Freebirthing is all the rage. Strange as it is, even something as fundamental as birth can be subject to fads, and where once it was elective caesareans that everyone was talking about, now its freebirthing. Put simply, freebirthing is having a baby with no medical assistance at all- so no doctor, no midwife, sometimes even nobody at all. And apparently it is growing in popularity in both the US and over here in Britain. This go-it-alone attitude has prompted every reaction, from outcry to admiration. Critics argue that it is grossly irresponsible and belies the dangerous nature of birth. They say that women need to have medical back-up to be sure of a safe outcome for mother and baby. Advocates say unassisted birth is the way it should be- that birth is as intimate as lovemaking and so it should be done without anyone’s interference. Both, I would argue miss the point.
Across the board science supports the idea hat the safety of birth is determined less by technological interference than by the constant presence of an experienced attendant. In trials of breech birth, the experience of the person looking after the mother was the most important determinant of the birth outcome. Equally, studies of ‘doulas’ or one to one midwives all support the idea that birth is a safer and a happier experience when a woman is nurtured emotionally as well as physically by a single experienced midwife or birth assistant. Having someone there does matter. But not as much as the advocates of intervention in the birth process would have us believe. For any understanding of the physiology of birth leads to the conclusion that privacy is also an essential component of a positive birth experience.
In fact, that women are choosing to ‘freebirth’ is nothing more than a sad indictment on the nature of birth in this country and the US. Freebirthing is by no means ideal. But for many women it is better than being subject to the overt scrutiny and constant interference of the medical establishment who have hijacked the birth process and who have turned pregnancy and labour into a pathology. Instead of criticising or applauding the women who choose such a radical alternative to conventional birth practice, we should be looking for what might be pushing them to do so. That old adage ‘extreme times call for extreme measures’ might well apply here. With only three percent of births in this country considered truly natural, that woman have the choice to give birth naturally is little more than illusory. What we need is to re-examine the fundamental needs of a labouring woman and adjust our birth practice accordingly. If we do, then women will begin to have real choices as to how they birth their babies and the extremes- be it elective c-sections or freebirthing- might seem less attractive.