Several years ago I came across an article in a major newspaper in which the author stated that women were physiologically incapable of delivering their own babies. Unfortunately I can’t quote from it directly, as I tossed it in the trash (after whipping off letters to both the author and the editor – neither of whom ever responded).
The essence of the article was that labor is painful so that women will seek outside support, and therefore have someone around to deliver their babies. The author then went to great lengths to show how anatomically it was impossible for a woman to reach around her belly and catch her emerging baby. Not only is this not true, it also shows a misunderstanding of the true causes for the majority of pain in labor – interference from within (primarily fear, shame, and guilt), and interference from without (constant poking, prodding, and testing).
Anthropologists have observed women delivering their own babies for centuries. Judith Goldsmith cites many examples of this in her book, Childbirth Wisdom from the World’s Oldest Societies.
There were numerous societies where women gave birth with no assistance at all. Among the Chukchee of Siberia, for example, where babies were born with little trouble, the birthing woman attended completely to her own needs and those of her newborn infant. She cut the umbilical cord and disposed of the placenta herself…..The Fulani woman of Africa also birthed without expecting any assistance, catching the infant as it was born in her own hands.
The truth is, not only is it not difficult for most laboring women to catch their own babies, in many cases it may be the most natural way to give birth.
A woman who is in touch with her body can feel the baby moving down the birth canal. She knows when it is about to emerge. An extra set of hands – no matter how caring and gentle – can actually be more of a distraction than a help. Yes, some women enjoy perineal massage, and I’m certainly not suggesting they deny themselves this pleasure. But many women find as they get closer to the birth their need for outside assistance diminishes. A power sweeps over them and suddenly they know they are capable of giving birth without any help at all – even if they choose not to.
For those women who do choose to give birth into their own hands, the rewards can be enormous. Midwives often speak of “the thrill of the catch.” As a woman who has caught several of her own babies I totally agree it is a thrill like no other. But shouldn’t this thrill be reserved for the woman herself, or possibly her partner? “Tear prevention” is the most common excuse given for denying a couple this joy. Yet when a woman is relaxed and unafraid, her vagina will expand. There are also many natural ways of aiding this expansion prior to the moment of birth – warm compresses placed on the woman’s perineum during labor, sitting in water, and the afore mentioned perineal massage.
People occasionally say to me, “Oh, you’re the woman who believes women should catch their own babies.” I always tell them this is not true. My husband caught our first child and I wouldn’t have wanted it any other way. In that birth I felt compelled to deliver on my hands and knees. I had no impulse to catch the baby myself and physiologically it would have been difficult. In subsequent labors, however, I chose to give birth into my own hands simply because it felt like the right thing to do (the fact that I was alone at the time might have contributed to that decision!).
If I were to have another child, I wouldn’t insist on catching the baby myself. I don’t present “self-delivery” as some sort of ideal to strive for. But I think it’s important for women to know that should they decide to catch their own babies, they’re more than capable of doing it.