Google+ Authentic Parenting: Are Alternative Birth Practices Just Decoys?

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Are Alternative Birth Practices Just Decoys?

I finished reading Laura Kaplan Shanley’s book Unassisted Childbirth, and as many of these books, it has worked as a catalyst for some ideas that had been in my mind, unformulated. This time, one of the ideas that formed was this: are alternative birth practices, the ones that promote ‘natural’ birth deceiving us? Are they putting a wheel before our eyes and leading us from the main goal.
Techniques like hypnobirthing and waterbirth and the like, they may well help a woman through labor, but what if we need not be helped?
What if we have the power in ourselves, without needing to resort to all these techniques and magic tricks? What if it is just in our beliefs.
If you choose waterbirth, in seek of relaxation during labor and birth, it means that you accept and anticipate stress. What if you were to accept and anticipate relaxation instead? The birth tub wouldn’t be needed.
If you turn to hypnobirthing, you are anticipating that you will not reach a meditative state without such training. Why would this state of mind not be innate?
The same can be said for aromatherapy, birth playlists, birth balls... They are all just clutter distracting us from the real issue. We still fear birth. We do not trust ourselves to birth normally. We need to resort to trick and tools to distract our minds from the fear and anxiety. It’s that fear that creates the stress in our body that eventually leads us to pain.

What if we were to tackle that fear instead, prior to birth. What if we were to just accept our body’s ability to birth, belief in the beauty and elation of birth, instead of creating an image of pain and anxiety. 
A positive image of birth is the cornerstone of a safe, happy birth experience. If you believe your body is meant to give birth efficiently, naturally, and without complications and that birth is a joyful event, you are more than halfway to a safe, natural birth. Positive beliefs and attitudes contribute to a happy birth experience, enabling the mother to labor more efficiently and to open for her baby with less effort.
- Carl Jones, Mind over Labor

Image: Dizznbonn on Flickr
Instead of resulting to expensive books and birthing classes, investing in birth tools, we should look within and tear out the roots of our fears. Spend these nine months of pregnancy looking within ourself to analyze our thoughts and fears, to eradicate the negative ones and replace them with positive suggestions.

It is in our power to make birth not only tolerable, but pleasant, joyous, orgasmic. But we need to avoid the decoys that make us admit defeat in advance.



  1. "The universe inside your head is bigger than the one outside it" - I heard the radical unschooler Sandra Dodd talk about this phenomena once. I think it's so true. In birthing terms, the landscape of our minds and bodies and immediate surroundings are plentiful enough. You are spot on mama pokie!

    I write this as someone who has birthed three of her four babies at home, the last baby without any props of any kind. Easy peasy birth.

    I faced my fear head on and it dissolved!

    Thank you for this post.

  2. great quote and thank you for your kind comment. It is lovely to see a theory confirmed and I hope I will go on birthing this and any subsequent child with no more fear and no props :)

  3. "Tear out the roots of our fears" - loving that line and love this post overall. Very thought provoking. I need to read this book (*mentally adds it to crazy-long list*)... but I agree with the gist of what you are saying, very much so. My birth story has been written but though it ended in cesarean (long story, as I say) the first 30 odd hours of labour included a lot of spontaneous meditation and bliss, punctuated by some physical sensations that demanded a lot of attention :)

    Thanks for the interesting slant on this.

  4. I really agree with the sentiment that birth is not to be feared. I'm also pregnant with my second child and I remember with my first that I felt the need for loads of prep and that I was scared, of what I did not know. Now I am not, and I only wish I had been surrounded by birth and mothering as a child so I would not have feared it the first time.
    That said, I would like to point out that Unassisted childbirth IS an alternative birth practice. Also, I dont see the use of birthing balls or pools per se as an indication of fear. They are aids for free movement. Dancing is also relaxing. I dont think birth is to be feared, but it is not taking a nap.
    When I give birth a second time I EXPECT it to be a unique, and possibly intense physical experience which I am capable of.

  5. I think women get scared by the horror stories that those near them share. Why must we scare each other? I don't *feel* scared of birth, but I certainly use "The Bradley Method" for relaxation. But then the entire point of this method is just that - relax. I rely on my partner to remind me to relax when I tense.

    I don't think most women realize, either, that birth can be orgasmic, until they read it somewhere. It certainly wouldn't be an assumption.

    In days gone by, of supportive tribes of women, I'd like to think things were different. But now... I'm sure alternative birth practices, and even not-so-alternative (Lamaze) is BIG business.

  6. As a doula, I bring almost nothing to a birth and rely, instead, on managing fears and expectations and my own body to offer support. While I agree with you on the whole, if there is one thing I've learned from observing birthing: every woman uses a different tool to manage her own birth journey and each is right for her.

    The use of something like hypnobirthing or specific tool prep is just a creation of a ritual before birth. And, if a woman hasn't created a ritual ahead of time as a coping strategy, sure as breathing, she'll develop one in labour to manage her experience. As long as the woman believes that this pathway will give her the edge on managing the intensity of cervical stretching, it's good. That's her fear management.

    Each woman is different. Some need external tools and some don't. Some need to move and some need stillness. Some need talk and some need silence. Some need touch and some need isolation. There is no one way through birth.

    I do wholeheartedly agree, however, that the Pam England style processing of fear before birth is the key to better birth (happier experiences for mothers regardless of the specifics of the birth journey, not med-less vaginal birth according to a particular vision of what birth should be).

  7. Thank you all for your comments. You're sure giving me a lot of food for thought, and I don't think this topic has seen the last of it.
    Interesting thought, Leanne, on the idea of rituals. Birth does retain some level of fear, I guess, even when birth is a normal part of live, such as it is within tribal situations, however, maybe fear is not the right word, and insecurity is better. Maybe the difference lies in accepting or fighting insecurity.
    I never intended to say that unassisted birth is the only way to birth, or the best way to birth. I think the company a woman chooses around her at the time of birth depends a lot on her character and wishes. And if unassisted birth is alternative? I'm not sure, it is one of the original ways of birthing, when we take an anthropological stance on birth. It IS alternative when you compare to the Western standard of medicalized epidural supine birth.
    Anyway, lots of fruit for thought.

  8. With my first baby (an unassisted birth) I read up and down everything there was to know about every natural birth method out there. I spent eight years studying natural birth and techniques and when the time came, I was ready. Oh boy! Was I ever ready!

    And then labor hit me like a Mack truck and every single thing I had ever learned about easy, "painless," birth flew right out the window. I was in complete, horrifying agony. I felt like I had been abandoned by everyone and everything, including myself. All I could do was hold on and let my birth beat me to a bloody pulp (quite literally, actually).

    While this sounds like some kind of birth horror story, it's not. I came out on the other side brand new, just like my baby. Now I ignore all of the birth techniques, books and ideology.

    I'm expecting another and it'll be a home birth just like the last, but I'm sure as heck not picking up any earthy-birthy self-help books this time. Nope. I've been there. I've done that. I came out the other side all by myself, no help required. I lived through it and here I am still.

    And you know what? I am SO not afraid this time. :)

  9. I agree that it is great if moms can let go of their fears. But I also see that many moms have trouble doing that on their own. I agree that it is wonderful if moms can trust their bodies and their intuition. But I also see that many moms have trouble doing that on their own.

    I think that is when Hypnobabies is so great, it helps moms let go of their fears and tune into themselves and their intuitions. It is a tool that helps them to do what you are saying.

    There are certainly moms that can do that on their own and that is great. But if moms need help doing that, it is nice tools are available for them.

  10. I completely agree that prenatal preparation is key and we need not do it on our own. Indeed some of us wouldn't know where to start. Sadly many of these prenatal classes are focused on how to manage pain in labour, which in my opinion is wrong. They should focus on how to eradicate fear and have the pain management as a little side note. Sadly, fearless/painess birth isn't big business.
    I have a hypnobabies book that should arrive with our stuff from the move and I am eager to find out what it offers. I recently read Birthing From Within and was sad to see that they provided pain in childbirth as a given... These are the things perpetuating the pain/fear/pain circle. Anyway. I think I'm going to write a book about it. :)

  11. Meh...I don't fear birth. Well, I fear *other people* during birth, but I don't fear the experience itself. My body has never let me down, and any negative experiences were as a result of outside interference.

    I don't want to birth alone, though. I like having someone to support me through transition. After my first birth, I understood what transition was and remembered it for the next time, but I'd still like the supportive hands of the man I love to hold/hold me when that time comes.

    My favourite read so far has been 'Birthing From Within'. Even though this will be my first birth, I got a lot out of it. I'm planning a waterbirth because I love water - I love the freedom it gives me, the weightlessness, I love swimming...I'm much more at ease in water than on dry ground. I also watched a video or two where the birth pool was like a mother's circle of protection. It made it physically harder for people to get to her and touch her without permission. I like that idea, having had interventions forced upon me in a previous birth.

    I'm preparing for birth, both physically and emotionally, but that isn't because I fear it. I just want it to be as good as it can be. I appreciate that I'm not as fit or healthy as I was when I last delivered 7 years ago, so some yoga and swimming don't go amiss. I think it's human nature to want to be prepared for something big and exciting like birth. I wish I was more prepared with my first two births. I wish I had stood my ground. This is about healing my past regrets and taking back my power.

  12. Mamapoekie, I know this was not meant to be offensive. But can you imagine being a woman who had suffered complications in her labour, or a very painful labour, and coming across this post which implies that it's somehow all because she failed to do things right? Can you imagine how that would make someone feel? Because that's the inevitable implication of stating that it's 'in our power to make birth not only tolerable but pleasant'.

    Stress and fear can certainly make any pain worse. But I really don't think that the main reason women get pain in labour is because they're stressed about it. I think the main reason is that labour involves having to expel a hard structure with limited give through a hard bony ring with only just enough space for it and through some soft tissues that get stretched and potentially torn, and that doing so involves a lot of very strong muscle contractions, and that all of this is usually going to hurt. I think that if you want to claim that the pain has nothing to do with labour being a physiologically painful process for the body and is solely down to women being frightened or stressed, well, the onus is on you to prove that.

    And, for what it's worth, here's my own experience from my labours: Both of them progressed much faster than expected, so, both times, the pain became unmanageable at a point where I hadn't actually been afraid (because I'd been managing just fine and because, while I'd anticipated that things would get worse, I hadn't anticipated that happening for hours yet). This was particularly overwhelming in my first labour, so, although I hadn't been scared before the pain started, I certainly was scared once it had started - and yet, despite me being in quite a panic by then, the pain then faded away into an almost painless second stage. Which, by the way, does *not* mean that it was pleasant or joyous. It was about as joyous and orgasmic as having an invisible force take over your own body and force it through an extremely tough workout. It was still frightening, still overwhelming, and still darned unpleasant in its own way. It's just that the sensations didn't come through as painful at that point.

    So, from my own experience if nothing else, I'm not buying the idea that it's all just down to whether or not you're frightened or stressed. I think that the fact that labour got so painful during my transition and then became painless (though still very difficult) during second stage was purely a matter of luck and some physiological quirk. And I think that those are the biggest factors in how painful or difficult a birth is for the women experiencing it.

    No, going into birth with the belief that it's not going to hurt and it's going to be lovely and pleasurable is *not* going to be a magic formula protecting women against pain. And that belief sounds to me like a great way to add insult to injury by leaving women who've had painful labours with the message that it's some kind of personal failing on their part for being too stressed.

    1. Thank you for your comment, Sarah.
      I think the biggest problem is our culture surrounding birth. So yes, we may enter birth 'unfearing' and still experience pain, because we have been bathed in this culture of labor pains. Every thought surrounding birth in our society is one of pain, terror and weakness, and just one woman is not able to battle this on her own.
      Maybe we cannot completely eradicate pain in childbirth, but being aware of this can greatly alleviate it.
      I did experience pain in both my births. The first is mostly because I was totally unprepared and unaware of what was going to happen and induced. The second is because instants before giving birth, I had been told by people that 1. My baby was going to die, 2. I would die 3. things will go horribly wrong
      ANd even though I may have wanted that not to have an effect on me, it did, and I was thinking about these things.
      If every single person had encouraged me throughout my pregnancy, maybe that last birth would have been better.

      With this article, I just wanted to empower, highlight beliefs in our culture and tell expecting mothers to guard them from it. Maybe it's time I write a new one making that more clear.

      Oh and that said, even though I did experience pain in that last birth, I experienced pleasure too, simply because I was open to it.


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