Demedicalized Childbirth: Supporting Women as they Embrace Nature
In 1997, the World Health Organization (WHO) called for the demedicalization of childbirth due to the increase in unnecessary interference with the natural process of birth related to the advance of modern medicine.

Statistics show that medical interventions at birth tend to snowball, leading to further interventions. This makes it difficult for a woman to have the natural birth she planned, while increasing the chances for complications with nursing and general healing that frequently come with drugs usually employed in the hospital birthing process. While we can be truly grateful for lifesaving medical technology when it is applied appropriately, natural childbirth is clearly safer and therefore preferable for most normal births. In a culture where natural childbirth is less common and homebirth can seem extreme, how can we support women to embrace nature?

Birth–and death, for that matter–used to be a common and visible part of daily life right in our homes. Simply by proximity, we as a culture used to know what to expect with birth and the postnatal period. Mamas and sisters and aunties and nieces were there and ready to help out with the familiar territory of birth. Men knew their roles and provided a supportive and respectful space for women. This is in sharp contrast to today’s cultural landscape, where we often don’t see the full range of life anymore. The birthing and dying and eschewed away to the doctor’s domain and labor and birth is depicted as an emergency situation on TV ranging from the Cosby Show all the way to ER. It has bred a kind of pervasive, cultural fear where it seems only the “experts” have the answers about grounded, real-life womens issues–not just at birth, but also in the healing period afterward.

Even outside of the doctor’s office, new moms today are often expected to adjust to their new role as Mommy largely on their own; this compounds the problem. Cut off from a living women’s tradition of community support and with the office demanding Daddy and possibly even Mommy back at work ASAP, the modern world refuses to make space. To make matters worse, women often feel that their experience is unique and therefore irrelevant to other women–from the medical particulars of their birth to the individual family situation and beyond–and therefore moms might not readily talk about their experiences with other women, especially those who are not moms themselves. It all adds up to making having a baby in today’s culture often isolating and strange, even in liberal enclaves where lip service is given to community support but where people actually live quite separately from one another. What’s worse, it also robs women of their inherent power.

This is why it is critical that we offer women safe, natural, life-affirming birthing environments whenever possible, rather than fear-driven ones. After that, it is essential to provide a loving and supportive postpartum environment in which she may recover and integrate her birth experience, whether she was able to have her child naturally or not. Expectant women can help themselves by creating thoughtful birth plans for Labor Day and informing those they are close to of their wishes. For the postpartum period, they can teach their friends and family to stock their kitchen with nutritious foods-as-medicines like bone broths and teas to promote healing and a good, basic home herbal pharmacy with simple, safe herbs for lactation support and to combat baby blues. A postpartum choice growing in popularity is to take a retreat and media fast for mom, dad, new baby and siblings only, with only the very closest best friend, caregiving family member or postpartum doula entering the home to help with meal preparation and cleaning.

What Does This Mean?
If a woman trusts that she can birth naturally, a woman trusts that she can meet any challenge in raising that baby–and in fact, many women report after birth that they believe that they can do anything. When a woman is allowed to stand in the power of her birth, she can stand in the power of her life. The cultural implications of that statement are staggering.

When a woman is empowered by the full, natural birth process, she is biochemically, physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually better equipped to make the bond with her child that can lead to a deeper bond with humanity. In birthing a child, it is possible recognize the tear between this world and that: from Dao to one, one to two and so on. When she can intimately connect with this new child which only a few minutes, days or weeks ago was the stuff of her own body, her own being, and now is literally ‘other,’ she has the opportunity to dissolve the very sense of separation that we feel with all others–the family, the community, and beyond.

Properly framed, birth is a spiritual act. Not a medical one.