Try to talk to an American about natural birth, and it might invite some funny looks. Midwife assisted natural birth, however, is the standard practice worldwide. The United States is the only country where birth is handled almost solely by the medical industry. This may seem like progress, but estimated first-day mortality rates for newborns in the United States are 50 percent higher than all other industrialized nations combined. How has America gone so wrong?
It all started in the early 1900s when medical professionals began a campaign to discredit midwives. Racist and xenophobic stereotypes were used to advance the notion that hospitals were a safer and pain free alternative for birth. The idea of pain free childbirth appealed to women's rights activists who were eager to rise above the stigma that such pain was a woman's punishment for the original sin. Consequently, hospital births were seen as a mark of liberation and a woman's right to choose.
Choice, however, is exactly the opposite of what a hospital birth experience offers. Midwife Sizzly Auer knows this all too well. Auer's passion for natural birth options began when she was left sterile by a medical error and subsequent Cesarean section. Auer later began studying to become a midwife and says she “wanted to make sure that no other women go through what I went through.” Auer notes that with natural birth “the mother gets to move around and listen to her body and let gravity help deliver her baby.” Today Auer is the owner of Childbirth Options, LLC, a facility that offers midwife and birthing services in Tampa and surrounding areas of Florida.
Dade City resident Sherry Cleveland had her first child in a hospital setting. Auer recently assisted with the natural birth of Cleveland's second child who reports making the change “because I was not happy with the way things went in the hospital.” Regarding the experience, Cleveland states “I was only in labor for 2 hours where I was in labor for 11 at the hospital.”
Cleveland also debunks the myth that the hospital offers pain-free labor, stating that “the contractions from Pitocin are like the contractions at the end when you're pushing except they are that way the entire time.”
Pitocin is a labor-inducing drug which can have negative effects on both mother and child. The documentary “The Business of Being Born” explains that hospital procedures and drugs administered during labor often cause a snowball effect. This is the real reason that further medical interventions often become necessary. This reinforces the notion that childbirth is dangerous and requires a hospital setting to ensure safety. While around two percent of women have complications during labor which require medical intervention, the other 98 percent can safely undergo natural birth with the aid of a trained midwife.
The shortsightedness of the medical industry is depriving women of information that is vital to making informed health decisions. While this started as a facet of the women's civil rights movement, it has created a stigma surrounding birth that puts hospitals in control of a highly personal experience. Natural birth empowers women, as Sherry Cleveland was quick to express with the following statement:
“I feel very liberated from this experience. I am extremely proud of myself for doing it even when I received negative attitudes from other doctors for my decision to birth naturally at home. I just want to say to them ha I did it and not in a hospital!"
Sherry Cleveland, pictured above in a family portrait taken by Lil' Sunshine Photography, added that "there is a stigma and I will talk about my experience until the day I die. It was beautiful and as long as there are no complications there is no reason why a mom can't have her child like many women did before they started hospitalizing something that shouldn't be."