There is a general understanding that the term “natural birth” means unmedicated childbirth with minimal medical interventions. For the purposes of communicating with like-minded folks about our birth plans and experiences, “natural birth” works pretty well. While I have supported women with no interest in natural birth, most clients seeking doula services are in search of support that will help them achieve a more natural pregnancy and birth.
Despite its convenience and universality as a term, I still have problems with some of the underlying assumptions of natural birth. There is so much about modern lifestyles that veers from what is natural that in order to achieve health, some unnatural habits are often used, such as supplements. Even when natural components are used, there is nothing natural about nutrition in the form of a pill. Perhaps if I were running around nude in the tropics, I wouldn’t need to tan or take a vitamin D pill. During long Michigan winters, however, I need to compensate for what I lose by living in an inhospitable climate.
Family planning is another unnatural choice for most modern families. While I don’t judge women who spend their fertile years pregnant or breastfeeding, I am grateful for the wisdom and technology of all the forms of family planning I have used over the years to control my fertility and limit my family size. Supplements and family planning are just two examples of how modern life leads me to make choices that are not natural.
I question the idea that to live naturally, one must reproduce and have children. Many people struggle, even today, with societal pressure to pair up, settle down and start a family. Those who choose not to parent often are made to feel like they have missed a rung on the ladder toward emotional maturity. This is ironic to me, as my childless friends have been one of my biggest sources of knowledge, inspiration and resources to me as a parent!
Even for those who do choose to reproduce, not everyone is able to achieve pregnancy through natural means. I think anyone who has ever been through the grueling process of in vitro fertilization would agree that there is nothing natural about it! Turkey basters have helped many lesbian, gay and single people become parents. From the beginning, some families need a little creative assistance.
So, while I am passionate about natural birth for myself personally, it is not something I promote. I’m uncomfortable generalizing about birth in a way that could exclude so many diverse families in my community. If you sense this discomfort, please know that it isn’t due to a lack of support for what is natural, but out of a desire to celebrate all families.