Among a 2020 mama’s slew of parenting choices is the way she chooses to approach prenatal care and giving birth. If you’ve ever watched a piece of film set back even just a hundred years, you know that not long ago, choices really weren’t a thing. There may have been a doctor or midwife attending the birth, but a birth plan? Not a thing yet. Further back, pregnancy and delivery was even more perilous with even fewer options (like, one) for anesthesia, high risk for infection, and very little that could be done in the event of complications during birth.
Flash forward to 2020, and while there are now scads of women saying, “gimme the epidural” and choosing a hospital birth, that doesn’t apply to all expectant moms. We’ve got
- Natural birth at the hospital with a doctor attending
- Natural birth with a midwife
- Water births
- Home birthing with medical assistance
And people get even more creative.
And that really covers just the most basic details of birthing possibilities, with other questions, like whether you’ll allow vacuum or forcep assistance to pull the baby from the birth canal, alternative pain meds, and a host of other “will I or won’t I’s” to ponder.
All of these scenarios have their own camps of supporters, and of course, for each and every supporter, there’s a naysayer. Rather than face the naysayers and add stress during pregnancy, some women are keeping their less conventional pre/postnatal care choices out of the limelight of their general social circle, instead sharing and seeking encouragement from niche social media groups open only to those who share the same philosophies.
While in theory, having a non judgemental support network in this modern landscape where people are way too free to voice their condemnation, well, it sounds … nice … peaceful, the way pregnancy should feel. In the harsher light of day, though, the ability to hunker down and block out the rest of the noise is proving dangerous.
NBC recently broke this story about one mom’s “freebirth” plan gone wrong. Freebirthing is what you might imagine— a no-facilities, no-medical assistance, natural birthing method. “Trust your body,” “childbirth is a natural thing; let it happen on its own,” are common words of wisdom in this very small, seemingly radical movement, likely made up of women who distrust traditional medicine. Judith, the central figure in this birth story, fit that description and joined a Facebook group devoted specifically to freebirthing, a page where not even suggestions of Western medicine as a safe choice were welcomed.
When Judith was nearly 45 weeks pregnant (bearing in mind that 41 to 42 weeks is typically the time when doctors say it’s necessary to induce, for safety of both mom and baby), although she briefly considered induction, Judith chose to follow her freebirth plan, largely due to reassurances from her social media group. Her confidence shored, her doubts assuaged, she was convinced that it would be alright.
After an intense and grueling labor with no signs of progress, Judith knew it was time for the hospital, where, despite efforts of both medical team and mom, baby’s heart stopped before delivery.
The grief over the loss, anxiety of “what if’s”, and the unbearable thought of the questions and mom-shaming she would almost certainly encounter in the small town where people knew she should be having a baby any time— it’s been all too much. With the small amount of distance lying between her and that journey, she’s gained painful clarity. “I think I brainwashed myself with the internet … Sad stories aren’t out there nearly as much,” Judith said. “Maybe my extreme story could help somebody.”
And maybe it can. It’s empowering to know there ARE choices when it comes to pregnancy and childbirth, freebirth being one of them. And it doesn’t stop at birth. You’ll have just as many postpartum self-care options and a buffet of parenting approaches to pick your way through on this mama adventure.
The internet is an invaluable resource when you’re chained to the baby glider and need some reassurance that you’re not screwing it all up. But the willingness to rethink a plan that doesn’t seem to be working, no matter how beautiful it was, keeping an open-mind, seeking and heeding the advice of professionals— that could be life saving. We thank and grieve with Judith and all the moms who bravely share their stories on the chance that it could save lives, too.