With 99% of US births occurring in hospitals with OB surgeons attending and 86% of laboring women receiving drugs for pain relief (epidurals) you may not personally know anyone who has chosen to have a natural childbirth with a midwife attending (either in a free-standing birth center or at home). But we are out there – and our numbers are slowly increasing.

Home Births on the Rise

The number of home births in the United States rose 20% over four years (2004-2008). While still a small percentage (fewer than 1 percent of U.S. births occur at home) that is an indication of a natural birth trend. More and more women are choosing the care of a midwife and opting for natural childbirth. Why? Women are educating themselves about birth.

As a result of this natural birth trend there are many women who want a natural childbirth, but will only consider birthing in a hospital. Having a natural childbirth in a hospital can be very difficult to achieve with the current medical model of birthing that hospitals, OBs, and nursing staff follow. Unfortunately many pregnant women who want a natural childbirth in a hospital will not end up with one, for a variety of reasons.

Who Uses a Midwife for Natural Childbirth?

There is a small percentage of those pregnant women who *really* want a natural childbirth and realize their best option for success is to have a midwife attend their birth. But who are these women? Why do they choose to birth this way?

Misconceptions About Women Who Choose Midwife-Supported Natural Childbirth

Before we discuss who chooses midwife-supported natural childbirth, I want to share with you some common misconceptions about women who use midwives:

  • Only poor people use midwives.
  • Only people without insurance use midwives.
  • Only hippie freaks and uber crunchy people use midwives.
  • Women who want to give birth in a hut in the woods use midwives.
  • Only religious fundamentalists use midwives.
  • Women who are ignorant about birth safety use midwives.
  • Women who love pain use midwives.

Refuting the Misconceptions

The cost of a typical birth at home is usually less than half of that of a normal, uncomplicated birth in the hospital. This does make home birth, or birth in a birth center with a midwife, more available to people of all income levels. However, people with plenty of money still opt for care from midwives (for many of the reasons below) and many midwives accept insurance.

Women who choose care with a midwife tend to be more informed about childbirth options compared with women receiving care from a medical doctor. Women who choose care with a midwife come from all backgrounds, beliefs, and walks of life. Many well educated women, doctors, lawyers, and minister’s wives, nurses, teachers, homeschoolers, and stay-at-home moms choose home birth.

I doubt women choose natural childbirth because they “love pain” any more than women who choose to do other painful things such as tattoos, piercings, breast enhancement, plastic surgery, or wearing uncomfortable shoes, as Ina May Gaskin, famous US midwife, mentions in her book Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth. We are not crazy, martyrs, or masochists; just people who know about the benefits of natural birth. I did not choose my comfort during labor as the most important aspect of childbirth; I know pain is part of the process. But I worked with my body and the pain, accepted it, and did not fear it. That makes a huge difference in how painful the experience can be.

me at 37 weeks with my first child

Our story: My college degree is in Electrical Engineering, as is my husband’s. For the birth of our first child (in a free-standing birth center with a midwife attending) my insurance plan covered everything (prenatal appointments, lab work, ultrasound, birth, etc.) except a small deductible. (Getting them to “remember” that midwife coverage was in my plan is another story. But insurance companies are just frustrating like that, aren’t they?)

For this baby’s birth, we are using the same midwives at the birth center but are choosing a home birth. We now have a private insurance plan that does not cover maternity care so we are paying for all birth expenses ourselves.

The Women Who Choose Midwife-Supported Natural Childbirth

Here are some of the reasons that I’ve been able to put together to help shed light on why women choose midwife-supported natural childbirth:

  • Women who want their birth honored as sacred and normal

    me and my 10 day old son

  • Women who trust that their bodies know how to have babies
  • Women who don’t want unnecessary interventions, over medicalized childbirth, and its consequences
  • Women who want to reclaim something that was taken away from them (empowerment)
  • Women who want to take an active role in their prenatal care
  • Women who want to be heard by their health care provider and work as a team
  • Women who want to be the primary decision-maker in their pregnancy and birth
  • Women who want more control over their bodies
  • Women who want more control over what happens to their babies after birth
  • Women who want to make decisions regarding their body and their baby (instead of doctors or hospital policy)
  • Women who don’t want to be separated from their babies
  • Women who want their desires and wishes treated as normal
  • Women who have had an unpleasant experience with a hospital birth
  • Women who want a woman-centered birth
  • Women who want more nurturing
  • Women who want more time and attention from their health care provider
  • Women who prefer the holistic nature of natural childbirth
  • Women who want peace, quiet, and respect for their birth
  • Women who want to birth in a comfortable, private setting (birth center or home)
  • Women who want their family (partner and children) involved and present at appointments and the birth
  • Women whose religious beliefs prohibit them from using male doctors for childbirth
  • Women who wish to develop longer-term relationships with those who attend their baby’s birth
  • Women who see pregnancy not just a means to an end, but a journey of transformation: from a woman to a mother, from a couple to a family

For more reasons, and some interesting thoughts, check out this article on “Why Choose a Midwife?

Midwife-Attended Births World Wide

Over 70% of births in the world are attended by midwives. In Europe as a whole, 75% of births have midwives as the care provider. Most of the countries with better statistics have one thing in common-midwives attend the majority of births.

In the Netherlands, midwives are the primary care providers for all low-risk pregnant women. Women who are at increased risk for complications are placed into “secondary care” with obstetricians.

Midwife-Attended Births in the United States

In 2003, approximately 8.0% of births in the United States were attended by midwives, more than double the 1990 rate of 3.9%. In six states (Alaska, Georgia, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Oregon, and Vermont), rates were at least twice as high as the national rate.

Would They Do it Again?

If you ask women who have had a natural birth with a midwife if they would do it again, I bet most (if not all) would say yes. It’s not because they love pain, it’s because they’ve discovered the feeling of empowerment. It was there all along, they just needed to tap into it.

And that’s what it’s all about: feeling empowered by your choice.

Our new family, minutes after birth

What were your reasons for choosing natural childbirth with a midwife? Please leave a comment and share!

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Wendy – ParentingTips365.com

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