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  • Christina Hughes

All Birth is Natural

You may have heard people say “I want/had a natural birth” or "I believe in natural birth". Let me pause there and say..... All Birth Is Natural.

When a client says this, I encourage a moment to pause and investigate further, and when explored, one or more of the following surface:

“I want an unmedicated birth” “I want a pelvic or vaginal birth” “I want a physiological birth”.

"I don't actually know what I want."

So often these statements are diluted and misrepresented by using the word natural instead of terminology that reflects the real desire. Take natural out of the description and drill down into what it is you are actually seeking for your birth. In order to educate yourself and fully understand options for birth, pay attention to the language you think, use, and react to.


For the above statements, clients discover their intention or meaning of using the word natural and land on one or more of the following:

Wanting an unmedicated birth often means you desire to birth without pain medication and can also refer to other medications that may be used as interventions (Pitocin, narcotics, epidural, etc.)

Wanting a pelvic or vaginal birth may mean the birther would like to avoid a cesarean section and that the baby be delivered through the birth canal.

Wanting a physiological birth usually means allowing your body to go through labor and delivery using innate rhythm, power, and capacity of the human body. It aims to avoid all unnecessary interventions.

Each of these desires are distinct and way more nuanced than “natural”. They also shape how you prepare for birth and how you create your expectations about birth. Both preparation and expectation setting play into having a positive birth experience (obviously not the only things).


Not knowing what you want indicates that it may be a good time to step away, reflect, and identify what you would like your birth to look like. Some of my clients, discover that none of the options above are desired and actually choose a C-section. That is 100% okay as well.

Why does this matter?

When writing your birth plan, having specific statements about your desires guide your care team and gives a snapshot of your ideal birth, leaving less room for interpretation from folks in the room. It also helps you stay specific and aware of your original goals for birth.

In addition to saying you desire or had a natural birth being vague, it can also be triggering or minimizing to others. It can insinuate that if someone chooses or needs to birth in a manner other than a physiological, pelvic, or unmedicated birth aka medicated or cesarean birth that the birther somehow failed or “did not really giving birth” which contributes to the stigma of C-sections and pain medication being “an easy way out”. 100% untrue. Using natural as a blanket statement can also be triggering for those who may have wanted an unmedicated birth but were unable to have one.


When we judge or diminish the paths of the birthers around us (intentionally or not), we contribute to the "compete, compare, undermine and undercut" narrative that Emily Gordon (2015) discusses in her article "Why women compete with one another". In birth culture this shows up in the belief that the "natural" way of birthing is better, more righteous, or makes the birther "more of a woman" than someone else.


Let's sink into a tangent for a moment about the "compete, compare, undermine and undercut" narrative.


Where does this come from?

Is it real?

How does it show up today?


It is my full belief that these narratives stem from patriarchy and the common enforcement of very narrow ideas of the gender binary- male or female - and that sex and gender are one and the same. We force the internalization of these beliefs that a) people with uteruses/ people born female must birth, b) their value is tied to birthing, and c) in birth culture the notion that how we birth creates a superiority complex that we then use to compete, compare, and undercut. Said another way, we put people in categories and then create "shoulds" based on those categories- "you have a uterus/were born female, you should have a baby, having babies makes you valuable, and you should birth this way."


Emily Gordon (2015) discusses the feminist psychology point of view around the idea that when value is tied not only to our ability to birth, but also tied to those who can impregnate, the indirect aggression and competitiveness increase.


This can be seen outside of birth culture as well. We tell those assigned male at birth that they are male and then we spend years telling them which traits are desirable and undesirable for that sex. Then we exhaustively study how that trait shows up in careers, family, athletics, leadership, etc. and create arguments and research to reinforce that these traits are tied to, or because of that sex.


An example: Competition.


Competition is often encouraged for people born as male, praised even- and conversely seen as an undesirable trait in people born as women. We are conditioned from the time we are little to see this as a truth and adapt to the "accepted" version of the trait. Men are then pushed into sports and leadership roles and encouraged to outdo the other. Then we study these men as adults and say, "hey look!, these people who are born male are more competitive, this must show there is a gender difference while rarely considering this socialization.


Other research, like Mavin and Yusupova's work titled Competition and gender: Time’s up on Essentialist Knowledge production, suggests that we should intentionally stop this automatic categorization and comparison on the basis of perceived biological sex all together, using the idea of competition as the trait reviewed in their study. They discuss that comparisons and categorizations used in these studies "reduce gender to perceived biological sex and treat competition as a ‘self-evident’, static and easily measurable phenomenon"... and they then seek to explain why this approach is misleading, inequitable and socially harmful."


The research around these topics, how research is conducted, and that fact the socially constructed nature of gender identities are hardly considered in research, confirm for me that it's no accident "natural birth" became so popular. It reinforces Gordon's (2015) feminist psychology idea around the value of birthers and allows folks an indirectly aggressive way to diminish other birthers, consciously or unconsciously uphold beliefs about the value of birthers and the narrow ideas of the gender binary, and continues to define who should be accepted, valued, and celebrated in the birth.


Be specific in your language, desires, and outcomes of birth! If you need help doing so, get support from a doula, childbirth educator, and/or care provider on how to identify the type of birth you want and how to talk about it with others and in your birth plan. If you've already brought life to this earth, reflect on your experience and the language you use now to recount your birth story. Consider some revisions to your language, journal to uncover details you may have forgotten, and find someone to talk about how it makes you feel.

Questions, comments, further discussion- let me know!

Comment below or email bfp@bigfatpregnancy.com



Resources:


Gordon, E. V. (2015, October 31). Why women compete with each other. The New York Times. Retrieved June 14, 2022, from https://www.nytimes.com/2015/11/01/opinion/sunday/why-women-compete-with-each-other.html


Mavin, S., & Yusupova, M. (2020). Competition and gender: Time’s up on Essentialist Knowledge production. Management Learning, 52(1), 86–108. https://doi.org/10.1177/1350507620950176


Vaillancourt, T. (2013). Do human females use indirect aggression as an intrasexual competition strategy? Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 368(1631), 20130080. https://doi.org/10.1098/rstb.2013.0080



Editing, reflection, and edification on using inclusive language for this article provided by @nonbinaryparenting. Thank you!




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