Pregnancy and childbirth are every day occurrences, and the medical care that mothers and their new-borns receive gets better and better all the time. Despite that, more and more people are opting for an unassisted childbirth, which can range from a homebirth with no medical practitioner present to a complete separation from the medical world, including no doctors, no midwives, no pregnancy check-ups, and no scans. It’s still relatively rare, but since the mid-1990s, the popularity of unassisted childbirth has been on the rise and it’s now at its highest since 1975. Those who choose an unassisted birth, however, face the backlash of medical organisations all around the world who warn of the dangers of shunning medical advice and assistance. So why are more people opting for it, and is it really as dangerous as medical organisations claim it to be?
What is unassisted childbirth and why are people opting for it?
It’s worth noting that unassisted childbirth is different to a homebirth which includes an attending medical practitioner, be it a doctor, nurse, or midwife. Unassisted births are more about ‘going back to nature’ and are usually attended by a non-medical birthing partner or family and close friends only. Also called ‘freebirth’, as coined by Pavrati Baker, the notion of unassisted childbirth grew out of the Natural Childbirth movement fronted by, among others, Grantly Dick, that promoted the idea of childbirth without medical intervention and in particular, without anaesthesia. Dr. Amos Grunebaum, the director of obstetrics at the New York Presbyterian Hospital and Weill Cornell Medical College explains that homebirths have risen in popularity by 79% in recent years, and of those 140,000 homebirths per year, approximately one third of them are unassisted.
The arguments that pro-unassisted childbirthers make are surprisingly simple. The medical system is negative and sterile, many say, and an unassisted pregnancy and birth is more exciting, more loving. Women have been giving birth since the dawn of human existence and all this medical intervention is relatively recent occurrence, others argue. If women could do it before, why not now? After all, childbirth is not a medical emergency – it’s not an illness or disease or injury – so why is a hospital required? Marilyn A Moran, a proponent of unassisted childbirth argues that childbirth is an inherently private and sexual matter and Laura Kaplan Shanley argues that “birth is sexual and spiritual, magical and miraculous – but not when it’s managed, controlled, and manipulated by the medical establishment”. Ultimately, then, the desire for unassisted childbirth arises from a disillusionment with the medical world, and a desire to stay as natural as possible.