Here’s my truth: I’ve personally experienced freebirth AND I’m in the role of midwife and I do not see those two things as mutually exclusive.
However, I do have some thoughts/questions and maybe some wisdom to share around what I see the freebirth movement as. I want us all to question the good, the bad and the ugly when it comes to labeling births as this or that, and I definitely come back to the issues of transparency and honesty.
Ultimately, each of us will choose what is right for us but that journey isn’t always so simple. I see that the freebirth conversation is one that is both enhancing and detracting from the journey of self-realization in birth and frankly I think we need to question absolutely everything!
In this podcast, I unpack the issues around freebirth like trauma, preparation for emergencies (or not) and what I think is a crucial acknowledgement of many women desiring to be “witnessed” in the initiation of birth.
Podcast (taking-back-birth): Download (Duration: 45:09 — 28.4MB)
Beautiful as always Maryn. I have been having the same dialogue in my head for many moons now as I process my unassisted birth 7 months ago. Even during pregnancy I recognised that I was turning to unassisted birth out of fear, fear of medical professionals, fear of the hospital, fear of intervention/disturbance in the birth process. Not from a place of past trauma, but definitely from a place of “collective trauma” as you mentioned. It can be rather fear provoking being apart of the freebirth community, on Facebook or on other platforms, due to the sheer number of negative, traumatic, violent experiences women are sharing. Some groups don’t even allow simple WORDS that suggest medical assistance, as it is triggering for some. My desire to birth undisturbed used to come from a place of belief in the sacred process of birth, the belief that birth should be an intimate event witnessed only by those welcomed to the birth space. Sadly, I have somehow fallen into a pit of fear, where I very much see things as “us vs. them”. And I don’t want it to be that way! 🙁
What does this mean? Where do we go from here? I don’t have the answer either… but it’s definitely a very important conversation to have if we hope to change the culture of birth. The only thing I see clearly is that, in order to change things, we NEED to remove these black and white approaches to birth. So many families are being shut out of the conversation due to these extreme definitions of freebirth vs. assisted birth, and it’s becoming harder and harder to welcome everyone’s perspective when it feels like a war of extremists rather than a fluid spectrum of experiences. We are all simply doing what we can with what we have.
Thanks for your honesty, Kara! I think many women would very much resonate with what you have shared and YES we need to have these conversations.
I still standby the fact that we each can connect to what is deeper within us, and from that place there is no wrong or right or black and white. We simply are.
So, keep doing your inner work and we’ll keep doing ours and maybe that will be the inspiration for others.
Thankyou for sharing your thoughts <3
My partner and I will try to conceive our first child next year so it's powerful for me to see many birth experiences and birth plans. I think that free birth seems to be a spectrum of experiences, but I am VERY hesitant to support birth where no consideration is given for if complications occur. To trust our bodies is a beautiful and powerful experience but everywhere in nature it is natural for complications to occur. I think we should trust in the unexpected and make sure that we prepare as best as possible for any eventuality.
I saw my mama birth at home, when I was 13, 16 and 20 and I'm so so grateful to have experienced this. Consequently I am MESMERISED by birth and have been since my early teens. I have also witnessed the varied complications that can occur through my sisters' births. Firstly, baby in distress because of cord being wrapped around neck, baby not breathing for 7 minutes after birth. Secondly, Placenta not falling away naturally so having to be manually removed (agony) and then lots of blood. In all of these instances, my mama was at home, birthing in her own way with the support of kind, trained midwives prepared with lots of kit for such necessities. I think having these things in place is IMPERATIVE in birthing, otherwise we are just hoping for a safe delivery and unprepared to act immediately if something comes up, which it can whether we trust our bodies or not.
Ina May talks about this in her book spiritual midwifery in the early chapters, where when the ladies started birthing out of hospitals and they were on the road on the big speaking tour, there was a lot of fear mongering among the women that if they prepared for the 'bad' things in birth then they might happen. She called this dangerous superstition that was quickly quelled in their community when a birth went 'wrong' and the baby didn't breath. No body was trained in what to do and no body had the kit available to support the baby to breath. Luckily the baby survived because there was a trained first aider in the area that rushed to help but from that birth on they always prepared and kitted themselves up with what they needed for when things could go wrong.
It's also powerful to see that social media is again, the highlight reel. Are we going to see the freebirths where there are complications and the panic of trying to get to support when these plan B and C were not considered or planned for?
I trust my body to do it's best but I could not put myself or my future babies in the position of harm purely by trusting and hoping that complications won't arise. They do. All the time <3
Wow, Maryn, thank you so much for voicing what I think a lot of women are feeling about the FB movement.
The loudest women who are leading the FB movement can sound extremely dogmatic and often patronizing to anyone who doesn’t fit into a perfect box/label. I don’t feel there has been much acknowledgement about risks that can come with birth (that no one is immune to), as well as the fact that there are so many great reasons why women would want support at their births (paid or otherwise). I also think the seeming exaltation of a “wild pregnancy” is odd; there are many things a woman may want to know about her body and baby during pregnancy – wanting to know things with tools that are available is in no way “worse” than choosing not to know – every choice is valid, and hopefully made by a woman who is informed and acting autonomously. I don’t like the fact that the largest freebirth group in the internetsphere seems to be saying, “only the best/smartest/most intuitive women don’t consult any medical professionals at all, ever”.
I’m so grateful to you and your platform for demonstrating that our true focus in the birth world should be a woman’s autonomy/authority over her birth choices and body. And that this is possible regardless of the support present or location a woman chooses to birth in. Birth is not a competition, or something to be boxed up and labeled in a black-and-white, “good or bad” manner. It looks different for every woman, and that is something to be celebrated!
Thank you for this podcast !!! (And all of your others).
Thanks for your comment, Megan! This sums up what we believe too and we appreciate your perspective. Love Maryn
Wow, maryn! Thank you so much for this. You put words to feelings I had been feeling about all this..I had a “free birth” (I think? ???? – I had a doula there) 15 months ago..it was my first birth. And I easily fell into the category of totally trusting my body. I didn’t do much preparation and even scorned at my husband for wanting to learn as much as he could! “Just trust” I would say! Sounds pretty naive to me! But the first reason why I chose unassisted birth was literally having no other option except the hospital and I was definitely running as far away as I could from that. That’s definitely not a good reason to choose to birth this way, especially for a first birth. But this is the sad reality we are faced with at the moment as I know there are many other women in my shoes: our true hearts longing would be to witnessed by a true wise woman, but that option just doesn’t exist where we live.
Which brings me to the thought: do you have a list of midwives trained by your school and where they reside? Would be a neat resource!
Thank you so much for all of your work: your choice to support women regardless of their choices is so refreshing and feels so supportive and nourishing ❤️
Fantastic podcast!! Thank you so much for being bold enough to speak the truth. This episode spoke to me so much. I didn’t realize how much I was looking for validation for the (very necessary) help my midwife gave me in my birth. I should be confident enough in my own experience and me KNOWING that I truly needed help with my bleeding and my baby’s shoulder dystocia, but I have let doubts and shame creep in from the freebirth movement. Like I shouldn’t have needed help if I was more confident or brave or something, which is ridiculous. I have subconsciously been making excuses and letting myself feel embarrassed for being one of those 1% of women who experience complications during their births even after doing “all the right things” like Brewers diet, and birthing undisturbed at home, etc. Thank you for being honest about birth, and that women DO need help in rare cases…and even when you don’t need help, why wouldn’t you want another wise, awesome woman there to witness you, like you said? My midwife will always have an extremely special place in my heart because she was there with me in the most transformative time of my life.
At first I was really thrown off by this episode, but when I listened to it again I felt like there was a very experienced and grounded voice of reason was coming through. What I am taking from Maryn on second listen is the need to look inward to our own hearts and really find what is there, and if there is trauma to work with that or if there is a desire to be witnessed to allow that and not feel less than for it. I definitely don’t think anyone advocating for freebirth has any negative intentions. For me it’s just resonating that there is a real weird quality to this age of social media and how it can encourage us to brand our lifestyles and commodify it for money or attention, validation.
My personal concern is that blending my birth choices too much with that frame of mind could distract me from inner wisdom and finding the right support for who and where I uniquely am, as I could be unconsciously driven to seek belonging and approval from a group I want to identify with. It’s kind of a double edged sword because on one hand I might find encouragement and inspiration in social media, but on the other hand there could be some shadows in my own nature that lead me away from my own needs through craving to be perceived externally as fierce warrior feminist wild woman free etc etc. I don’t know the answer or if there is even an actual problem, but I like the idea of being less externally focused and accepting the diversity of birthing choices and experience.
Thanks for this intelligent feedback! The age of social media is weird, and is changing things. I wish I had specified that it is these strange communities that I was referring to, but sounds like you (and many others) got that point.
I’m not ashamed to admit that fear has led me to be planning a “free birth”.
Thank you for putting that idea out there because I’m pretty sure that most folks choosing to do birth alone are doing so out of fear of intervention and loss of control. It is horrifying and traumatizing to have your pregnancy mismanaged and/or to lose your control while you’re in such a vulnerable state. I grew up in the home birth community (my mom had 4 home births with midwives that I witnessed as a child/teen). Because of this I have been privy to all the scandals, gossip, backstabbing, and immoral/irresponsible behavior going on amongst our local midwives. At best people who have had a home birth say the midwife didn’t do anything screwy besides play on her phone through the whole birth. My mom has even said if she were pregnant again she would do unassisted as well because her go-to midwife was forced to retire. This is big because my mom has hemorrhaged majorly at all six of her births; both in the hospital and at home with a midwife. She’d rather birth alone at home and call 911 afterward than deal with the kind of care providers we have available. That is messed up.
Almost all primitive groups throughout history have used birth attendants of some kind. More common than “midwives” it was untrained ladies (usually family) who had given birth before. It’s never been common/normal for women to birth totally alone. It’s really sad that in many places in the western world there aren’t folks willing to attend home births who have a relationship with the women, wont intervene unless necessary and wont be bossy/irreverent.
Even though I’m choosing unassisted I don’t judge people who choose to have help. I wish I had a woman friend/family member that I trusted that I could ask to be at my birth. I wish that “lay-people” hadn’t lost the knowledge about how birth works and how to deal with some of the more basic complications. I agree with you that the cultural phenomenon of women saying birth is meant to be done completely alone is macho, extremist and unhealthy…it’s actually also unnatural if you consider our history as a species. At the same time I understand completely, given the state of midwifery/obstetrics right now why folks feel safer all alone.