One of my past doula students had an unassisted home water birth earlier this year. Here’s a Q&A with her about her experience:
Can you explain the term freebirth / unassisted birth for our readers?
Freebirth-ers believe that it’s a woman’s right to choose where, how and with whom she gives birth. A freebirth is where the mother chooses not to have a medical or registered professional attend. An unassisted birth is when the mother chooses to birth with only family or friends in attendance. (These terms are often used interchangeably).
What led to your decision to have an unassisted birth?
This was my third freebirth (out of four births). Originally, the decision came out of necessity. My previous hospital birth did not go well, and I was determined to birth at home, but I was in an area that had no access to midwives. In preparing to birth unassisted, I learned that the birth process is best facilitated in an environment of privacy, where the mother can follow her intuition, and is free of disruptions and interference.
In preparing for my next two births, despite being in an area that offers midwifery care, I realized that I was unlikely to have the same type of hands off, autonomous birth with a registered midwife, since they are somewhat bound by the regulations imposed by the provincial health care system. So I chose freebirth again, despite the availability of other options.
What were your previous birth experiences like?
My first birth, in the hospital, was somewhat traumatic. I was treated very cruelly by hospital staff. They locked me in a room and denied my requests to go for a walk or even roam the halls of the unit. They refused my requests for food. Any complaint I made was met with the offer of an epidural, despite my expressed desire for an unmedicated birth. After two days of labor, I was denied the opportunity to push, and my baby was pulled out with forceps. I was given a large episiotomy without my consent. Despite very normal apgar scores, I was not allowed to hold my baby. Instead, they whisked her away to the warmer and left her there to scream.
In comparing my home births to my hospital birth, it’s like night and day. I had a traditional birth attendant at my second birth. It was still a long labor, and she would stop in and check on me periodically. She took my daughter to the park, and over to her house for dinner. It was very relaxed. She showed my husband ways that he could help me. Throughout the birth process, I was happy to enjoy the comfort of my own home, my own bathroom, and my own food. After the birth, I was able to climb right into my own bed with my baby and stay there, undisturbed, to nurse and bond with my baby. During my next birth, I hired a doula who brought a birth pool and helped with the set up and clean up. I found it comforting to have another woman present to offer an extra set of hands, emotional support and encouragement. All of my home births have gone extremely smoothly and were really enjoyable experiences.
How did your partner feel about the plan to have an unassisted birth initially?
My partner witnessed the disrespectful way I was treated in my first birth and how painful my recovery had been. He also had his own negative experiences with the medical system interfering in a natural process and making things worse, so he was fully supportive of my desire to birth at home. He was thrilled when I suggested freebirth as an alternative and enjoyed the process of preparing for our DIY birth.
What was the experience like for your older children? How was it to have them there for the birth?
Life pretty much went on as normal the day of Lotus’ birth. My 7 year old was uninterested and spent the morning watching TV. My 10 year old got tired of waiting, and suggested she would go outside for a bike ride, but I was beginning to push at that point, so we told her to hang back if she wanted to see the baby born. My toddler ran up and down the halls being as loud as his mom, which I’m sure would have been funny had I been able to concentrate on it at all.
I really love having my children nearby when I’m birthing, letting them see what’s happening and know that they are welcome. They will be exposed to so many messages suggesting that birth is a dramatic event fraught with danger and stress, that I’m thankful to be able to normalize birth as a calm peaceful, loving family event.
After the birth, what were your partner’s thoughts about the experience?
I think he felt glad to have had another birth at home, that we had been able to bring our child into the world in a gentle, peaceful way, and avoid the stress of the hospital environment and medical interventions.
Did you have any family members or friends who were concerned about your free-birth plan? How did you deal with hearing their fears?
When planning my first free-birth, I was concerned about the negative effect other people’s fears might have on me, so I didn’t tell anyone my plans. But after that, the “cat was out of the bag” so to speak, and people had a lot of questions about how I was planning to birth, and what I might do in certain situations. For the most part, I’m happy to chat with people and answer their questions. If it’s someone who I know has views on childbirth that directly oppose mine (like my doctor or my mom, who’s an RN), then we just try not to talk about it. I think defending my choice to freebirth is easy for me because I am very confident that this is best for me and my family, and because I understand the birth process well enough to know that freebirth is a safe choice for most mothers and babies.
Were you ever worried about “safety”? Why or why not?
Birth is not a series of infinite variables. There are really only a few things that could complicate a birth and many of those can be solved without medical involvement. Many things that we typically view as the dangers of childbirth can often be caused by the medical management of birth. We know that pulling on the cord to get the placenta out can cause hemorrhage. Making a mother push lying on her back, or preventing her from moving during the birth can cause a baby to get stuck. Immediate clamping of the cord increases risks for the baby. Statistically, home births are far safer than hospital births (*see below), and of those, hands off and undisturbed is, to me, the safest way to birth. We prepared ourselves by learning some of the ways to solve basic birth complications, but in general, I felt far safer knowing I would be giving birth in my own environment surrounded by people I trusted.
What advice would you give for any woman considering free-birth or unassisted birth?
My advice is to understand that birth is not a medical event. It’s a normal, natural function of the female body. Your body is designed to birth well, and when you’re in an environment where you feel comfortable and supported, then the hormones carry the birth along. If we let others interfere too much, it disrupts the hormones that make birth flow so smoothly, and that’s when complications happen. So listen to your body, and let it happen intuitively.
Moving forward, how will you take what you’ve learned from your own birth experiences into the births of the women you support in your work as a birth attendant?
Through my own birth experiences, I’ve really come to trust my ability to give birth. If there’s anything I’d like to pass on to my clients, it’s that faith in their own ability to get the job done. I love seeing women discover just how strong and capable they actually are. There is a great sense of accomplishment that comes from a good birth experience, and that self confidence spills over into all aspects of life, which is a really great way to start your journey as a mother!
Do you have any quick practical tips for women planning to have an unassisted birth?
Read birth stories, watch videos. Expose yourself to the type of birth you want to have. Mainstream media gives us all these examples of dramatic births from which women need to be “delivered”, but if you watch the home birth videos on youtube, or read natural home birth stories, it changes your mentality. It takes away our fear of birth, and we start to think of natural birth as normal.
What was your most memorable moment from your recent birth?
It’s funny that you can spend all day in the birth process, and then finally it just seems to happen all at once. My body started to bear down involuntarily. Those sensations were really intense. There was a lot of force behind them, and I thought to myself “I hope this is over soon”. Her head was still quite high up at that point. Then all of a sudden, she moved down incredibly fast. It was so overwhelming, I struggled to catch my breath. I said “It’s happening too fast!” and my doula suggested I pant, which didn’t really work because I could barely breathe! But it only lasted 30 seconds or so, and then she was crowning, and it was all business. She was born shortly after that.
How did you feel after giving birth at home, surrounded by only your intimate family?
I felt a great sense of accomplishment. I felt very at peace, and very grateful.
Watch Shay’s birth video:
Shay Sampson is a birth attendant in Alberta. Follow her Foothills Homebirth facebook page for lots of good birthin’ info!
*For research comparing the safety of home birth to hospital birth see here (note – studies use births where a registered medical professional is in attendance at either location. Every family needs to decide for themselves in what context they feel most comfortable giving birth).
Did you have an unassisted birth? Did you consider it? Comments welcome below!