Labeling Birth: Unassisted, Home, Physiological, Traditional? | Indie Birth

Unassisted Birth

Labeling Birth: Unassisted, Home, Physiological, Traditional?

January 16, 2015

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We are mamas and birth workers who decided to do birth differently– and bring others along with us. We are kind, fun to work with, and great at (lovingly) calling people on their bullshit. With 12 children and 18 years of midwifery between us, we’ve learned a thing or two along the way, and Indie Birth is our space to share it all with you.


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As we here at Indie Birth and kindred spirits around the world venture back towards our traditional midwifery/birth attendance roots, we find ourselves in a linguistic pickle. The word midwife has been hijacked by the state of AZ (and pretty much everywhere else in the US), so there are now legal ramifications of using the term, even if what you do is infinitely closer to the original meaning of the word. Saying “homebirth” makes most people think of mainstream midwifery. So what do we call births that are attended by traditional birth attendants? What language can we use to make bring this renaissance of traditional birthing to the masses when we are legally bound from using the words that most people recognize and understand?

To start off with, we believe in physiological birth, or birth that is ”characteristic of or appropriate to an organism’s healthy or normal functioning”. **Thanks Merriam Webster. This means we believe in a woman’s ability to birth completely alone; that birth inherently works without interference or management and needs no one else there to happen.

But we also believe and know that many women WANT someone there who has specific knowledge and skills when it comes to birth. Both Maryn and I have written at length what we think the role of a traditional birth attendant should be, so I won’t rehash that here. Our ideals are very different than what mainstream midwifery in the US is today, we something much more woman centered and traditional.

We often get asked if we attend unassisted births. Or we hear through the grapevine that people in our area mistakenly think that we only help unassisted birthers. I think this stems from the lack of imagination in our culture about birth in general, as if there are discreet categories, and what we do isn’t in one of them, so we just get assigned the closest label that people are familiar with. What makes it even trickier is that we absolutely DO support unassisted/free birth in many different ways. And since we support unhindered and physiological birth, the job of traditional birth attendant often consists of astute but subtle observation, emotional support, practical help with positioning, putting down blue pads or towels, cleaning up, and making sure the mom is fed, hydrated and rested (again see our other posts on the topic of midwifery roles). Very seldom do we have to “do” much of anything or use the skills that we absolutely DO have. But does that mean that a physiological birth attended by a traditional birth attendant is unassisted? No way! To call a birth attended by a skilled birth attendant “unassisted” would be silly and sort of offensive honestly. Unassisted means without assistance. We talk to and consult with women having all types of births, and if we attend births, they are (hopefully) physiological, at home births, but (according to us) they are most certainly not unassisted! Is this making sense?

We wanted to clear up this issue of labels and what to call what we do because it leads to a lot of confusion for others, and sometimes, for us. We attend births as independent midwives – maybe these births should be called “independent/Indie births”? We’d love to hear what you think!

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  1. Courtney says:

    Linguistic pickle… !! Haha. ♡

  2. sarah says:

    Thank you for the clarification. Most shiver at even the thought of my friend not seeing a doctor with her lay pregnancy. Even knowing it was her 6th birth, it terrified ‘them’. I was so blessed when she asked me to be there, I was pregnant with my first and had zero experience with the birth process- nor was I going to a doctor and classes to find out. How simple-food, shelter and love- that’s what it takes and that’s what got it done. Thank you for taking the time to fearlessly share this information to the public, an inspiration is what you ladys are. Ya have my vote 😉 cheers

  3. Denisse Rossello says:

    Is amazing how you are contributing in decolonizing birth. Is refreshing to read this. We have been raised in a society where we have always been told what to do and birth is no exception. Is time we learn to make our own decisions and follow our own intuition.

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Meet the duo behind Indie Birth

We are mamas and birth workers who decided to do birth differently– and bring others along with us. We are kind, fun to work with, and great at (lovingly) calling people on their bullshit when necessary. With 11 children and 16 years of midwifery between us, we’ve learned a thing or two along the way, and Indie Birth is our space to share it all with you.

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