The Importance of Excluding Onlookers From Freebirths

13 12 2013

If you’re going to be of service to women and want to be taken seriously, having a well-rounded education is important. There are many things you’ll want to know before you can safely feel adequate to provide “care”. One important thing to know on laboring women is, when it comes to witnessing their homebirth, UC (unassisted childbirth) is not a spectator sport.

ImageEven if you allege to be hands off, the problem of the observer is one hopefully known to all UCers and would-be UCers. It is one of the reasons (maybe even a main reason) why many women decide on freebirth at all. One of my favorite writers on natural birth, Michel Odent, talks frequently of the mammalian needs in birth. Of our four basic needs, privacy is one of them. Without it, the mother senses danger and this complicates the labor.

‘To give birth to her baby, the mother needs privacy. She needs to feel unobserved.” –Birth and Breastfeeding, Michel Odent. Any doula, midwife, or doctor should read this book. 

You can read more here: Do Not Disturb: The Importance of Privacy in Labor, Judith A. Lothian, RN, PhD, LCCE, FACCE, The Journal of Perinatal Education- Advancing Normal Birth, from the US National Library of Medicine- National Institutes of Health (PubMed Central). Sidenote: This link also discusses the fetal ejection reflex, for the interested.

Now some may argue that it is possible to give a woman a feeling (or an illusion) of privacy and still have onlookers or caregivers. I will not debate that at this time, but I will state that if one is trying to observe a birth to determine their own readiness to venture into the fields of midwifery and the like, this learning experience is a detriment to the mother.

“There is no privacy without a feeling of security.” –Birth and Breastfeeding, Odent.

Anything you bring into the birthing space, the mother can sense. Any fears, hesitations, reservations, doubts, lack of confidence, lack of understanding of anything, lack of skill, lack of intuition, she spots like a dog smells fear. She taps into her primal state and the neocortex (rational, human, intellectual thought) attempts to disengage. If she has the awareness in any aspect of her consciousness that you are here to test yourself, this can generate feelings of insecurity in the mother. This is particularly true if you are not in an intimate relationship with her. Feelings of insecurity and lack of privacy will, again, complicate labor.

“Most women who understand what is going on are keen observers not only of their own actions, but of the reactions of those about them to every fresh event or incident. I have laid stress upon the sensitiveness of the mind of a parturient woman; if you wish to deceive them, you will fail.”

Confidence rests upon the knowledge of perfect preparation.”

“During labor, women spot doubt in a doctor’s mind as quickly as a kestrel sees a rat in the stubble… However good an actor or however suave a humbug, confidence has no counterfeit.” – these quotes from Childbirth Without Fear, Grantly Dick-Read.

The woman in labor, sensing any lack or fear on the part of anyone present, is hormonally receptive to those suggestions. This initiates the Fear-Tension-Pain cycle. Labor becomes hard or even dangerous for woman and child.

It is more important that we honor and respect the birthing space of the laboring woman and her most basic, primal needs as a mammal than to use her as a test subject for our own reassurance and education.

There are other ways we will be able to give ourselves a proper education on birth and physiology in order to ascertain in what capacity we may be of assistance to birthing women. Like the saying goes, “reading is fundamental”. I urge people to read, read, read, and learn everything they possibly can about true physiological, natural birth and the actual needs of a birthing woman in labor.

Privacy is one very basic and simple method of providing safety in the birth space of a well-prepared woman. We live in a culture, though, where the most basic methods of prevention are overlooked in favor of the most technical hands-on repairs we can put our logical minds to. But, what if we could avoid those dilemmas?

For example– Instead of relying on knowledge of which massage, drug, or herb will treat a post partum hemorrhage, what about understanding the seemingly invisible causes? The brain-body connection has a lot to do with our most commonly feared childbirth complications, and yet our culture does precious little to recognize and avoid creating the issues to begin with. We must look to the interconnectedness of our systems, hormonal responses to environment and stimuli, etc. If we were to know the birth process from an unhindered, natural, physiological perspective, know the stages of labor through all non-intrusive signs, and respect the mother’s primal birth space needs, our shopping lists and interference levels would dramatically decrease. Healthy, normal births would be the result.

I have noticed that there are many UCers or those researching UC are preoccupied with the fix-it methods, though. They read almost exclusively midwifery and obstetrics texts (if they read at all), they focus on which tools or drugs or herbs can be used in a pinch to solve a dilemma or crisis. In the process, we are neglecting the very root of why freebirth is so important– the undisturbed aspect of birth only it can provide. When we more fully grasp what is primal and physiological, our tools and medicines become more and more useless and unnecessary. This is  such a worthy goal! To lose sight of that and to attempt to mimic health care professionals in all regards in many ways defeats the purpose. We aren’t trying to take over their work, we are trying to transcend their methods.

In other words… If I wanted a medical approach to my care, I would hire a medical professional. But, I digress. Because I associate onlooking with interference, I have touched upon the issue of hands-on as relating to eyes-on. Getting back on track–

For anyone questioning if they could handle the pressure of attending births for a living, I would strongly advise they find their confidence elsewhere than at a woman’s freebirth. I would suggest educating oneself to the utmost of one’s abilities, reading books like the ones quoted here (as opposed to a lot of the more mainstream, feel-good, interference-happy “natural birth” literature). I would recommend reading things which are very pro-unassisted childbirth, where lack of attendants is understood and encouraged on a scientific level, because this will provide technical and biological knowledge and a foundation for what makes this birth safe. That is knowledge that would become confidence-instilling for anyone of the right composition to attend women.

Even starting as a trusted doula for attended births of people you are personally close with (at home or in hospital) can give one an idea of their own abilities. Anything… anything to avoid adding hindrance to what could otherwise be an undisturbed birth. This would be one of the gravest insults to natural birth and the natural birthing woman. The needs of a woman in birth are more important than any education we hope to glean from their experience for our own gain.

In order to properly care for a woman, we must first be able to put her needs above our own wants. Anyone unwilling to do that already has the answer to their own question– they are not prepared to attend her. Let us not behave the way that doctors have which caused us to leave the hospital environment in the first place.

“Every woman is different, and so are her needs in childbirth,” you might say. Yes and no. Psychologically every woman is different. The complex thought processes that make up our personalities and make us especially human varies. On the primal level, however, all of our needs are the same.

We are all mammals, we have built-in instincts designed to protect ourselves and the species. We do not deny our other needs as “individual”– whether a woman needs food, water, oxygen, sleep, and shelter is not up for debate based on her individuality. We all require these things as our physiology dictates. As mammals, we have physiological and hormonal reactions to childbirth events and our environment– even over the subtlest of things– that may go unrecognized or misunderstood to the untrained eye. Since it is the primal nature which gives birth, not who we are psychologically, it is the primal which we should be careful to honor!

What a woman chooses is her right, but it sometimes becomes a battle of what she is willing to partake in on the psychological level versus her most primitive instincts. I would not want to battle with the instincts, personally. You cannot reason with them.

So, even if a woman planning a homebirth or freebirth is gracious enough to invite someone to her birth as an observer or onlooker, this does not mean it will not in some way have a negative impact on her birth. A woman would be unfair to herself to promise someone that she would be comfortable with their presence (and it would be unfair for the onlooker to accept, with that knowledge). The primal need for privacy and the intuition of the laboring woman will strongly overtake most conscious psychological desires she has to be sharing, educational, brave, outgoing, or accommodating. Even a peaceful, knowledgeable, and experienced freebirther may find such an invitation to be a naive and inhibiting undertaking in hindsight. Whether it becomes merely a nuisance or precipitates a crisis, the would-be birth attendant must ask themselves, “is it worth it?”

Anyone considering UC for themselves should likewise acknowledge and honor their deepest needs in childbirth and respect the science of the process. This is the way you give yourself the best, safest chance at the healthiest birth.

Trust Sleep

2 11 2011

An insomniac looked for a natural solution to their condition. Someone taught them relaxation methods, ways of disciplining the mind, and ended with saying “trust sleep”. The profound words of such a simple sentiment provided moral support as the person carried on with their goals. They were successful.

100 insomniacs scoffed.

“Trust sleep?!” they mocked. “People die every day in their sleep.” Others ridiculed the nature of the solution, calling it too hippie and new age. “I use medication and I get a good night’s sleep every night, thank you very much,” some said scornfully.

I don’t know if I’ve ever uttered the words “trust birth” or not. It’s possible. What I do know is that this seemingly innocuous phrase is now on the no-no list of things to say for fear of being deemed impractical and unrealistic. It is a denial, some think, of the risks that may come with labor.

I know I can’t speak for everyone, but I think I speak for a lot when I say that any time I’ve ever heard the phrase “trust birth”, I’ve never thought of it in cultish, do-or-die terms. Trust birth, like trust sleep, is a reminder to give your body a chance to relax into the process. Would we laugh at the notion that “your body knows how to sleep” or that you were “made to sleep”, or would we accept this as generally true and try to apply these concepts to our own improvement by virtue of being an encouragement or affirmation?

Some of us need a drug to give us a hand, but more of us need inner peace and a belief that these things typically take care of themselves, but we can’t get to that state when our minds are full of fearful chatter.  When your mind is constantly unsure of what will come next, and looks apprehensively to the future, your body will not be able to relax. Who could? Fear creates worry and tension, and neither are known for producing a good night’s sleep or an easy birth. Panic and dread will also not automatically solve problems, and should be let go.

Those who feel so diametrically opposed to “trust birth” should have their own saying... “trust fear”. Because one way or another, you’re choosing what to believe in, and 90% of the time that is a self-fulfilling prophecy.