So for whatever reason, or perhaps a myriad of them, you have decided that unassisted childbirth is the right choice for you. What now? Unassisted childbirth is also called “do-it-yourself birth,” and that’s really what it is.
The first and most important thing you must do is read. There are a variety of books out there that can be very useful to a person who is planning an unassisted childbirth. Don’t just read one or two, and don’t just read each book once. Keep reading, at least a page everyday, throughout your entire pregnancy. Read books, essays, research papers, studies, blogs, birth stories. Educate yourself on common complications that occur. Learn how others have handled the unexpected. Find out what is most likely to happen in your situation, and reflect on how you would react.
Some of the most highly recommended books are “Unassisted Childbirth” by Laura Shanley, “Emergency Childbirth” by Gregory White, “Spiritual Midwifery” by Ina May Gaskin, “Heart and Hands” by Elizabeth Davis, “Unassisted Homebirth: An Act of Love” by Lynn Griesemer, “Special Delivery” by Rahima Baldwin. I have also included numerous online resources with great information, attached to this article, that may be of great benefit. I found that “Rediscovering Birth” by Sheila Kitzinger opened my eyes to the way various other cultures view and manage childbirth and was helpful in creating a birth plan. Others recommend “Childbirth Wisdom: From the World’s Oldest Societies” by Judith Goldsmith which has a similar subject.
Planning an unassisted childbirth means a lot of preparation. Besides reading, you must also be thinking. You need to plan not just where you will birth, what you will use to cope with the labor pain, and who will be there, but also how you will handle various situations. You need to think very hard about what you really want and what you really feel. Birthing without a medical professional means relying on your instincts, and to do this you must be in touch with your intuition. You need to feel your body and listen to your heart. You need to spend your time not just feeding your mind but reconnecting with yourself.
One of the first choices you will need to make is what kind of prenatal care, if any, you wish to have. Some women decide to see an ob/gyn or midwife regularly, as with any ‘normal’ pregnancy. Some chose to only go occasionally, for specific things. What tests and procedures you feel are necessary will be entirely up to you. Many women chose an unassisted pregnancy, where they either pay little attention to formal ‘prenatal care’ or perform their own. This can range from monitoring their fetus with a fetoscope and taking their own blood pressure to even doing their own prenatal testing. Some do a little of both.
Having a supportive partner can be a very positive factor. Negativity will only decrease your resolve and raise doubts. Get your partner on board if you can. Be receptive to his feelings and concerns, and address them respectfully and compassionately. Ultimately the decision must be up to you, for you are the woman who will be bringing this new life into the world. Your womb has done the magical work of creation, and your body must endure the labor. If he persistently opposes, try to seek support elsewhere and keep from being discouraged. Partners usually come around when the big day arrives and are changed forever by the experience.
You may wish not to share your choice with those you do not expect to understand, for they may not always respond with encouragement. Some will even be rude when learning of your decision. It can be stressful to have to explain and justify your choice over and over again. If friends and families do not receive the news with happiness, you can try to sway them, but again, do not let them get you down. If they remain negative, try to avoid the subject around them. Some women alter their due dates by a month or two to avoid being pestered about their birth plans. They are a number of creative ways you can employ to keep your secret without fibbing. Of course you can ‘go tell it on the mountain’ if you like, but you must be prepared to handle criticism. Criticism, however, can actually be a way to increase your confidence. If you can convince a skeptic, that can often help soothe any doubts you may be secretly haboring.
Build a support network by building connections with others who have chosen homebirth or unassisted childbirth. You can learn from the experiences of others, and having someone behind you keeping your spirits high can have a wonderful impact on your ability and your trust in yourself. Listen to the stories of their births, and ask questions. Be interested. Express your desires and concerns, and ask them for advice. There are a lot of communities where “UCers” gather to converse. Seek them out; do not be shy. They are usually happy to assist you in planning the birth you desire and to share their wisdom.
Some of the best places to find support are Mothering.com’s UC forum and Bornfree, which is run by Laura Shanley. All Doulas may be helpful. It is a site created for doulas but many unassisted birthers hang out there. They can provide you a lot of ideas for coping with labor pains and tips for your partner to be supportive during the birth. There are also various Yahoo groups out there. Purebirth-Australia’s Forum is mainly for Australians, but their user base consists of members from all over the world. There’s also the Birth Junkie UC forum. Even iVillage runs a Unassisted Childbirth board. Christians may enjoy Christian UC.
Witnessing births and recalling your own can be of help. If you have a friend or acquaintenance who is due to give birth, perhaps you could witness and experience it with her. Offer to provide her some morale support during her labor. Watch videos of birth online or on TV, though try to steer clear of overmedicalized deliveries. You could even view some footage of mammals giving birth. It may seem irrelevent, being that human birth is different, but it can be uplifting. If an animal such as a cat can do it, why can’t you, a human, one of the most intelligent creatures on the planet?
Learning, thinking, being in touch with your feelings, and keeping your confidence levels high are all crucial parts of preparing for childbirth. You probably have one question still lingering in your mind. “What if something goes wrong?” Some believe that birth is inherently safe; others that it is not. Things can take an unexpected turn of events in any birth, and while this isn’t always an emergency, it does require that one be prepared. Therefore, you should be ready for whatever comes at you. You may chose to take an infant CPR class just in case or rent an oxygen machine and learn to operate it. You can research maneuvers for relieving shoulder dystocia. Don’t just read books about birth; learn about herbalism and natural remedies. Become your own midwife so that you can take full responsibility for whatever comes your way.
All you need for a birth to take place is a mother and a baby. However, there are other supplies you will find quite useful. Besides comfort items such as music and perhaps scented candles, you will need a few herbs to treat any unexpected problems, something with which to tie off and cut the cord, something to protect the area in which you will be birthing, a birth tub if desired, superglue to treat small tears, a container for the placenta or something to carry it in if you are lotus birthing, and a way to weigh your special delivery. A string and some scissors, which have been boiled or baked for sterilization, will do fine for cutting the cord. A vinyl shower curtain or even newspapers can protect your bedding or carpet from any mess and simplify cleanup. Judie Rall at the Center for Unhindered Living recommends a plastic bowl to catch the placenta and a cloth diaper to contain it, if you are lotus birthing. For weight measurements, most of us prefer a fish scale. You may also want to have a warm basin of water and soft towels ready for giving your baby his first bath.
If you have chosen to waterbirth, the bathtub will be fine. Clean up is easy; you just drain the water. However, the tub can be uncomfortable, and your spouse probably won’t fit in there with you. You can rent a birthing pool for a local midwife, if you have the money. Most do-it-yourself birthers simpy buy a kiddie pool from the local discount store, one with a soft, cushiony lining. You will save quite a bit of money this way, and you can simply discard the pool when you are done. There are a number of ways to fill and refill the pool. You can carry pitchers of water from the tub, sink, or stove, or attach a hose to a sink and run it to the pool. You may be able to siphon the water out when you are finished, or you may just have to carry pitchers back and forth. It is up to you: whatever works!
What to do during labor and birth is up to you. You must listen to your inner voice for direction. Handle your labor pangs however works and whatever way comes naturally to you. Having sex in early labor can help progression. Remaining active will help you dialate more quickly and make your labor go faster. Be sure to take frequent breaks. If you are hungry, eat. If you are thristy, drink. Do what your body tells you to do.
When you feel that the child is emerging, chose which position feels right. Most prefer to squat, which opens up the pelvis a lot more and uses gravity to help bring the baby down. You may feel the urge to push, or you may know it is better to let your body do the work. As the head emerges, you’ll want to check for the cord. If it is around the baby’s neck, unwrap it gently. Bring your baby to your breasts immediately and nurse skin to skin, and when the cord has stopped pulsating, cut it if you wish. Birth is not always this simple and doesn’t always go exactly this way, so be prepared to handle complications and problems that may occur. No matter what you’ve read, it comes down to your instincts when the time has come. You will know what to do; your soul will guide you.
A lot of people are confused about what to do for clean up. It’s really very easy. If you have birthed on vinyl back sheets or atop sheets with a vinyl shower curtain beneath them, you can ball them all up and just throw it all away. Or you can launder your birthing sheets and save them if you want. If you birthed on the floor over newspaper, stuff it all in a bag and get rid of it. For the placenta, you can chose to throw it away with everything else, keep it and eat it, bury it in the yard. If you’re not sure yet, you can put it in a plastic bag and freeze it until you make up your mind.
You may be completely against receiving any medical care of any kind. If that is so, that makes you a Zion birther and not necessarily in the same category as all or most who chose unassisted childbirth. For those who aren’t opposed to receiving care when it is necessary, you will know if it is time to transfer to a hospital, if things are out of your control. If anything doesn’t feel right, and you begin to feel the hospital would be safer, you shouldn’t delay in transferring. Your instincts are usually right. If you are experiencing severe abdominal pain, excessive bright red bleeding, a temperature greater than 102, chills, a rapid pulse, dizziness, problems breathing, or other symptoms of shock, you may be dealing with hemorrhage, placenta previa or abruption, or a nasty infection. Labor that begins before 35 weeks is a reason to report to the hospital, because babies born this prematurely may need medical treatment immediately after birth. If the baby is cold, limp, and blue or black, having problems breathing, or appears injured, you should call 911 and report to the hospital. If the baby’s cord comes out first, you need to call 911 and put your butt high in the air until help arrives to prevent cord compression. If an arm is presenting, the baby is transverse and must be born by C-section. These are situations when you should go to the hospital.
Now you have to decide if you wish to have the baby examined by a doctor and when. Know that this is not mandatory. You may wish to do it as a precaution, or if your baby appears perfectly healthy, you may rather skip the whole thing. You may want to do it for insurance purposes, or perhaps baby is having some trouble latching on, seems to be losing weight, or you just feel that something is wrong. It is best to go to a family practice clinic for the checkup and not to the hospital, as they usually are not thrilled after unassisted childbirths and react with panic. Some women decide to go immediately after birth. Some wait 2 days, and some wait weeks or more. Some don’t go at all for whatever reason, including simply not wanting to have to explain their choice to confused nurses or deal with having their parenting questioned and being interviewed by a social worker. It is entirely up to you. Do what feels right. You are the parent.
Getting a birth certificate can be a hassel. You’ll need to go to the county Office of Vital Statistics and explain your situation. Most people will look at you in a stupor when you announce that the baby was not born in a hospital or with a midwife present and thus does not have any official documentation of birth. They may tell you that you need a doctor’s exam to receive a birth certificate, but this is not true. You need to bring your baby, proper identification, and proof of pregnancy and birth, such as a positive HPT and a dated birth photograph. There are some precedures that are considered mandatory, but you can get religious exemptions for them. You do not need to have them done to receive a birth certificate. Your baby was born whether he was seen by a doctor, given a PKU test, or stayed in a nursery or not. Check our your state laws to find out what is required and how to file an exemption, as well as what you’ll need to get your child’s birth certificate. Affadavits may sometimes be required, but the process is usually pretty painless.
Unassisted childbirth may sound daunting at first, but once you have began reading, thinking, planning, building a support group, and getting in touch with yourself, you will find your way. This journey is all about listening to your instincts and trusting your intuition, letting it guide you. You must be completely prepared and ready to accept full responsibility for whatever consequences result. The road is long, and truly, most of the preparation is done solely to encourage you and help you to build confidence so that you feel ready. It will come handy in case of something unexpected, but your primal urges will be your main influence in the heat of the movement. If you feel this is the choice for you, get started on the path today. Don’t wait until you only have a few months to make ready. If not, well, there are certainly many other options out there! Whatever you chose, may you have the best of luck, and may you have the birth experience of your dreams and a healthy baby in your arms afterwards!