Here’s Why We Need to Stop Talking About 'Natural' Childbirth

what does natural birth mean hero

Ask a million different women to define “natural” childbirth and you’ll get a million different answers.

To some, “natural” means a silent, orgasmic home water birth with only a midwife and a doula present (or, ya know, self-delivering your baby on a yoga mat into a stream).

To others, it simply means a vaginal birth with a hard yes to Pitocin, let’s never talk about the episiotomy and where the eff is my effing epidural? (Hi.)

Welcome to motherhood: How you give birth is just one of the many (many) topics that everyone from your barista to your brother-in-law cannot wait to weigh in on (and here you were just hoping for a healthy baby, silly goose).

Writes ob-gyn, former clinical instructor at Harvard Medical School and mother of four (two born without medication, two with epidurals) Dr. Amy Tuteur in her best seller Push Back: Guilt in the Age of Natural Parenting: “Parenting quickly feels synonymous with guilt. And of late, there is no bigger arena for this pervasive guilt than childbirth.”

Statistics show that every year, 700 women still die during childbirth. The risks remain all too real. And if delivery without any medical intervention whatsoever is the ideal, where does that leave the 32 percent of women who delivered healthy babies via cesarean (as of 2015), or the thousands (and rising) of mothers who used a surrogate?

“Women think childbirth is safe because of the routine use of medical intervention by doctors,” Tuteur explains. “Often, women don’t even realize that their doctor actually has saved their lives during delivery. It’s that routine medical intervention that natural childbirth advocates are against.”

In defense of the life-saving medical motivations behind most C-sections—the rates of which are actually declining—Tuteur cites one study that shows “the death rate for babies delivered in planned home births with midwives in 2012 was roughly seven times [emphasis ours] that of hospital-born babies… But like the perfect wedding, the perfect birth is often a fiction; women who buy into the idealized experience can face enormous disappointment, distress and feelings of failure if they have a cesarean section, choose an epidural or are unable to breast-feed immediately after delivery, all of which result, at times, from factors outside mothers’ control.”

“Natural” is a beautiful concept that can universally be applied to many things that contribute to the health and well-being of mothers and babies: Farmers' markets. Walks in the woods. The ability to still ache with love for someone while they bite you or giggle while pooping on the rug. But there’s a case to be made that the deeply personal experience of childbirth—in all its shock and awe—need not be one of them. After all, a mother’s love for her kids is as natural as it gets, no matter how they were born.

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