Monday, December 2, 2013

The Reality of Birth

Photo courtesy of my 2-yr-old
As my due date nears and my midwife appointments become more frequent, our conversation shifts from pregnancy to birth. In one recent discussion, as I candidly admitted my anxieties about going through labor again, I was struck by one of my midwife's comments. She feels that one of the pitfalls of the modern American homebirth movement is its romanticism of birth. She finds that in many European countries, for example, where natural birth rates are higher than they are in America and homebirth and midwife-assisted birth are much more prevalent, this romanticism doesn't exist the way it does here. (I'd love for my European readers to chime in with their thoughts!) But it's true. We in the American homebirth community do tend to overly-romantacize natural (drug-free) birth, particularly homebirth.

So let me set the record straight, from my perspective at least:

Having had two highly medicalized, intervention-laden hospital births followed by a natural homebirth, I can say without a doubt that the natural homebirth was far and away the better experience. It felt right and timeless and authentic and, for me, the most assured way to guarantee the safe and intervention-free birth that my baby and body deserved. And it was fully empowering, revealing to me the true wisdom of Mother Nature and the dangers we can encounter when we interfere with her, and revealing the true power of what we are able to accomplish within our own homes, following our own evolutionary instincts.

That is the truthful, albeit romantic, side of my natural birth experience. Here's the reality: Labor is work. Birth is work. It feels intense and unpredictable, enormous and overwhelming. At its peak, just before your little one arrives, it feels insurmountable. The difference, in my experience, between medicated and natural birth is just this: you feel it. It is something you do, not something that is done to you. You deliver your baby, your baby is not delivered by someone else. You feel every single part of the natural birth experience. And it's not all peaches and cream, candles and incense. In fact, most of it is far from it. It's hard work, intense work. It's labor.

Having had two births that I didn't feel and one birth that I did, I'll take feeling the work of it any day. But as I approach this next birth, I do so with a much greater respect for the reality of birth over the romanticism. I know what it will feel like. I know that it will be intense and overwhelming at times. I know that I may say, as so many women do when they hit that final wall just before delivery, that I can't do it.

And then I will.

And that is the best feeling of all.


  1. Beautifully said. Thanks for sharing. My fifth is due in two weeks, and I loved hearing someone say in words I never could have come up with just how I feel. Birth is incredible, but the hardest most overwhelming work at the same time. But man what a great thing it is to feel, and to be alive. Thanks!

    1. Thank you so much for your kind reply! I am glad to hear you feel the same way about natural birth, and my best wishes to you on welcoming your new arrival soon! -Kerry