Monday, October 09, 2006

Pushed and Pulled

I’ve been following a recent discussion thread on MDC (Mothering Dot Commune) about unassisted birth. One of the posters wrote:

“It's one thing to be motivated by a desire to NOT have something happen. It's another to be motivated by a desire to HAVE something happen.

See the difference?
Pain pushes.
Vision pulls.”

Embracing what we DO want, rather than just avoiding what we DON'T, has really resonated with me. I've been thinking a lot about the term "unassisted birth." It's interesting that so many of the words we use for birth focus on what is absent:

These words are important because they help identify what is wrong with our current birth culture. A great deal of my motivation to birth at home is to avoid unnecessary and harmful hospital procedures. I don’t want an IV, electronic fetal monitoring, artificial rupture of membranes, vaginal exams, Pitocin, epidural, narcotics, time limits on labor, forceps, vacuum extraction, cesarean section, immediate cord clamping, cord traction, sepatation from baby for bathing or measuring, bright lights, narrow hospital beds.... The list goes on.

I have a healthy fear of birthing in a hospital. Just a quick comparison of cesarean rates in healthy women planning home or hospital births is enough to keep me securely at home. In the year 2000, roughly 19% of healthy (or “low risk” in medicalese) women planning hospital births had cesarean sections. Cesarean rates among women planning home births are consistently between 1-4%.

But birthing at home merely to avoid the hospital is only part of the picture. I love words that focus on what we're gaining, not just what we're leaving behind, when we reject the rituals and confinements of institutional birth:
empowered birth
ecstatic birth
autonomous birth (see Linda Hessel’s blog for an excellent discussion of this term, especially her posts titled “Laura Shanley” and “Terminology”)

Early books about unassisted childbirth often use the term “Do-It-Yourself childbirth.” I like that term--I'm a big DIY girl myself. Over the past several years I've learned how to do plumbing, electricity, framing, plastering, drywall, roofing, tiling.... Almost anything you can do to a house, my husband and I have done it! A DIY-er isn't afraid to get dirty, to make mistakes, to make a mess at times. I trust myself to do the job right, whereas when I hire someone (which I've done twice, once for a big job and once for a little job) I'm always fretting about whether or not it's good enough. Plus there's something so satisfying about accomplishing a big task and having professionals come over and admire the quality of your work! Or when people ask you which contractor you hired, seeing the look on their face when you say, "oh, I did it all myself. Piece of cake."

Home repair manuals are filled with dire warnings about leaving certain jobs up to professionals—anything from refinishing wood floors to electrical work. And yes, there are certain things that I will hire out, such as working on gas lines. I’m sure that I could figure it out if I wanted to, but it’s not worth the hassle. But most of these things we have done ourselves, and the results were fantastic.

On the other hand, DIY also conjures up images of Bob Vila and middle-aged men wearing toolbelts and red plaid shirts. It’s probably why the term “DIY childbirth” fell out of vogue.

But enough talk of home repairs. I think freebirth speaks to me the most. Because there's nothing attached to it. There is no "right" way to freebirth. Just you and the baby and the freedom to do whatever is necessary to have that baby.

I don’t have any one particular vision of how this birth should unfold. Perhaps I will labor at night in our fireplace nook, warmed and lit by a fire. Maybe I will give birth by candlelight in our oversized Jacuzzi tub. I might push the baby out kneeling on our bed, at mid-day, with sunlight streaming in from the seventeen windows in our bedroom. (Can I say that our house has good birthing vibes?? So many nice places to labor in.) I may have a “wham, bam, thank you ma’am” labor that leaves me feeling somewhat stunned. Or labor could be long and slow. The point of freebirth is that there is no script I have to follow, no rules for what is right or wrong. In the end, what I really want is to be able to experience birth on my own terms, on my own power. I want my baby to emerge in an atmosphere of love and peace, and to know only the warmth of his parent’s arms. I want to come away feeling exhilarated and to be able to say "Don't mess with me. I can do anything now!"


  1. I've been reading a lot of your posts and links to other sites and really enjoyed learning more about unassisted birth. It really sounds very beautiful! I totally understand the need and desire to have control over everything at your birth. I hope your birth is everything you expect and want. We love you and all want you to be happy!

  2. I am sp unbelievably delighted to find other blogs like mine. I think you're due within three weeks of me, congrats on getting to this point in your life and on the pending babe.

  3. ME TOO!!!

    I love the term "freebirth." It's such an upthrust fist of righteous indignation towards the hospital bueracracy.


  4. ((I want to come away feeling exhilarated and to be able to say "Don't mess with me. I can do anything now!"))

    ME TOO!!!

  5. "Healthy fear of hospitals." Reminds me, when I was telling a friend what my father-in-law said (that I have an irrational fear of hospitals), She reassured me by saying, "Oh no, you have a totally rational fear of hospitals!" How beautifully stated.

    Yes, I am afraid of hospitals! And I am proud of it!

    People think we're brave to have a birth away from the hospital? I would be much more afraid of giving birth in one.


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