natural birthWhat do you think? After teaching natural childbirth classes for twenty-three years, I’ve learned that natural birth means different things to different people. Was my four hour Pitocin induced labor a natural birth, because I had no pain medications? Or only my two hour homebirth which my midwives barely made? I once asked my natural childbirth students what natural birth meant; the consensus was anything short of an epidural, including other pain medications, was natural birth. So I’ve come to see it as a continuum.

On one end are homebirths like the ones I was lucky to attend when I was a midwifery apprentice in the early 1990s. Michel Odent calls them undisturbed births. The mother is in her home, and she runs the show. She eats and drinks what and when she wants, is along or surrounded by people she knows well and has invited, walks or rests, moans, complains, sings, or is silent, gets in her tub if she wants. The baby is born and goes directly on mom’s chest with the cord attached. There is no small talk. It is all mamababy time. There are no bright lights, no unnecessary questions or exams, no separation.

The spectrum of natural childbirth, according to many, seems also to include inductions, analgesics, IVs, ruptured membranes, almost anything except an epidural. I don’t feel it’s for me, or anyone, to label another woman’s birth experiences. I love what Joyce Maynard says about her birth experiences. “Before I had children I always wondered whether their births would be, for me, like the ultimate in gym class failures. And I discovered instead…that I’d finally found my sport.” Natural birth can be about discovering what our bodies can do.

I asked readers of my WellPregnancy Facebook page why they birthed naturally. One mom posted, “I didn't want to experience drug side effects and I didn't want my baby to experience those side effects. There wasn't time for drugs and I trusted my body and my baby.” Another remembered, “I didn't get a natural experience the first time, and that left me feeling disappointed. I gave birth naturally because I knew my body could, and in the end it was the most empowering feeling I have ever had!” And a third shared, “After having an epidural with my first birth, I felt like I had totally lost control over myself and the process. I felt that the process was meant to be honored. So my second and third births were natural, unmedicated. I had control back. I was able to feel what my body was capable of doing. And it was amazing and empowering!!”