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Feature Story

Natural Childbirth (Part 2)

Kemetic Woman giving birth naturally

This Kemetic wall relief depicts a woman giving birth squatting, which is more natural for a woman's body than lying on her back

Last month we began to take a look at the value of natural childbirth and the responsibility that women hold as humanity’s “bringers of life.”  We could see that since the beginning of human existence, women have been following through with their pregnancies the only way that they were intended to do it – naturally.  With modern intervention, the percentage of women who deliver naturally (in America) has dropped below 10% in a matter of 100 years. This article is a continuation of the Natural Childbirth series and will identify what is involved in returning to the natural labor process, recognize modern intervention for what it truly is, and provide tips for finding support in the decision to give birth naturally.


Carrying Out Nature’s Process

Once the decision is made, enduring the process of labor is unique for each woman; some may overflow with emotions, others may become overwhelmed by pain or fear, some women will be more affected by her environment than by the labor, some may be challenged by health complications and still others may be shocked by the unexpected ease of labor. These reasons and so many more are part of why the birthing process has been traditionally overseen and guided by a midwife, a healer, or other women who are close to the laboring mother to support her through the stages of her birth.  In many cases, the modern medical system does not allow for the presence of supportive techniques such as massages, applying oils and drinking or applying herbal medicine’s changing birthing positions (like squatting, standing, or using a birthing stool), walking, moving the hips, and many other strategies to facilitate the process.  Depending on which city or state she is giving birth in, a woman may not even be permitted to have all the people she wants with her during labor, and she may even have to allow individuals who she doesn’t wish to be present.  However, the way in which a baby is delivered, the environment, the individuals present, and the techniques used all have an impact on the newborn and mother.  In more and more hospitals across the United States, alternative birthing options can be found in hospitals.  While they generally have required rules and procedures that are in line with the mainstream way things are done, they tend to be less restrictive on women and their decision to birth naturally.  So if women are unable to find support to deliver at home or at a birthing center, midwives are able to oversee natural births in hospitals in a separate ward.  The influence that these alternative wards have on the mother and the child can be very positive and uplifting, or very negative and disappointing.

Latisha Emery 25 year old mother and entrepreneur

During Latisha Emery’s (25 year old mother and entrepreneur) labor for example, she remembers that: “I didn’t know what to expect with being in labor.  There was no birthing class or conversation that could prepare me for what I experienced during labor.  It was an experience out of this world.  There were moments when I felt that I just couldn’t do it anymore.  It really caught me off guard, and I was really present; no medicine, no anything, just there, just going through it.  I actually had a water birth, and it was absolutely phenomenal.  I labored at home for the first five hours and I labored in the hospital for the next four and a half hours, and then when I dilated about seven centimeters, the midwife put me into the water.  The moment I got into the water, I dilated immediately – the water was the perfect place to give birth, I pushed three times and she was out!  When I got into the water I felt rejuvenated, I felt a sense of peace and calm, when I pushed, she came right away…it was perfect.”

On the other hand, PershaRa Fyeteq’s (a 28 year old Air Force Reserve Specialist and mother of two) experience giving birth naturally in a hospital setting was free from interventions, yet still clearly controlled by modern practices.  Reflecting on this experience, she shared, “that [what] was surprising is that they’ll let you give birth in the birthing center, but they’ll give you six hours of rest, and then you have to move to the hospital.  It was just constant harassment for two days, and I know that if I could have given birth at home then I wouldn’t have to deal with those things.  They try to expose your child to all these immunizations, tests, they want to poke him, test his blood, all kinds of things they wanna do that we know is not necessary.  Even when they circumcised him, they wouldn’t let anyone be present, they wouldn’t let the parents even be there to see what they are doing, and they actually didn’t do a good job – I didn’t really know that something was wrong, but his father saw it and said they didn’t cut him well.  We came home very sick too, just from being in the hospital.”

Pershara Fyteq and Family

Pershara Fyeteq with her husband, Naba Iritah Shenmira and their son, Boutepiau.

If for no other reason, we can see that supporting natural childbirth is a realistic preference, simply by recognizing the way that a woman’s body is built – she is made to bear children! Not only does her body transform to accommodate the fetus, but it literally does all the work when it is time for the baby to come out.  Being able to notice the work that the body does takes trust in what nature has provided so that we can listen to our bodies. Thinking about the powerful transitions that women make during pregnancy, Maawa Hasati (a 28 year old Health Care Consulting Manager from Seattle) mentioned that, “in the whole journey of pregnancy, labor and birth, women’s bodies go through so many changes.  On the scientific side, many body organs change in so many ways during this time and it is necessary for the success of giving birth.”   For Maawa, laboring was surprising in that “you can feel all the emotions at once; fear, happiness, anger, contentment.   It’s the most amazing experience a woman can have […] we are very powerful beings.”

To this extent, considering the way that our bodies are specifically designed to support natural birth, it gives us space to see how enduring natural labor can be done in tranquility and even with ease.   Reflecting on her natural births, Christa Weathers (a 35 year old Employee Benefits Consultant from Boston, and mother of two) shared that, “it was actually easier than I had imagined.  I really appreciated being connected to my body, to the baby the entire time.  You know how you hear a lot of stories from people about how their birthing experience went, and how they were very adamant about not having the natural birthing process?  But when you are in labor, you know what you need to do, and it is a really natural process if you allow your body to do its job.  You know what to do if you are in tune with your body – like the breathing.  You don’t even have to go to the classes that they offer.” Tamara Matthews (a 33 year old Registered nurse, who gave birth to her only child naturally) adds, “when you just think about things on a basic level, we were created to have children, so the human body knows what to do in order for that to take place, so we don’t need all those interventions or medications to help us do what were are equipped to do.”

Seeing Intervention for What it Is

The truth is that the modern system would much rather have us paying to use it’s hospitals, and the more of their procedures and “medications” we use, the more profit they get.  So how can they succeed at making sure that more and more people are inclined to go to them rather than stay at home or use a birthing center during labor?  The propaganda against natural childbirth is endless and has been so deeply ingrained that women plan against it far before they have even planned to conceive.  One of the medical system’s strongest arguments is that natural birth poses higher risks of mortality or major health complications.  This scare tactic alone keeps women in hospitals without asking questions, while accepting mainstream medical labor procedures as standard practice and not a choice.

However, we can see how the traditional birthing practices of cultures around the world are not only holistic, but also spiritual, and are focused on thoroughly tending to all aspects of the birthing process.  If it has been working since the beginning of human life, why would we try to replace it with interventions that just emerged a century ago?  It wasn’t even until the late 1800’s that modern labor practices even surfaced in the United States; and ironically, the first obstetricians received all of their training from midwives.  After being reminded of the warnings we receive in this society about the supposed dangers to natural childbirth, Latisha said, “when people ask me why I decided to give birth to my daughter in an alternative birthing center, with no medicines, I just asked them what did we do before hospitals?  How did we survive from year to year from decade to decade, from millennium to millennium? How did our ancestors do it?”

The training that traditional midwives undergo is practical, substantial, and well-developed.  Traditional midwives often begin learning at a young age, being exposed to natural births regularly in their environment.  Trusting a traditional midwife means not only having her help for the birth, but having her support, advice, and guidance throughout and after the pregnancy.  Traditionally, the physical, mental, and spiritual stability of an expecting mother and the unborn child are in the care of the midwife and healers from conception to birth.  Today, many modern midwifes apply practices that come from tradition, and many others are focused on providing care in a similar fashion.  Despite this, much of the mainstream warnings and media lead us to question the quality of care that would be received from a midwife during a natural labor.  Having given birth under the supervision of a midwife, Tamara found that “really, if a person would research and speak to a midwife, they would find that the treatment that you receive is holistic and much more thorough.  They think that a natural birth is a primitive thing, but you have regular visits with your midwife, and they are skilled to take care of complications and health issues.”

Is medical intervention with drugs and anesthetics really worth the risk?

When we really examine all of the risks that are taken in applying modern labor interventions, we will find that the risks involved with utilizing drugs, surgical tools, and resorting to different types of surgery far outweigh the risks of a natural birth.  In fact the risks, health complications, and even deaths that occur as a result of interventions are systematically kept from public sight.  “Coming from a western medical health care job and reading and seeing the interventions done personally,” Maawa explained, “the risk of submitting yourself to these radical interventions are so much higher than going about it naturally.  Once you step foot in a hospital your risk becomes higher because of all the interventions complicating the natural process.  The interventions actually put you in a more dangerous position where you no longer can help yourself but neither can the doctors. I do see the actual percentages of deaths caused by these interventions. It’s amazing how many maternal deaths there are caused by infections of surgical procedures in labor and delivery and how many ill effects there are by induction and drugs in labor and delivery, as well as other health concerns.  The public never hears about it unless they research it themselves.”  Talking on the same topic, PershaRa affirmed that, “giving birth by the medical standards is more dangerous than giving birth naturally.  All of the things that they do to a woman, maybe she’s been in labor for 30 hours, and she hasn’t been able to eat, and then they cut her open; these are the kinds of things that endanger the life of the woman and the baby, but because the doctors have a business, they advertise not to do things the natural way.  It’s a scare tactic to have people think that their lives and their children are in danger by doing things that natural way.”

Regardless of one’s religious beliefs, one’s spiritual practice, or one’s perspective on life, it is difficult to consider the process of bringing life into the world without recognizing the connection that the process has to the whole of existence, and to our ancestors.  Philosophical topics such as these are arenas that modern businesses, including the medical system, stay far away from.  Keeping away from this important aspect of the birthing process, it becomes much easier to convince a woman that if something goes wrong during her natural labor she would have been safer in the hands of the medical system.  To put it plainly, “you could lose your life giving birth ‘unnaturally’ as well,” Veesha Dash (32 year old Head Pre-School Teacher and mother of four) attested.  But thinking about it from both angles she also explained that, “Birthing is a time for you to connect with your child and the energies of the Earth, allowing yourself to realize what is going on and what you are going to bring.  I understand that there are different reasons for whatever happens in your life; there is a purpose for everything.”  In Kem culture, for example, we recognize that there are many factors contributing to the circumstances that we face during birth and throughout the course of lives; much of the weight of these factors lies in the spiritual realm, an aspect of our existence that so few people of modern society are accustomed to considering.  Kem tradition acknowledges the profound role that our ancestors, the circumstances of our previous incarnations, and our spiritual actions now, play in our lives and the lives of our children.

Speaking from a Kem perspective, Hapi Kamenthu (a 32 year old EMS Technician from Brooklyn) explained that giving birth is “a spiritual process.  You need to know where you‘re at spiritually, so if you deal with things from a spiritual perspective, and take care of those things, you have nothing to worry about.”  Hapi continued to explain that even if she had a natural labor and the infant did not survive, she would still have her next child naturally, “because that was the amount of time that child (or that ancestor) was supposed to be here.  Any amount of time a child is within a woman, whether its a short time or full time, we have to remember we are helping an ancestor from the time we conceive it, so it just may be that ancestor needed to be here for that length of time to meet his goal in the other world.”

We know that human beings are resilient and have the ability to cope with hardship and advance.  Yet another way the medical system finds ways to belittle our strength and turn our eyes from birthing naturally is to convince us that if an infant or mother is lost or faces health complications it is the fault of the natural process.  We must be able to question this false logic.  Christa points out an important fact to remember when we think about natural labor, and the way the medical system would have us see it especially if something doesn’t happen as we would have wished.  “When things happen, its the destiny of that child; there may have been something spiritual going on with either that spirit, that child, or the mother or father, which modern medicine would never look at.”


Finding Support

Knowing about the option to give birth without the control of the medical system unfortunately doesn’t mean that the resources to support that decision will be easy to find.  Depending on your location, finding a midwife who either supports a home birth, provides you with a birthing center, or supervises your birth in a hospital, can be quite challenging or very easy,. Yet no matter what situation you are in, if you are searching for more information about your natural pregnancy and childbirth, there are resources to help you with the most important first step – doing research.  Finding out about the labor process, midwifery procedures and practices, and the procedures done in hospitals, can provide a basic foundation to base your decision on and guide your questions.  Take advantage of the information provided in books, magazines, on websites, and on DVD’s and films.  Following is some information to get you started:

Books:
Spiritual Midwifery, by Ina May Gaskin
Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth, by Ina May Gaskin

Films:
“The Business of Being Born”, Produced by Ricki Lake

Websites:
www.inamay.com
www.midwife.org
www.dona.org
www.birthcenters.org
www.brooklynbirthingcenter.com

Above everything, remember to have confidence in your decision and to trust in the natural ability that your body has to bring forth life.  “If there is something within you that is saying that this is what you should do, then you should listen to that and not worry about what people may say or think because the bottom line is that you are responsible for that child.  Just focus on what your duty is to that child that you are going to give birth to,” Latisha shared.  The confidence that we have in ourselves makes all the difference in being able to commit to the decision.  When asked to give advice for women who may wish to give birth naturally, Maawa encouraged women to “be confident with themselves and their bodies, because this is one thing in this society that has been our downfall.  This society teaches us that women are helpless when it comes to our labor.  But this is totally wrong.  We need to regain our confidence as women and trust ourselves and our bodies and in turn this makes our men powerful as well.  Women should educate themselves, go and seek advice, keep learning about traditional women’s roles, be proud to be a woman along the way, and don’t let negative perspectives bring you down.”

Ultimately, the gift and duty that we have as the bearers of life cannot afford to be exploited or diluted.  “Seize the opportunity to be fully connected to the experience of giving birth naturally to your child.  There is nothing like actually feeling your child come through you.  It is a beautiful experience, ” Christa offered as encouragement to questioning women.  And though we may forget, or become intimidated by it, “pain is a natural part of life,” Hapi reminds women who are considering natural childbirth. “Do not be afraid of it, it is very rewarding in its own way.” Shalawn Facey, 35, a mother of two and a Post-Partum Doula for 5 1/2 years, asserted that “there are always going to be bad outcomes in natural births, as in everything, but the good far outweighs the bad.”  As we continue to investigate the role that we play as women and to challenge the stigma that society circulates, let us keep in mind the bigger picture and seek to fulfill our duty as bringers of life.

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