice of a homebirth, I had the pleasure of meeting Sheila at the 1991 Homebirth Conference in Sydney.

Her obituary, in The Guardian, names Sheila Kitzinger as the “high priestess of natural childbirth”, continuing “It was her belief that childbirth should not be reduced to a pathological event and she waged a relentless crusade against its medicalisation. She felt obstetricians had taken control, pushing aside the hands-on experience of midwives and the personal needs and wishes of mothers.”

This was also the time when Janet Balaskas founded the Active Birth Centre in England and began a revolution against the hospitals who had adopted what was called ‘Active Management’ of labour—a highly technological approach, which favoured medical control over labour and birth. The term ‘Active Birth’ was chosen as a deliberate play on words—to contrast with ‘Active Management’ – giving the power of birth back to the mother. According to Dr. Michel Odent, French childbirth specialist – “The day when Janet introduced the phrase ‘active birth’ is possibly the most important one in the history of childbirth in Europe…since the day when the French doctor Mauriceau took control of this event and placed the labouring woman on her back.”

Both of these extraordinary women have laid foundations that we still draw on today in birth education on the process of normal physiological birth. As a doula I have supported many mothers birthing their babies after long, and occasionally short, physiological labours without medical intervention; and I’ve also walked alongside mothers who have received some form of medical assistance to bring their baby into the world. Witnessing the power of mothers stepping through this profound childbirth rite of passage, in all its forms, continues to be a privilege and an honour in which I now mentor doulas as they learn the art of supporting birth choices without judgement.

Coming back to Unicorn Birth

I now ask myself, ‘How can we inspire more trust in birth?” or perhaps more attainable “What would inspire more mothers to seek out care providers who also trust in physiological birth?” Sadly, many obstetricians and some midwives working in the hospital system have never experienced ‘holding space’ during the uninterrupted process of birth and, by all accounts, this is not what they are trained to offer. If they had experienced birthing in all its glorious, messy, organic unfolding, perhaps they would be less inclined to intervene in late pregnancy or during labour with increasingly more medical tests and technological ways to speed up the process of nature.

My daughter and her partner gave birth at home with a midwife and support team creating a safe and sacred space for birthing, including labour comfort from the family dog! This did not just happen, they chose to build a relationship with a caring midwife who carries ultimate trust in birthing, they attended positive birth classes together for education and to strengthen the bond with their baby, and my daughter embraced the lineage of normal undisturbed birth that has carried through our maternal ancestry.

Naturally there were moments were my daughter had to dig deep within to surrender to the surges of labour, with the unwavering support of her partner, witnessing her feminine strength and focus as she birthed my granddaughter was the ultimate rite of passage for my own step across the threshold to becoming a grandmother.

As a doula I do not give ‘advice’, as a grandmother my wish is for more mothers to experience Unicorn Birth, to meet their babies surrounded by love, and to make it a common, less rare, reality for families to begin their journey of parenthood from a place of transformation and wholeness.

Anna Watts is a Sacred Birth Educator & Doula Trainer, Counsellor and Spiritual Healer.  Celebration of Birth Doula Academy offers regular Sacred Birth & Potnatal Doula Trainings for both new and experienced Doulas to explore birth as a journey of transformation and healing, including the online Chakra Birthing Wisdom course for pregnant women and doulas.