D.I.Y. Delivery

by Stacey

Before I begin, let me say as a matter of full disclosure that I feel strongly that the concept presented here is a really bad idea. I would never do it. But it keeps floating through my in-box and it’s about parenting, so here goes.

The topic is free-birthing, also known as unassisted childbirth or do-it-yourself delivery. The practice involves women having babies at home with no outside assistance other than family members. The philosophy goes something like this: women’s bodies know how to deliver babies and interventions from doctors or even midwives just muck up the process.

In recent months the free-birthing movement has generated buzz fueled by media articles and blog posts. Yesterday, the Washington Post ran this piece on the topic which I guess means it really is a trend. Although there are no actual numbers to quantify how many people practice free-birthing, according to the Post article, among the 4.1 million babies born in the United States in 2004, the National Center for Health Statistics reports that more than 7,000 were born at home without a midwife or physician.

Some of those may have been bad timing, in which the pregnant woman simply couldn’t get to the hospital fast enough. But a growing number seem to be women who choose to stay home for the delivery. Many plan to use 911 as a backup if things go awry.

For most, a desire to retain control over one of life’s most emotional, intimate and primal processes is paramount. “Childbirth is a natural event, and I really don’t need all the technology,” said [Lynn] Griesemer, who, like many freebirthers, shuns doctors and opposes routine immunizations for her children. Unassisted birth, she adds, allows the husband to play a central, rather than a supporting, role and is better for the whole family.

Also quoted in the story is Laura Kaplan Shanley from Boulder, Colorado, another leader in the free-birthing movement. She gave birth to five babies at home. According to the article, Shanley says she caught one baby herself, pulled another out by his feet and gave birth to a third alone while her toddler sons slept in the next room, then cut the cord herself.

“A fourth child didn’t make it. Four weeks premature, he was born in the bathroom while Shanley’s 19-month-old daughter stood beside her. He died a few hours later of a heart defect, pneumonia and sepsis. Shanley said the coroner told her a hospital birth wouldn’t have made a difference.”

In 1994 Shanley published a book called “Unassisted Childbirth.” She also has a website called Bornfree. Here is some of what she has to say on her site:

Drugs, machinery, and medical personnel are no match for a woman’s own intellect and intuition. Birth is sexual and spiritual, magical and miraculous – but not when it’s managed, controlled, and manipulated by the medical establishment, or hindered by the mother’s own mind.

I’m biting my tongue.

Throughout the article, many experts in the field of women’s health express concern over the prospect of women delivering babies without assistance from a trained professional.

“Obviously we don’t think unassisted home birth is a good idea,” said Judy Norsigian, executive director of Our Bodies Ourselves, a pioneering feminist health group based in Boston. “There are deaths from these births that I personally know of,” Norsigian said, most of which are preventable and resulted from the failure to recognize clear-cut warning signs: decelerations in the fetal heart rate, indicating respiratory distress; a breech position, in which the baby is sideways or feet first; and umbilical cord abnormalities, which can lead to brain damage or stillbirth.

In addition to the voice of Our Bodies Ourselves, the article includes comments from obstetricians and midwives claiming that free-birthing puts both mothers and babies at risk. This next quote I think is particularly interesting, given that it comes from a midwife.

Mairi Breen Rothman is a suburban Maryland certified nurse-midwife who gave birth to two of her four children at home with “lots of midwives” in attendance. Rothman, a spokeswoman for the American College of Nurse-Midwives, said that expert guidance for women in labor is crucial — and is best provided by a trained professional, not a self-educated layperson.

“For a healthy woman, the overwhelming likelihood is that unassisted birth will be fine,” Rothman said. “But a woman having a baby is not in a position to be monitoring herself.”

All I’ll say is, when even the midwives are questioning whether you’ve gone too far, maybe you really have crossed the line. I’ll stop there and ask you all to comment instead. What do you think of freebirthing?



Filed under baby, birth, childbirth, children's health, do-it-yourself delivery, family life, freebirthing, labor, life, love, mothers, natural childbirth, parenting, pregnancy, safety, unassisted childbirth

11 responses to “D.I.Y. Delivery

  1. woowoobag

    Whoa. If Shanley hadn’t completely lost me, she sure has now. “Birth is sexual….” Eegads, I sure missed that experience during my labor.
    As I used to say, “Gross me out with a spoon.”

  2. I agree. Somehow that part of childbirth escaped me too.

  3. So, just because you gals have not heard of sexually fulfilling childbirth, it must not exist…eh? This is one of the quiet little secrets buzzing around the internet. Childbirth is in fact sexual, is made more effective by engaging in sexually stimulating and arousing behavior, and it is one of the main reasons that Husband and Wife Homebirthers want to be alone.

    Check it out. You might be surprised at how climactic birth can be!

    Jenny Hatch

  4. Hi Jenny: I’m not saying that it doesn’t exist. I’m saying that it wasn’t part of my experience. In fact, it wasn’t even close to my experience. I also don’t know anyone else who experienced childbirth that way. It’s amazing to me that you did experience it like that. For me the pain was so overwhelming that I couldn’t begin to think of anything else.

  5. As with most topics in parenting, somtimes it is good to look at both sides of an issue before dismissing one side as completely insane and unreasonable.

    Give this a read, I believe you will find it enlightening.


    And it might help you to better understand why freebirthers want to give birth privately in our bedrooms without anyone else looking on. And doesn’t it make sense that if childbirth can be sexually fulfilling that the ideal place for it to take place is in fact at home….alone?


    Quotes compiled by Laura Shanley

    My introduction to the concept that birth could be orgasmic came via my college roommate Kim. We were discussing painless birth (I had just read Childbirth without Fear) when Kim casually said, “You know, some women actually have orgasms as they’re giving birth. My mom had one with me.”

    What?! Even as open minded as I thought I was, the concept was almost embarrassing. I imagined this “mother” lying in a hospital bed, having an orgasm in front of a bunch of strangers – and doctors, no less. Yet I was definitely intrigued. If conception feels good, why not childbirth?

    In the years to come, I would read about this phenomenon again and again, and although in my own births I was never able to achieve it, I think that in time, it will become more commonplace. Little by little, our culture is ridding itself of the fear, shame, and guilt that keep many of us from experiencing sex – let alone birth – as orgasmic. Perhaps someday, if we can fully accept our sexual natures, more of us will be able to know the joy that the following women have known.

    * * * * * * * * * *

    “I had been told to expect a ‘dogging pain,’ but was unprepared for the sensation of sexual ecstasy, the voluptuous feeling of penetration….Crouched on my knees on the little afghan, I caught the infant who rushed from my vagina into the small world between my legs, in the midst of an extraordinary orgasm from the inside out.”
    -From They Don’t Call it a Peak Experience for Nothing, by Ruth Claire(Mothering, Fall 1989)

    “I feel the baby come down. The sensation is ecstatic. I had prepared somewhat for this being as painful as my last delivery had been. Yet this time the pulse of birth feels wonderful! I am building up to the birth climax after nine months of pleasurable foreplay. With one push the babe is in the canal. THE NEXT PUSH BRINGS HIM DOWN, DOWN INTO THAT SPACE JUST BEFORE ORGASM WHEN WE WOMEN KNOW HOW GOD MUST HAVE FELT CREATING THIS PLANET….HE COMES, AS DO I.”
    -From Prenatal Yoga and Natural Birth, by Jeannine Parvati Baker

    “I had the most sought-after midwife in France – my competent and funny aunt Marie-Therese, whose radical idea it was that childbirth above all should feel sexy. I listened to nothing but gospel music during my pregnancy, a music quite new to me, and to France, and “It’s a High Way to Heaven” (“…nothing can walk up there, but the pure in heart…”) was playing on the stereo during the birth; the warmth of the singers’ voices a perfect accompaniment to the lively fire in the fireplace. My vulva oiled and massaged to keep my hips open and my vagina fluid, I was orgasmic at the end. Petit Pierre practically slid into the world at the height of my amazement, smiling serenely even before he opened his eyes.”
    -From Possessing the Secret of Joy, a novel by Alice Walker

    [Ed: Truncated]

  6. in my efforts to understand how childbirth could be considered sexual, i found this nearly pornographic description of one woman’s waterbirth:

    i feel like our culture is turning birth into the ultimate goddess empowerment ritual/macho extreme sporting event for the everywoman. this seems narcissistic and dangerous to me. in my experience, these lofty ideals set up unrealistic expectations for many women leading them to make choices that put themselves and their babies at unnecessary risk. sometimes things go wrong. sometimes babies get stuck. sometimes people need help and sometimes birth hurts, no matter how hard you wish otherwise.

  7. Actually, the idea that childbirth could be a sexual experience was not on my radar at all when I voiced concern over unassisted childbirth. My concern is about safety both for the mother and child. If that weren’t an issue, I would be all for people giving birth at home in privacy. If the experience turns out to be ecstatic for some women, great. I don’t have an opinion about that. But for safety reasons, I wouldn’t be comfortable taking the risk that something could go wrong during labor. I do think it’s unwise to go into childbirth without the assistance of a trained professional. If the reason you’re giving that this is appealing because people want to have a private sexual experience during labor, I’m just not with you on that. I would be too afraid of losing or harming the baby for the sake of a sexual experience.

    This is just my opinion. Thanks for sharing yours.

  8. Jenny, Sorry I had to edit your comment. It was way too long. If you want to submit a list of links for people to read, that would be fine. Thanks, Stacey

  9. Pingback: The Open Post « Fussbucket

  10. carolynmcc

    re: DIY delivery
    There’s an underlying (and paradoxical) misogyny at work in the unassisted birth movement: Believers in it reject male-dominated medicalized hospital birth (which there are sound scientific and feminist reasons for doing). But they leap from this rejection of one form of expertise to assuming there is no true expertise about birth. Which is a very sexist assumption, given that midwifery is perhaps the very oldest form of expertise. Furthermore, in place of the often male doctor operating within a male-dominated profession, they substitute the husband. Whatever you think of Western medicine, that’s a substitution of someone who is highly trained (if in a highly skewed system) with someone who has no training at all. Furthermore, it ignores the possibility of putting a community of women—midwives and doulas supporting the birthing woman—in place of the doctor. That’s the real empowering decision.

  11. dagmire

    this is a god point
    this discussion is very disturbing to me on many levels-
    and no, it is not just that i am jealous that i didn’t have an orgasm when either child was born
    what about the baby?
    this risk seems too great to not to bring their health and safety into the discussion
    lots of people out there are very ready to tell me that i cannot have an abortion

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