Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Reuters article on Freebirthing

This just came out today via Reuters: "Freebirthers dismiss fear and bring babies home."

I like the quote the article ended with, from Mary Siever:
I can't claim to know why they feel this way, but my belief is that the majority of them -- doctors and health authorities -- truly do not think women are intellectually capable of making their own decisions when it comes to birth.
I dedicated nearly 4 years of my life to researching and preparing for my birth. This was not a decision made out of selfishness, ignorance, or irresponsibility. I wish that more women would put as much effort into preparing to give birth. The knowledge I have gained over those four years has had a transformative effect on the way I view the world and how I make decisions.

Giving birth unassisted is not for everyone. But learning about it, and every other birth option, is. More women need to ask "Why do we do the things we do at birth? How can we make it better? Are the practices in my country, or state, or hospital, really necessary? What is the true physiology of birth? How can we facilitate, rather than hinder, the process?"


  1. That is an excellent article! It's such a shame that this topic always brings out the fatalist in everyone. Why can't THE MOTHER be the one to provide the care during and after birth? Do we really need someone else to do it for us, when, with enough knowledge and information, we can do it ourselves? And I'm appalled at the idea of a child later suing its mother for birthing it at home: what an absurd notion! Should we be suing our parents for what happened to us during our birth in a hospital? Because clearly they "didn't know better" either!


  2. "If a baby were to die during a freebirth, Dr Crippen argues the mother should be prosecuted for manslaughter."

    So if a baby dies at home and that's its mother's fault, and she can be prosecuted for manslaughter, doesn't it stand to reason that if a baby dies in the hospital it's the doctor's fault, and they should likewise be prosecuted.

    Bet he wouldn't like that so much.

  3. Rixa,

    i've been reading your blog with immense interest for a few months now, and I might be one of the few who remain skeptical yet fascinated (while many of my friends whom I’ve referred to your blog dismiss UC within 5 minutes). i hope that as part of your activism you plan to write a book for the lay mother. If, as you say, you are interested in facilitating rather than hindering the process for all women (many women?).

    i think sometimes when we get so passionate about a subject, we can't really remember why other people still don't get it. that is starting to come across in your blog -- for example, when you say you wish all women to dedicate 4 years of their lives in preparing for an approximately 12-24-hour event. do you really think this is a worthwhile way for each and every woman to spend her time when there are so many things to learn and do in life?

    If you truly want to make a difference in a majority of births, rather than (admirably) educating yourself and those who are already pre-disposed to UC, I think it’s necessary to take a couple steps back and ponder your audience: the many women who are (also) interested in other things, and who, when it comes to birth, have no (apparent) reason to fear or mistrust or dislike mainstream medical practice.

    Maybe if you could collaborate with someone like FPMama, in order to bridge the gap between what most women expect in a maternity experience and what I’m coming to believe is a better way to view things. A good introductory, non-intimidating, non-militant book on birthing options, with a truly objective approach, granting that, for some women, hospital birth will be a good choice.

    Btw, have you heard of the Tampa woman, Caroline Miren, who died in childbirth last week? Apparently she hemorrhaged, in a hospital. Of course, you’re still much more likely to die in a car crash (1 in 84) than in childbirth (1 in 10,000), but there are also the stories of neonatal fatality. Stories are what convince people, when statistics fail. The rhetoric I sometimes find on your blog, and those of other UC’ers, often makes me want to echo the final quote of the reuter’s article, only:

    “I can't claim to know why they feel this way, but my belief is that the majority of them – UC and freebirth proponents -- truly do not think women are intellectually capable of making their own decisions when it comes to birth.”

    I think this is not your intention, but to the uninitiated, this is how you sometimes sound, when the decisions you are criticizing are those that we (hospital birthers) have made in conjunction with trusted medical professionals.


  4. Shannon (and others too),

    Thanks for your comments. Regarding the need for a good book for the lay person who's making more mainstream choices, there are already lots of good ones out there: Henci Goer's "The Thinking Woman's Guide to a Better Birth," Michel Odent's "Birth Reborn" (and anything else by him, frankly), Sarah Buckley's "Gentle Birth, Gentle Mothering," Ina May Gaskin's "Ina May's Guide to Childbirth," Pam England's "Birthing From Within," and more. I don't want to repeat what's already been done quite well.

    I don't think all women need to--or can--dedicate that much time to preparing for pregnancy and childbirth. However, I would hope women would put at least as much time and research into it as, say, they might put into their wedding plans, or researching where to go to school, etc. At a bare minimum I encourage my acquaintances to research all of the possible options, from OB-attended hospital birth to home birth, with an open mind before settling on one.

    Birth itself is a short moment, but pregnancy and mothering are longer lasting. In addition, what happens at birth can have lifelong consequences for both mother and baby. I'm thinking of the work Dr. Michel Odent has done with his Primal Health Research Database: gathering studies that address the long-term consequences of events in the perinatal period (pregnancy, birth, and the first few months of life).

    Well baby's crying...gotta go.

  5. I re-read my original post and I should have worded one of the sentences differently so as not to imply that *all* women should spend 4 years researching birth...

    Another thought I had: although I don't write as much about how to have a good hospital birth--just not really my topic of interest--I do provide lots of links on this blog for readers to find more information.

    And honestly, I feel that the US hospital system--well, the maternity system in particular--is fundamentally flawed. Read "Birth Reborn" for a look at how one obstetrician totally revamped the way birth was done. It's amazing, really. Well baby is needing to nurse. Later.

  6. sorry, Rixa, i'm sure you have recommended these books a million times (including on this blog).

    but, when I say "good" i have to include "available." only one of these titles (ina may's) is in my public library system of 6 libraries, including a 4 yr college library in the 4th largest city in florida.

    of course i should order these all off amazon, and i should have known to do that 7 years ago.

    activism is certainly needed. maybe UC'ers need to hire a good PR company?

    i think a book that included personal experience, extensive research, medical opinion from a sympathetic OB/GYN or FP, humor and common sense, and a practical plan/timeline/what to expect, etc for those interested in UC, and historical anecdotes, would be a welcome addition. (maybe one of the books you listed has all of this?)

    the fact that you don't say, "read THIS book, period," leads me to think there is still room.

  7. Shannon- Do you really think women living in this culture of fear surrounding childbirth are really going to say, "Oh, a book on unassisted birth, yeah. I wanna read that." Would libraries even carry this book, when they aren't carrying the other books Rixa mentioned (and she mentioned some excellent ones, by the way.) Most women don't even want to hear about natural childbirth, then you're really pushing it if you mention homebirth, but then talk about UC, oh boy- you're just a nutjob.

    The book you're describing can't exist. What doctor will say anything positive about unassisted birth? Why would UCers hire a PR company? What activism is needed, expect for states that prosecute UCers? Women who want to hear about UC will search it out. Pushing UC on others is totally contrary to what UC is about, and making it "in your face" will only turn people off from it more, and make UCers out to be crazy fanatics who not only want to put themselves and their babies "in danger" but everyone else as well.

    A book about UC should be for women who want to UC. And those books are out there. (But I'm sure Rixa could offer a wonderful contribution- I'm not saying she shouldn't!)

    Consider that Rixa has never had a hospital birth. Why should she concern herself there? She is doing just what she should be doing- sharing, so bravely, such a beautiful, intimate, powerful experience with everyone who will listen, so they can learn how powerful a woman can be.

  8. I know how hard it can be to get those books in many libraries. I've ended up buying many of them, since for my research I refer to them quite often. And for my work as a doula too.

    I have heard that many librarians will order books you want if you request them. It's always worth a try.

    My dissertation will fill some of those function you listed, Shannon: it won't be an advocacy book like other UC books tend to be (ie, it won't say "why should women UC"). It will combine my own personal narrative with my academic research. Between every scholarly chapter will be a narrative essay describing my own journey to giving birth unassisted. (Actually I might end up using a lot of my early essays that I posted here).

    Someone reading my dissertation should come away with a thorough understanding of what UC is and why women make that choice.

    BTW another fantastic book (this one's an academic book, not a how-to guide for consumers) is Robbie Davis-Floyd's "Birth as an American Rite of Passage." I also really like her edited collection "Childbirth and Authoritative Knowledge."

    Brigitte Jordan's "Birth in Four Cultures" is an interesting read, too.

    Okay, I need to stop before I start going through my entire personal library here.

  9. Andrea,

    um, you actually prove my point, imo.

    you're right when you say most women wouldn't be interested in a UC-only or UC-militant book. that wasn't actually what i had in mind anyway.

    if the philosophy of UC is by and for UC'ers only, then, fine; you're accomplishing exactly that (preaching to your own choir). but i often sense a desire to promote better, more natural birthing experiences for all women.

    if not (if you don't care to promote awareness and education about all options in the general population), then UC'ers shouldn't care about things like the c-section rate and other interventions because they don't affect UC'ers. right?


    what i'm trying to articulate, i think, is that if there could be this great book that combined all those things i listed, i think (because my eyes have already been opened so much by just reading this blog) it could make a real difference. maybe. and i think you want to make a real difference.

    i'm sure those books you list are fantastic, and i will check them out, but i don't know that they've made a real difference yet, except in the small community of UC'ers.

    my overall point is about the insularity of movements, i guess. i'm not even convinced of all the tenets or practices of this movement (i know, i know, its not a movement, just the way things have always been until 100 years ago or something). and, even while not convinced, i wish there were a way to promote your ideas to a wider audience.

    when you go to this UC conference in San Diego, do you discuss ways to familiarize the public with UC or is it by and for UC proponents?

  10. I actually think that book does exist in Sarah Buckley's "Gentle Birth Gentle Mothering." It is fantastic and not aimed at a narrow audience (not just for home birthers or UCers, for example). It approaches topics from both a mother's and a physician's perspective. Lots of very sound scientific research written for the lay person to understand, lots of personal narratives of her own births, and her own experiences as a mother. She writes with both her heart and her intellect. Did I say I love this book? LOL

    The only problem is that it's published in Australia so it's not likely to be found in US libraries. Ask your librarian to order it, though, and maybe they will! And maybe, like you suggested, I could still write a similar book simply because it's not likely to be widely distributed here in the States for practical reasons. Hmmm...

    By the way, none of the books I listed earlier are written for a UC audience. They're very common ones in midwifery, doula, and natural birth circles.

    High cesarean rates and other interventions do bother me, even if I birth without attendants, because I don't like to see abuse or harm done to women. Some women don't mind their highly medicalized births and don't perceive them as traumatic, but others do and would rather have had a different experience. One of my chapters addresses women who have suffered abuse at the hands of medical professionals and how UC is often the only safe haven left (since some of the abuse women talk about comes from home birth midwives--it's not just a hospital thing). Obviously this doesn't happen with every birth, but the fact that it *does* happen at all is really upsetting to me. (Okay, really going off topic here, but many women have started to describe what happened to them in terms of rape and assault. Disturbing stuff, and their stories are really hard to read. Okay, getting back on topic again...)

    One of the beauties of learning about UC is that it can empower a woman even if she doesn't choose that path. I'm thinking of Judit in particular. (Judit--if you have the time with a new baby--I'd love to hear your thoughts so I am not just speaking for you!)

    The conference is sponsored by the Ancient Art Midwifery Institute, which is a midwifery education program for direct-entry midwives. It is not a UC conference, although the conference organizer and AAMI founder Carla Hartley (see one of her essays I posted on my blog several months ago) supports UC as a valid choice. It's for midwives, doulas, physicians, childbirth educators, and parents. Speakers include all of the above groups as well. It will be fun to speak and present some of the arguments I'm making in my dissertation and get feedback from people I highly respect.

    I do agree that UCers can be insular. I think we need that at times, because often it's the only place we can get support and understanding. People I know in real life just can't relate to my birthing experiences and even if they are fairly open to hearing about them, I can't really go to them for advice or counsel. I also agree with you, Shannon, about spreading the message to a wider audience. Not so much about UC, but about the principles behind it (the importance of supporting a physiological, undisturbed birth; the importance of facilitating the hormonal processes that make birth work efficiently and safetly; etc).

  11. Let me see if I can better express myself this time.

    Here is the thing I love about your birth story, Rixa. It isn't put up against a horrible previous experience- you didn't UC because you had been violated by hospital birth- it is a beautiful birth story all by itself. That still isn't quite what I'm trying to get at. I really don't mean that you shouldn't be concerned about women being hurt or violated- we ALL should be. I am.

    The other thing about this is- even most natural birth advocates don't even support UC. It really is a total unknown for most people, even those involved in birth. Not unknown because people don't know about it, but unknown because it's compared to what we think we know about birth from the medical world and therefore, misunderstood. It's so opposite from what is believed about birth. What I'm saying is, how could this ever be "packaged" for the average consumer? How do you present UC when it simply goes against what most everyone, including the natural birth community, believes about birth?

    I'm still not sure I'm saying all this right. I guess my feeling is one of frustration, not at you, Shannon, but at a society that wouldn't even consider UC a choice a woman should be allowed to make. UC challenges what is universally accepted as truth about birth. Someone can write a book about UC, but no one else is going to read it but the very minute audience that accepts UC, mainly UCers (in practice or spirit) and their very few supporters- and most of the people in that group are probably their husbands!

  12. I think I get what you're saying Andrea and I agree. UC is so outside the box right now. You know it's a "fringe on the fringe" kind of thing when many home birthers (with midwives) see it as radical and extreme--even as they themselves have the same things said about them.

    I think we are at the very beginning of UC being accepted as one of many valid choices--being seen as inside the box for the first time, if you will--based on how it's been written about in recent books. Since about 2003, I've come across several books that mention birth options and UC is showing up as one of them. And several other books are starting to mention UC. Here's a brief list of ones I've come across:

    - Marie Mongan: "Hypnobirthing" (2005)
    - Elizabeth Davis: "Heart & Hands: A Midwife's Guide to Pregnancy & Birth" 4th ed. (2004)
    - Tina Cassidy: "Birth: The Surprising History of How We Are Born" (2006)
    - Val Clarke: "Instinctive Birthing" (2006)
    - Sheri L. Menelli: "Journey into Motherhood: Inspirational Stories of Natural Birth" (2005)
    - Marrit Ingman: "Inconsolable: How I Threw My Mental Health Out With the Diapers" (2005--UC mentioned in a comic chapter about different mom stereotypes)
    - Barbara L. Behrmann: "The Breastfeeding Cafe: Mothers Share the Joys, Challenges, and Secrets of Nursing" (2005)
    - Marisa Cohen: "Deliver This!: Make the Childbirth Choice That's Right for You...No Matter What Everyone Else Thinks" (2007)
    - Robin Elise Weiss: "The Guide to Having a Baby: Important Information, Advice, and Support for Your Pregnancy" (2006)
    - Nadine Edwards: "Birthing Autonomy: Women's Experiences of Home Births" (2005)
    - Pamela E. Klassen: "Blessed Events: Religion and Home Birth in America" (2001)
    - Margaret Lock, Patricia Alice Kaufert: "Pragmatic Women and Body Politics" (2005)
    -BJeanne Benedict: "Pregnant for 100 Years" (2004)

  13. Shannon expresses very well a lot of the thoughts I have reading this blog. I find lots of it interesting to consider for my own births (I have three children), but I almost continue reading in spite of myself because of the prevailing tone here.

    If you like promoting something on the fringe just to be on the fringe, great. If you're promoting this to educate other women and provide them with ideas they would not traditionally encounter as they prepare to give birth, sometimes the "preaching to the choir" tone Shannon mentioned is very off-putting. But also I understand that may not be your goal and I'm not your intended audience.

    The other (unrelated) thing I keep thinking of is that the process of birth was much, much more important and interesting to me during my first pregnancy and while my oldest child was young. After having three children, I really agree that you can generally just trust your body.

    And the births of my three children, while great moments I treasure, are just blips on the screen of what it means to be their mother. To me giving birth means getting these babies safely into the world and then getting on with the much more demanding and important task of raising them.

    I understand this is the pregnant vernacular, but it bugs me to hear moms talk about "my birth." It's the baby's birth, not the mom's. And birth decisions are the first of many, many, many parenting decisions that have to be made with the baby's interests foremost.

    I don't really have any passion for birthing one way or another, so I like hearing your perspective, Rixa. No shortage of passion here.

    Carry on with your scheduled conversation! I just wanted to agree with Shannon that this information could be very valuable to the typical mom, but that the blog presentation sometimes keeps your average Jane away from such insightful and thought-provoking information. . . I'd like a Rixa book as well.

    Amy J.

  14. Hi Amy J!
    Thanks for your comments. I think--well I know--that I focus on birth more than most women because hey, I'm writing my dissertation about it so I'm basically immersed in it every day. Plus for some reason I am drawn to it. I think we all have our niches in life, and at this moment birth is my thing.

    I've been thinking about making a website (in my copious free time of course) where I can provide the kind of info that I do on my blog: some of my own personal essays and experiences, lots of links, recommendations for books, etc. Well, something to think about when I get back from France this summer. It might be a good precursor to a book.

    I agree that for some women their (or their babys') births are a short moment that they don't dwell on. And for other women, their birth experiences are a central, formative part of who they are as women and mothers.


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