Giving Birth During Natural Disasters

27 08 2012

The Tropical Storm Isaac path that people are eying today brings to mind an issue most of us don’t think much about: giving birth during a natural disaster. Specifically, of course, I am thinking of events which cause isolation (such as tropical storms or hurricanes) and cut you off from modern convenience. Thinking back to events like Hurricane Katrina, I am sure giving birth during something as arduous as that could feel like giving birth in a war-torn third world country, and probably would contribute to a huge dose of physical and psychological trauma for a new mother. With a little careful planning and forethought, however, it doesn’t have to be that way.

If you had to give birth by yourself, with limited resources, and no access to medical care, could you do it? Better yet, would you be calm enough to not experience the worst day of your life? This is another example of why it truly pays to be prepared for an unassisted birth.

Hurricane Charley in Florida created a situation where a hospital lost power, and thus the ability to enact their typical interventions on laboring patients. The results, to the surprise of the nurses on staff, were better and healthier births. Story as recalled in the book Pushed, by Jennifer Block.

A lot of people talk about the irresponsibility of freebirth (birth without a medical attendant) like it is the height of stupidity, but they easily sympathize with women who accidentally found themselves birthing unassisted. Why is that? You can’t blame a mother who wanted to get medical care and could not, right? Wrong. You could. Now before anyone accuses me of more blame-the-victim mentality, I am not at all accusing mothers who’ve been in that situation of being reckless. After all, it could have easily been me in my younger years. What I am saying, though, is there is a heavy value to the Boy Scout motto “be prepared”. A woman who has an intentional and prepared UC is most certainly not more reckless than a woman who was caught off guard and accidentally gives birth by herself frantically. That makes no sense, so it’s time for us to take responsibility and arm ourselves with knowledge so that we can be as capable as possible.

Women who accidentally UC (have unassisted childbirth) find themselves usually at least a little panicked. There is usually at least some sense of frenzy. And of course, during a labor, being calm and making rational decisions and letting birth flow smoothly is far preferable to and more advantageous than fear-based chaos. The person who is cool and collected and knows how to handle themselves is better equipped to have a healthy birth in the absence of pros (hurricane or no hurricane).

So, what would you do if you had to give birth during a hurricane or tropical storm?

Some people say that storms cause a rise in births. Other natural events associated with the start of labor include full moons.

First, let us hopefully assume you have a stable shelter, or have found stable shelter. And let us hopefully assume you are disease-free and free of certain very difficult medical conditions. Let’s assume that you are, for most intents and purposes, safe and healthy and that your baby is as well.

Next, remain calm. Do not panic. It would greatly help you if you had read Emergency Childbirth: A Manual beforehand. Answers to specific questions about how to handle different birth scenarios can be found there. Click that link and print it out and you can have it. It’s free. This store is great, by the way, but this freebie is an excellent resource for sure. It’s supposed to be so easy a child could understand it. In fact, I’m going to read it with my children as part of their education. If you hadn’t read it beforehand, having it ON hand can still help– the book has quick jump-to points that summarize almost every birth scenario and how to carefully handle it until help arrives. Good for refreshing your birth partner in the moment if something unexpected occurs.

If you can control it, be in a dwelling that has plenty of fresh, clean water. I live in Florida so the Hurricane Isaac path was on my radar, but I still stock up anyway on canned food and bottled water. You do not have to be a Floridian to have a safety net like this. Water will be essential for keeping hydrated and for cleanliness. If you can safely create a flame, you’ll be able to boil water for any sterilization purposes you may require. Even during a tropical storm, labor can be quite hot, especially in the summer in a humid climate and without AC or power to your shelter. Have water to keep damp washcloths on hand and make the situation more bearable.

A pregnant woman after a storm in Haiti.

For people who have wells and septic, remember that power outages could be lack of access to running water and toilet use. Do what you have to do. Labor will not last forever so if you have to soil things such as a toilet that cannot flush or even a bath tub, go for it and try not to dwell on it. It’s temporary and can be dealt with afterward. So, attempt to designate an area or areas for easy and hygienic bathroom use and then put it out of your mind. Letting troubling thoughts bother you during labor will not make anything easier. It won’t give you a running toilet, running water, or make the power come back on, and it won’t bring an ambulance through flooded streets or a doctor to your doorstep.

In case of threat of tornadoes and hopefully being in a stable dwelling, allow the mother to labor in a central location in the shelter away from windows. For many buildings this will be a hallway or a bathroom. Try to give her space and privacy as this will ease the birth process for her. Be within earshot and discreetly check in frequently. Keep others from intruding in her birth space.

Survival should not be limited to people who believe in UC and freebirth, and for that reason, removing fear in UC and freebirth is essential.

People often ask about birth supplies and what you need for a homebirth. The truth is, birth just happens. Even with the bare minimum, even in the middle of a storm, even without permission or handy supplies or a perfectly clean environment, you will more than likely just give birth. Therefore, do not let a lack of a medical bag scare you. Making birth as comfortable and safe as possible doesn’t have to be a major hardship.

I recommend having on hand plenty of buckets (various uses), clean towels (not immaculate, not pretty, not perfect, just CLEAN), a knife or scissors (out of children’s reach), and a lighter or 3 with plenty of lighter fluid. Blankets for the mother and newborn are also very important. Please have a few flashlights with extra batteries. Have a fully charged cell phone or two on hand (take care of that before power loss) in case you actually get reception if and when needed. Preserve the power by not using phones unless completely necessary. You may find it useful to have the disposable Lysol disinfectant wipes for surfaces type of product on hand. Not a usual natural parenting recommendation, and I understand that.

These things may make life easier, but life will happen without them. Remember that keeping mother safe and healthy by adhering to natural birth physiology needs will be crucial for the newborn’s survival. If you do not have infant formula on hand nor running water or available water to mix it with, the newborn will need their mother to nurse.

You don’t not need to wait for a storm, hurricane, blizzard, or natural disaster to leave you feeling stranded and helpless to start wondering how to properly manage a solo birth. Eliminate the threat of birth taking you by surprise in any set of circumstances by understanding birth physiology, read more, panic less, and make it out alive.


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