Tuesday, April 23, 2024

How We Have Westernized Natural Birth

I did not coin this phrase "westernization of natural birth." This is how my client described it to me when we were discussing how overwhelming it can feel when preparing for birth. It is a concept I have thought of many times but never had a term that I felt matched how I felt until today. 

What does it mean to westernize natural birth? I feel it is the act of making women & families feel that they need to do certain things and consume certain goods & products in order to achieve a vaginal birth with little to no medical intervention. 
  • You need specific exercise classes a few times per week.....
  • Expect to spend multiple days a week going to various appointments for massages, adjustments, therapy....
  • Commit to birth classes for several weeks....
  • Spend every night reading books, listening to podcasts, browsing websites & social media accounts...
  • But also destress by fitting in lunch dates with friends & family.....
  • Constantly repeat positive affirmations to yourself while you drive, brush your teeth, do your makeup....
  • Make sure you only eat certain foods all the time from an arsenal of books on prenatal nutrition....
  • Take these supplements throughout the day, some around food, others in between meals....
  • Research ALL baby items extensively as you do not want to expose your baby to harmful chemicals....
  • All while ridding your house of nasty chemicals you already own & research safe products for yourself.....
  • Meditate, pray, journal, and spend quiet time each day reflecting on your birth.....
  • Take master classes in birth plan writing, mental prep for birth, and reducing your risk of emotional trauma.....
  • Make postpartum freezer meals & padsicles in prep for after baby.....
  • Drink all the pregnancy tea & find fancy ways to eat 6 dates a day because eating them whole is not doable for you....
  • Scour the natural birth social media pages to make sure you are doing all the things everyone else is doing to prepare....
  • Do the Spinning Babies exercises to make sure your baby is in good position....
  • Set aside 30 minutes per day to do hip circles on your ball & somehow fit in 200 squats everyday....
The list could go on & on. None of these things are inherently bad. And most of them are actually very helpful in preparing for pregnancy and birth. But all of them together seems overwhelming. And in a way, makes an unmedicated birth feel like it is something you have to spend all your waking hours preparing for. And if you do not do ALL of the things, you are going to fail at birth. This could lead to feelings of being a bad parent. And also make parents feel overwhelmed & unprepared.

Just as Western medicine has made women feel they need to depend on them for healthy births I feel we can now apply the same idea in preparing for birth outside of Western medicine. 

I will be honest, I feel this is a shocking thing for a doula to admit. As someone families hire to help prepare for birth, its strange to admit that we may just be in the space of overselling what it takes to achieve a natural birth.

I know the westernization of natural birth did not start out with ill intent. The US is known for medicalized birth & all the harm that it has caused women & babies. We needed books, information, & practitioners to help change women's mindsets when it came to unmedicated, vaginal births.

But I feel we are now in a place of  being bombarded with information. Preparing for an unmedicated birth should make you feel confident. It should not make you feel that you need others to provide you the means to achieve the birth you want.

I am not shaming people who provide our community with necessary information & services. But I want families to know that preparing for birth can be simple. And you do not need to do all of the things that are out there to have a good birth. 

Here are some questions I feel are worth considering when trying to decide if you need a certain service and/or product:

  • Will this good or service help me feel confident going into birth?
  • Do I feel it will help my labor be more effective & manageable?
  • Will it make my pregnancy better (more comfortable, healthier, safer, less stressful)?
  • Do I know other women, planning for the same type of birth I am planning for, that find this helpful?
  • Is this financially feasible?
  • Do I have time & energy to utilize it?
  • Will utilizing this make life more stressful?
  • Does this seem like it could be painful or hard for me to do?
  • Is it worth the time, money, &/or energy I will have to sacrifice to do it?
  • Am I doing it simply because someone else thinks I should? Or does it feel like it is truly beneficial?
  • Am I able to commit to it for as long as it will take to be completed?

These are some basic things I feel have been helpful to families that I have worked with that could be helpful in preparing for birth if you have limited time, energy, and/or finances:

  • Physically preparing can be as simple as investing in a good quality exercise ball & replacing your desk chair, kitchen table chair, and/or place on the couch with it. When you do this you do not have to carve out any special time to use the ball & it helps engage your core & hopefully help baby get into a good position for birth. 
  • Spinning Babies has tons of free information on exercises you can do to prepare for birth as well as MamasteFit.
  • The library could possibly have birth books, many even offer titles through their audiobook apps, which can certainly save you time!
  • Walking is a great way to stay in shape. It provides not only exercise but is great for your mental health. 
  • Being a mom/housewife is great preparation for birth. When we take care of little ones we tend to squat more and get up & down off of the floor more. Also, doing chores can provide great exercise. 
  • There are lots of free podcasts out there that provide invaluable information. Listening to resources allows you to live life while retaining helpful info.
  • Eating whole foods is so helpful in helping you stay well. No need to get fancy, just prioritize fresh produce, good quality meat, dairy, & eggs over packaged food products. Snack foods actually tend to be more expensive than fresh. I love the 80/20 rule, 80% whole foods & 20% foods that make you happy. That way you have a good balance & do not feel you are depriving yourself. 
If you do feel like incorporating some services would help enhance your birth & make you more confident, these are some ones I see be the most effective for the majority of families I work with:
  • Webster chiropractic care: this service can help mom feel comfortable & help baby get into good position for birth, making a vaginal birth possibly more effective & manageable. 
  • Pelvic floor physical therapy: this service can help women understand which parts of their pelvic floor may need targeted work, either because they are too weak or too strong. Having a supple yet strong pelvic floor can help ensure baby is in a good position and make for a better birth. PT provides women with specific exercises to help prepare for birth and use during birth as well. 
  • Childbirth education classes: a good class will help you feel confident, it should not feel overwhelming. 
  • Doula: A doula will help you navigate the circumstances of your pregnancy & birth in real time. A good doula will know when to offer up tailored help &  make your birth space feel relaxing & conducive to the type of birth you have planned. They should also help you communicate with your care team & make sure you feel respected, heard, & well taken care of. 
But here is the one thing that I hope all women know: YOU KNOW HOW TO BIRTH YOUR BABY. We have done this since before experts on birth existed. Before the internet was filled with everyone's take on what makes a successful birth. Before birth books existed. Before we had hospitals and birth centers. And before we had master classes on everything birthy.

Does this mean birth has always been pleasant & safe for everyone? No. But it does mean that God created the female body to know what to do to birth their baby. Some female bodies do it quietly, with seemingly little complications. Some female bodies know they need extra intervention to make their birth safe. Some people do all the prep work and have outcomes they did not plan on. And some do absolutely nothing to prepare and have a straight forward vaginal birth with no intervention. But the one thing that is true in all births is that women tend to know what they need, even if they do not get the opportunity to voice it. 

What is true in the natural birth world as well as the western medicine birth world is that everything outside of what you instinctively do during pregnancy and the birth process is an intervention. Every person that involves themselves in your care is an intervention. Because anything outside of you has the potential to change outcomes. But no one outside of you has the responsibility you carry as a parent. This is why it is imperative to make sure that what you choose to do to prepare during pregnancy and birth is a decision you feel good about.

If you are still stumped, I suggest you pray. Pray for the guidance to know what to do, pray for the strength to do what needs to be done, and pray you surround yourself with people and information that truly help you during this journey. 

We do not need to complicate this process. And we certainly should not feel bad about not doing all of the things if they are not feasible or seem unnecessary. Remember, you are a good parent regardless. God gifted you with this baby, do not let humans make you feel you need to hit certain milestones to provide your baby with a healthy birth.