I had both my babies by what you might call natural childbirth. I don’t in fact call it that, partly because the term makes it sound as though the naturalness was somehow the goal in and of itself in some sort of Luddite repudiation of technology, and partly because it’s yet another example of how overused and meaningless the word ‘natural’ is. After all, porcelain tubs filled with hot water are no more likely to grow in the natural setting than epidurals are, but I certainly found a soak in the bath of vital importance to handling the pain in my first labour. However, I had unassisted low-tech vaginal deliveries for both, pretty much unmedicated (I had two Paracetamol when in labour with Jamie, and a very brief go on the gas and air with Katie, but no Pethidine or epidurals).
This is, apparently, highly objectionable to Dr Crippen. Part of this, it appears, is because he has much the same semantic objections as I do to the term itself. Much of it, however, seems to be because he thinks, incorrectly, that natural birth is another term for homebirth. Dr Crippen is against homebirth, which he believes to be unacceptably dangerous. The only evidence I’ve seen him offer to back up this viewpoint is of the Scary Isolated Anecdote variety so beloved by, say, anti-vaccine scaremongerers, but I only read a relatively small proportion of his posts and for all I know I may at some point have missed a more rational discussion of the relative risks of homebirth and hospital birth involving the citing of some actual evidence. However, it’s a moot point, since he’s wrong in thinking that natural childbirth automatically means homebirth. It’s a term generally used to refer to birth without intervention or medication, which (theoretically at least) is perfectly possible to do even in the most high-tech of hospitals.
Would Dr Crippen object to a woman having natural childbirth in a hospital? I doubt it, but it’s hard to be sure – some of his criticisms don’t seem to have anything to do with the place of birth:
"Right on, trendy “natural” child birth is about jumping into the
birthing pool with husb… sorry, “life partner” [Goodness. And here was me thinking that the days when doctors could make snide comments about pregnant women not being married went out circa 1960], the vicar and the
independent madwife, singing ten green bottles whilst the baby
struggles to get out and then eating the placenta with a rocket salad."
All of which, of course, a woman could do perfectly well in hospital. So what’s the problem? Well, his objection to those various potential methods by which a woman might make herself feel comfortable during labour or circumvent the lack of decent hospital food after it’s over (placenta-eating isn’t an idea I fancy in the slightest, but, thinking back to the quality of the only available meal on the ward the evening I’d given birth to Katie and was starving for some protein after a day of eating nothing but easily-digestible carbohydrates, I can see how it might have its attractions) is apparently that the perinatal and maternal mortality rates are unacceptable. He does not provide any statistics or details on the impact that any of the things he listed have on intrapartum mortality, but I await with interest his presentation of the randomised controlled trials studying the mortality rates of "Ten Green Bottles" renditions.
I did not, as it happens, have any of the above in either of my births, although the lack of the birthing pool in the second certainly wasn’t by my choice. (In my first labour I used the bath instead, which worked perfectly well; whether or not that would call forth similar levels of derision from Dr Crippen, I don’t know.) For me, natural childbirth – or whatever term you can come up with that describes the choices I made concerning my children’s births – wasn’t about what I wanted to do during the birth, but what I wanted to avoid.
I did not want, for example, to have major abdominal surgery on the day when a new helpless person requiring a lot of care and a lot of heavy lifting joined my family. I did not want cuts made in my genitals. I did not want my children’s first experience of life to be the application to their heads of a suction machine vigorous enough to cause major bruising. If, of course, I found myself in a situation where the consequences of not having one of those interventions were likely to be worse than the consequences of having them, then so be it. However, I wanted to reduce the chances as much as I could. From my reading, there seemed to be good reason to think that the stronger forms of analgesia might increase my risk of getting one or other of those interventions, as well as having various other potential and unpleasant side effects. So I found out as much as I could about alternative ways of dealing with labour pains, and decided to see whether I could get by on those ways if possible. Which, as it turned out, I could.
You can’t get side-effects from a drug you haven’t taken or complications from an operation you haven’t had. That’s why I wanted to keep intervention to a minimum. I’d have had any intervention for which there was a genuinely good
reason; but I was also aware of how often "This is just the way we do
things" is considered a good enough reason on hospital wards, and I
didn’t consider it a good reason. So, call it natural childbirth if you like – it’s what the term means, after all – or call it by a better name if you have one. But those were the choices I made about my labours; and those are the reasons why I made them.