Several days ago, I read an article in my Facebook feed-”Ten Things I Always Tell Pregnant Women” by Joanna Goddard. For the most part, I wholeheartedly agreed with much of what was expressed. She interviewed Erica Cohen, clearly a seasoned doula, who deeply understands the art and science of birthwork. However, there was one thing Erica said that really stuck with me. “All birth is natural.” I read and reread the paragraph in which she expounded on this idea. I thought about it for days. I attempted to try on that concept, as if I agreed, to see how that would feel and just could not get there. Nope. I very strongly disagree for so many reasons. You can imagine my surprise when I saw it pop up on the Bright Birthing Facebook page with Gwen’s comments “Love this!”.
I found myself distracted for a couple days. I love and cherish the Bright Birthing team members and always hope to demonstrate the value I place on their perspectives. Yesterday morning, I finally decided to send a bit of a rant to Sara, Gwen and Stephanie via email to share my conflicting views and open up a conversation amongst our team members. One of my favorite things about working with these amazing women is that we often have differing perspectives. We’re not always on the same page about everything. But we care enough about each other to talk through our disagreements. That is golden!
The group consensus was that we should share my thoughts in a blog post. I’ve edited a little, just to make it more of a blog and less of a rant, but content is completely intact! Here ya go!....
Here's a link to the article for those who may or may not have read it...
Here's the excerpt I'm referring to...
Natural birth. We need to stop using the term “natural birth.” The concept of natural birth is divisive and inherently competitive. All birth is natural. It’s as simple as that. If you want to have the intense sensations of labor and you’re coping well, go for it! If you have a hard time with pain or you have bad associations from trauma, that’s totally okay. You have the inherent right to choose how you want to navigate your birth experience, and those choices should be free of judgment. You should be celebrated for moving through the process of pregnancy and birth, however it unfolds, unmedicated, medicated or cesarean. THERE IS NO UNNATURAL BIRTH. It’s not Westworld. It’s all natural.
I love the spirit of her comments. I agree that much about birth has become divisive and competitive and find that to be a sad reality of our society. I agree that NATURAL is an inaccurate term that may mean different things to different people. We know with certainty that many products labelled "natural" are full of harmful additives, for example. When I think of NATURAL in relation to pretty much anything, I reach out to connect with the essence of the human experience spanning millions of years on this beautiful earth. I think of the time we've spent with our bare feet in the mud; the time we've spent huddling next to fires, made with our own energy and intelligence; our reliance on the stars, our animal brothers and sisters, and each other. My vision of a NATURAL human is someone who knows how to live in harmony with the earth; some who not only survives, but THRIVES in the natural world, with no need for modern entrapments. Perhaps because my definition of NATURAL is already so far from the picture that is painted by corporations, the media, etc..., I am especially sensitive to this particular application of the term?
The crisis of women being disempowered and devalued by our society is something I care deeply about and hope to address throughout my life as a birth worker. I absolutely agree that each birthing person has the right and responsibility to choose how they want to navigate the experience of giving birth. I hope that someday every person who gives birth will be celebrated for that beautiful act of strength, grit, love, and vulnerability-regardless of method, medication, or location. I hope that every single thing I ever say or do throughout my life and career will contribute positively, whether directly or indirectly, to the mission of creating true equity for women in all facets of life (i mean, world domination , really...but, I'll take equity I guess for now!).
However, I think by applying the term NATURAL BIRTH to ALL birth, we undermine the importance of speaking accurately about what happens in hospitals, homes, and birth centers. I don't see any way to possibly address the many, many problems with the modern maternity care system if we allow ourselves to placate women by generically applying the word "NATURAL" to all births. I find it incredibly condescending to birthing people. I don't believe that much of what happens in doctors' offices and hospitals surrounding birth (and many other "medical conditions") is anything like NATURAL. I don't think the interactions feel natural. I don't think the environment is natural. And it seems like it should go without saying that being hooked up to monitors and medications, while someone looks at a screen to make decisions about your well-being is not natural. I just can't get there. I don't want to get there. I think without speaking clearly about augmentations and interventions, we miss an important opportunity to truly empower women. I don't agree that women will be more empowered if we all lie to ourselves and each other about the realities of modern maternity care.
I believe women will be empowered when they are educated healthcare consumers.
I believe women will be empowered when they are informed decision makers.
I believe everyone will be better off when we address the unfathomable inequities and inconsistencies in maternity care.
I believe there is an enormous amount of work to be done, so that, eventually, the FACT that birthing people are being duped, dismissed, and steamrolled by the system becomes so evident that they just won't fucking tolerate that shit anymore.
I hope that I live long enough to BE the change and SEE the change when educated, informed, empowered women are DRIVERS and DETERMINERS of what maternity care looks and feels like in the this country.
Lastly, I hope that our fears of judgement will not prevent us from having the hard conversations that will be required if we ever want to put a dent in this mess.