I come from a long line of pioneer women who routinely gave birth alongside the wagon trail, or in the back of a wagon, for that matter. It wasn’t a choice, it was how it had to be done.
Now, hundreds of couples around the world are choosing the experience. Not necessarily in a wagon, but alone. No doctor, no midwife, no medical intervention, a completely unassisted childbirth, and they call themselves freebirthers. They say it’s healthier physically and psychologically for the baby to enter a calm environment without the glare of hospital lights and intrusive doctors.
In the book Get Me Out by Randi Hutter Epstein some freebirthers explain their choice:
Matthew Jasper had never heard anything about do-it-yourself deliveries, but after the relatively easy births of his first two children, he said to his wife, “Next time why don’t we do this by ourselves.” And so they did. Athena Burke, another freebirther, moved from Boston to Rural Petersburgh, New York, to give birth to her first child in a ten in her backyard so he could “be born among the big hug of the mountains and listening to the birds and water flowing as his first sounds”. Natalie Picone-Louro said she “opted out of prenatal care because I trusted my body. I didn’t want the whole peeing in a cup, doing the heart rate, it all seemed so unnecessary. Prenatal exams took away from the beauty of being pregnant and I wanted to be in control.” Her toddler, Trinity, watched.
Such a warm cozy affair, no? Wait! Did she just say “prenatal exams took away from the beauty of being pregnant”? An odd statement considering millions of women all over the world are desperate for access to maternity healthcare.
Do-it-yourself deliveries are not illegal because it’s impossible to prove a woman intentionally chose that path. In fact, according to Get Me Out, in some states, like New York, it’s illegal to give birth with an unlicensed midwife but not by yourself.
As explained by author and doctor, Randi Epsein, M.D., the fundamental philosophy behind freebirthing is that women would give birth more easily if they just relaxed and weren’t surrounded by all the medical monitoring madness of doctors and yes, even midwives.
A simple search around the web shows a preponderance of freebirther websites where women write about the rush when a baby hits their G-spot. In an article on UnassistedChildbirth.com Ruth Claire writes how she was shocked by the “sensation of sexual ecstasy, the voluptuous feeling of penetration….Crouched on my knees on a little afghan, I caught the infant who rushed from my vagina into the small world between my legs, in the midst of an extraordinary orgasm from the inside out.”
Not all freebirthers are having orgasms, but a popular theory among them is that the baby should be brought into the world the same way it was conceived – between two lovers. I don’t really see the connection, but Epstein says freebirthers explain it thusly: “Think of it the other way around. Try making a baby in a hospital bed with physicians and medical students watching and commenting. Or imagine having sex in a hospital surrounded by hospital personnel and machinery and having sex at home in a candle-lit bedroom. Take away the drugs and the machinery, take away the watchful concerned eyes, take away the fear, and a whole new world opens up to us.”
Although some freebirthers just see no reason for doctors or midwives others in the do-it-yourself movement have made the choice as an indictment of maternity care as a whole. Sick of medical interventions, these women are willing to go to extremes to have the kind of birth they want. But that’s just it – the kind of birth THEY want. What about the baby?
The American College of Obstetrics and Gynecologists is against all home births, even with a midwife. Freebirthers would reply that stress and doctors cause problems and prenatal visits are useless. So the real question becomes how often do things go wrong when doctors and nurses aren’t around? No one knows. There aren’t reliable statistics. But if there is a small risk, wouldn’t you want help nearby?
Laura Shanley, a freebirther and author of the book Unassisted Childbirth, had a baby five weeks premature that died after delivery. She believes the baby, who had a congenital heart defect, would have died despite hospital care and suggests the baby was better off dying peacefully at home rather than hooked up to hospital machinery for a few extra weeks of “life”.
From Shanley’s website:
Over the course of the next several hours, he nursed and slept. My boys woke up, David came home, and everyone was excited to meet our new baby.
At some point I decided to change his diaper. I picked him up, laid him on my bed and realized something was wrong. His eyes stayed closed and he didn’t move at all. We called the paramedics but they were unable to revive him. Efforts by the doctors in the emergency room were also unsuccessful. Our little one was gone.
An autopsy was done, and several days later, the coroner explained to me that our baby’s body had never developed properly. He had a congenital heart defect, influenza, pneumonia, and sepsis. The coroner also said that the defect was severe enough that he didn’t feel Nicholas would have survived regardless of where he had been born.
Are freebirthers onto something? Are they trailblazers sticking it to a medical community trying to interfere and milk mothers out of every last cent? Or are they taking unnecessary risks with their child’s life to chase some crunchy, hippie fantasy of their own? Do their children have a right to have access to medical care?
What do you think?