Towards the end of writing my dissertation about unassisted birth, I was already finding myself critical of certain trends I saw emerging in online UC communities--the trend toward dogmatism, the distrust or even demonization of midwifery, the embracing of slogans (trust birth! breech is just a variation of normal! etc.) that mask the complexity of reality. In particular, the abandonment of education and preparation--and of midwives--in favor of "trusting my body/following my intuition."
Here's an excerpt from my dissertation on this topic (from chapter 4):
After years of immersion in UC communities, I have started to notice a trend toward dismissing the necessity of knowledge and preparation, toward emphasizing intuition to the exclusion of almost anything else....I am not sure if this anti-education and risk-denying undercurrent has always existed and just I never noticed until now, or if it really is a new development. This tendency is not universal, but it is prevalent enough that others besides me have noticed it....To be fair, I wonder if some of the things I'm perceiving is just that--a problem of perception. Since I finished my dissertation, I haven't followed online UC communities as closely as I used to. I'm more of a casual browser/eavesdropper now, rather than regular reader and participant. I know that just dropping in on certain messages might not give me the full context of the larger discussion--just as overhearing bits of a conversation is not the same as participating in it from start to finish. Knowing the full context really does make a difference.
Over-reliance on any one type of knowledge can be dangerous. No one source of knowledge about birth is infallible or complete. Even if intuition is believed to be inherently accurate, it is not omniscient or omnipresent. UCers and midwives have separate sets of challenges regarding intuition. As Lucia Roncalli noted, midwives need to incorporate intuition into their clinical training and experience and give it adequate respect. For UCers, the challenges are to sufficiently refine one’s intuitive skills and to balance education and preparation with a trust in intuition. This is a difficult process—walking the knife’s edge of embracing intuition as a “knowledge that matters” without falling into the trap of intuition becoming “the only knowledge that matters.”
What I am not doing in this post is disavowing unassisted birth. I am just trying to explain that I feel many different ways towards the idea all at the same time. I do feel less comfortable "promoting" UC than I used to. If a woman hires a midwife or a physician, she can shirk the responsibility of education and preparation, and things will probably be okay--in a "everyone comes out alive and relatively healthy" sense--because there is someone else there with extensive knowledge and training and skills to fill the gap (even if we might debate the usefulness of, say, surgical skills for a normal vaginal birth). But with UC, all of the weight is on you and you alone. There's no one else to catch you if you stumble.
I am reminded of one of my favorite professors: ethnobotanist Dr. Paul Cox. He served an LDS mission in Samoa, and his approach when teaching people interested in his church was to talk them out of joining. He wanted them to be 100% sure that they were joining because they had a personal testimony and unwavering belief. If he couldn't talk them out of it, he knew they were really serious. I feel the same way about UC. I think giving birth unassisted is wonderful--but I don't want to talk anyone into it. I don't want to over-romanticize it, or promise women a pain-free ecstatic birth if they just get rid of the midwife/their fears/their doctor/the hospital. I want women to have an undeniable inner knowing that an unassisted birth is right for this baby, this pregnancy. And to have the concomitant desire to do the necessary preparation for giving birth without a care provider present.
I absolutely stand by my decision to give birth to Zari unassisted, just as I do my midwife-attended birth with Dio. If anything, both experiences have taught me to trust that inner voice--call it intuition, divine/spiritual guidance, whatever you like--no matter where it takes me. It might sound airy-fairy for some readers, but nevertheless it was undeniably real for me in both pregnancies. I hope I never need to give birth in a hospital, but if I do feel drawn towards that for a future pregnancy, I hope I can embrace that guidance and move forward with confidence.
If I didn't feel strongly guided one way or another, I'd probably hire the same midwife if I became pregnant again. I really enjoyed our prenatal visits. Her presence at Dio's birth didn't disturb me or interfere with the birth in the least--of course it helps that she arrived only 30 minutes before he was born! And I do like having someone with extensive knowledge and skills that I can call upon. I would not have access to that where I live if I were planning an unassisted birth and doing my own prenatal care. But I also recognize that my unassisted birth with Zari played a huge role in knowing what I wanted from a midwife and in knowing how I labor and birth. If anything, that first unassisted birth gave me more confidence in myself to be able to labor successfully in many different settings.
Stay tuned for part III, in which I respond specifically to Barb Herrera's post The UC Oxymoron.