Imposed Cultures: The Eradication of Natural Childbirth in America

Warning: This blog contains images of non-sexualized nudity, nevertheless, they may be considered graphic and/or disturbing to some.

A few months ago I was struck with an undeniable, insatiable obsession with Africa. Don’t start thinking about the continent unless you are truly prepared – it sucks you in and doesn’t let go. The first day of classes this semester I made the rash decision to drop Advanced Composition in favor of an eight week crash course on the Modern History of Africa. The experience has been awesome thus far and I have learned a lot, but if there is one thing that stand out above all else, it is that it is impossible to study Africa’s modern social, economic, and political problems without recognizing that these current issues are rooted in a long history of colonialism and exploitation.

I include this because as I realized that it was impossible to disentangle the past from the present in Africa, I noticed that the theory also applied to the current status of women. Often, what is taken for granted as cultural and societal “norms” are actually reflections of public policy and imposed national attitudes of the past, some of which are incredibly damaging to women, both mentally and physically. Therefore, today I am introducing a new series called “Imposed Cultures,” and exploring here in the first installment a subject that has long been of interest to me – the erasure of natural childbirth in America.

My mom has eight children, five of which were natural home births. Although I attended several of these and even experienced an incredible bonding moment at the age of 12 when I was the first to hold my newborn sister, I have always thought my mom’s decision was, to be quite frank with you, incredibly gross and insanely dangerous. Like many of you, I couldn’t imagine a justification for denying oneself and child the comfort and care of a hospital. Then I watched a documentary called “The Business of Being Born,” and my opinion changed drastically.busienss

Get ready for a quick rundown of some mind blowing facts: In 1900, 95% of all births in the United States were attended by midwives in private homes – the 5% of births that took place in hospitals were mostly poverty stricken women, often women of color, who had no relatives, friends, or resources to support a home birth – in the upper class world of the educated and wealthy, babies were born at home, in an environment safer and more comfortable than the dirty, dangerous hospitals of the time. Then, in the early 1900’s, a smear campaign against midwives characterizing them as ignorant and in line with the “old world” was undertaken in Eastern and Southern America. The campaign proclaimed that hospitals were safer, but in reality, maternal and infant mortality rates in institutions were higher than those of home births. Nevertheless, the result was a massive cultural shift in national thought. By 1938, only half of births took place at home, by 1955, that number was down to 1% – where is remains today.

Not only a smear campaign against midwives, but racist too
Not only a smear campaign against midwives, but racist too

Now for the most shocking figure of all – in Europe and Japan, 70% of all births are currently attended by midwives, who lose fewer women and babies to birth-related complications than we do in U.S. hospitals. There is a proven and accepted system around the world that natural childbirth works, a system that Americans stand alone in rejecting. Why?

The answer is that the information provided to the general public regarding childbirth over the last century has been, at it’s core, a lie, made to support what today has become a billion dollar industry. The fact of the matter is that home births are generally safer, cheaper, and more natural in every day then hospital procedures, but the concern is not about good maternal and infant care. It is all wrapped around the almighty dollar.

When I say that home births are more natural in every way, I feel that some explaining is in order. This information has been hidden or erased in American culture and education, and as a result, many are lacking basic knowledge or even interest in the process of child birth. How many times have you heard someone ask an expectant mother what type of birth she will be having? It doesn’t happen, because it is expected that she is doing it the way every women does it nowadays – flat on her back in a hospital bed.

Flat on her back in a hospital bed. Now there is a gross piece of mis-information. While this is a position that is convenient to the doctor, it actually constricts the pelvis, making it smaller than would be possible if the women was squatting or standing. Lying down also flattens the stomach muscles, limiting their ability to push, and while walking around is rarely suggested in hospitals, this too can help jiggle the baby loose (I’m not kidding!) as it travels down the vaginal canal. Not only are current birthing positions bad for the mother and infant, they are bad medical practices that literally go against what science tells us to be true.

All in a day's work! This alternative birth position allowed the father to be an integral part of the birth experience.
All in a day’s work! This alternative birth position allowed the father to be an integral part of the birth experience.

Anti-pain and birth inducing drugs are another area in which medical professionals have not been forthcoming. While a drug that induces labor may speed things up for the doctor, the strong and long contractions it brings on can actually put the baby in duress, while the mother, jacked up on pain medication, does not feel that anything is wrong, This vicious and common cycle is what contributes to one third of all births in the U.S. ending in emergency caesarean, whereas if things had been able to progress naturally, the experience would have likely been positive and healthy.  For example, The Farm where my brother was born, a commune that supports and aids women having natural childbirth in Summertown, Tennessee, did not have their first necessary c-section until birth #187; the second was birth #324. How’s that for numbers?

However, according to a post I read from a medical negligence attorney in Chicago, it’s not in the hospital’s best interest to let things “go naturally”  – for some women this can mean 20+ hours of labor plus risks and possible side effects (read about side effects of Xarelto and the consequences), while a c-section takes only 20 minutes. In a business where emptying beds means more patients and more money, it is easy to see the temptation on the hospital’s part to take this quick route to financial gain, but we can’t forget that this is at the expense of women and infant healthcare. In addition, here’s a terrible fact to ponder – the greatest influxes of c-sections occur at 4:00 and 10:00 – when doctors are ready to go home and when doctors are ready to go to sleep. It is unthinkable that private concerns would come before good healthcare and that we as a nation would blindly ignore it, but that’s exactly what is happening.graph

Hospitals are set up to deal with one kind of birth – a traumatic one – and often their “interventions” are what contributes to the very problems they are trained to deal with. Many medical professionals have never seen a truly natural childbirth, and have no idea what that would even look like. Women who go into labor with a specific birth plan in mind are often victim to a rapid change of plans, all imposed on them under the manipulative practice of saying “It’s good for the baby.” As one women in the documentary shared, “They already had an IV in my arm, and I was in a vulnerable position. It was so easy for them.”

Since we’re on the subject of IV, let’s talk for a minute about the drugs being pumped into women. In the 1920’s the first anti-labor pain drugs were invented in Germany and they soon came into practice in the U.S. The important thing to know about these drugs is that they did not actually take away the pain of labor, but the memory of that pain. They created an out of body experience and loss of self-awareness that resulted in women attacking doctors. It became common practice to strap women to beds during childbirth, and wasn’t discovered for nearly a decade that what was actually causing the erratic behavior was the drug. As decades went on some drugs caused children to be born limbless, others blind or with cancer. Today, as children are facing all-time highs of autism/ADD/etc., one has to wonder if these diseases are related to childbirth drugs. There is no way to know, because there is no sustained medical research to go by.

Making matters even more complicated is the fact that wrapped up in all of the lies and propaganda regarding childbirth distributed by the medical community is the image of childbirth in the media. On shows like E.R., A Baby Story, and many more, labor is portrayed as terrifying and dangerous. There is always a breech birth, a prolapsed cord, a lack of oxygen to the brain – some kind of problem that ends up with the women and/or baby owing their lives to the intervention of trained medical professionals. This information based on fear tells women their bodies can’t do it on their own – they need a hospitals’ help.

But why wait through agonizing hours of unnecessary labor when 1/3 of all births end in c-section anyway? Many American women are choosing “elective c-section instead,” and, along with big names in Hollywood like Victoria Beckham and Brittany Spears, penciling in the exact date and time that their child will come into the world alongside hair and nail appointments. The fad of being “too posh to push” is growing, enhanced by the fact that women who choose these “designer births” can elect to have a tummy tuck on the same day. Baby out, belly in.

too posh

So what’s the big deal anyway? What’s the value of going through the pain and suffering of natural childbirth? If you could erase the memory or numb the pain, why not do it?

I used to say I wasn’t having a child until Scotty could beam it out, but again, if we look to science, there are proven facts that natural childbirth is a necessary process. The cocktail of hormones that are released during this time in both the mom and baby contribute hugely to their bond of love and affection. Women who have given natural birth say it is an indescribable feeling, a rite of passage, a mix of pleasure and pain that you will never feel at any other time in your life. This is an inherent rite of women, something unique to our humanity that has been stolen for economic gain. One natural birth advocate on the documentary went as far as to ask, “What happens to humanity when this element, these first moments of love are denied to us?”

Furthermore, I think it’s a huge problem that women are being told they can’t give birth naturally, that their bodies can’t do it, when they can! There is an impossible wall that I watched my mom and other women in the video scale, where they reached a place of impassible pain, and somehow find a way within themselves to overcome it. Birthing is not an illness; it does not need to be numbed, and doing it naturally can be massively empowering.

She did it!
She did it!

Midwives are highly trained professionals with all the necessary equipment and back up plans for emergency surgical intervention, despite the fact that they have commonly been painted as witches. It costs on average upwards of $8,000 to have a baby in the hospital, and only $4,000 with a midwife – better rates for the consumer with better results in healthcare – but up against an industry giant that has brainwashed an entire population.

I don’t know when or if I will ever have a child, but I know that if the time comes and there is no extenuating circumstances, I will bringing my baby into the world at home surrounded by friends and family and all the people that are going to love it for it’s entire life. I am going to be in my domain where I am in control. If I want to walk around, take a shower, scream, and cry – and my body does this for 20 hours before my baby arrives – I’m going to let it happen. We American women need to take back our right to good healthcare, to self-empowerment, and to safe childbirth before a natural process of our bodies has been completely eradicated from national consciousness.

We as a nation need to learn the value and see the beauty in this moment before childbirth practices can change.
We as a nation need to learn the value and see the beauty in this moment before childbirth practices can change.

I apologize for the length of this blog – it’s a little ridiculous but there is a lot that hasn’t been said on the subject that needs to get out there. Help me spread the word – natural childbirth is good childbirth! And look for my next installment of “Imposed Cultures – Why We Wear Bras” – coming soon!

Choose midwives!!

10 thoughts on “Imposed Cultures: The Eradication of Natural Childbirth in America

  1. Possibly the first time I’ve ever considered having a child at home. I have to admit, the idea of the entire process terrifies me, but I’d always thought that I’d end up in the hospital to give birth. I knew that it was easier to give birth either squatting or standing, but the idea of being able to be at home and have a bath or shower when I’m in that situation is actually pretty appealing.


  2. This is a really great and insightful post. I will say that some aspect that hospitals do provide is easier access to a verification of credibility and also equipment for the cases of when things go wrong that might not be as possible in a home environment. I’m all for people choosing other (and as you noted, many times better) options, as long as there is solid credibility and safety behind them.


  3. I think that is a good point Justin, but I think it is important to point out that many problems that lead to complications during birth are known during the pregnancy – for example, one lady in the video knew that her baby was breech and hoped he would turn in time for labor – he didn’t and she accepted that she would have to be in a hospital in case the possibility of an emergency c-section arose – which it did. Some hospitals are even willing to provide mom’s in these kind of circumstances with a room (I am sure you have to pay for), but will not interfere unless you ask them to. I think this is an AWESOME option, especially under the possibility of risk. Because of these double concerns, some women see a DR and midwife during their pregnancy, to keep their options open. But wouldn’t it be nice to find a way to mesh this and make it more accessbile!? Midwives are already highly trained professionals – if birthing centers could gain the right acess to equipment and payment from insurance companies, they could rise to a place in the profession where they no longer relied on emergency hospital backup.

    runesandrhinestones – I pretty much terrified myself by writing this blog, but I can’t imagine not being in control during such a vulnerable moment! A lot of at home births in the video chose a water scenario that I think I would do IF I ever have a kid – you should check it out! (It’s watch instant on Netflix!)


  4. correction: 70% of births in Europe and Japan are attended by midwives. The percentage of homebirths is actually MUCH smaller. The Netherlands leads the developed world in homebirth rates, and only 1/3rd of their births happen at home. The weirdness about the US is that we have SURGEONS attending low-risk births. Didn’t have time to read past the paragraph below the picture of the Italian midwife that the 70% number came in (heading out the door) but wanted to offer the correction before too many people read misinformation. I have homebirthed 3 times, have 4 children born completely naturally, and all attended by a midwife (the first was a Certified Nurse Midwife attended birth in a hospital-run birthing center, which is how many births around Europe happen, but I happen to have never left the North American continent).


    1. Ahmie, thanks so much for your correction! I missed the fact that not all births with midwives were homebirths, I think because birthing centers are becoming so rare in the U.S. I haven’t heard of “baby friendly” hospitals, but I agree that women should birth wherever they feel the most comfortable, and if baby friendly hospitals offer them freedom of choice during labor, I am all for it! I admire that you have had 4 natural childbirths – thats awesome! If I ever give birth I want to draw inspiration from women like you and do it naturally!


  5. for those who aren’t comfortable with birthing at home, or for whom it’s not accessible for various reasons (no local midwife that attends homebirths or unable to afford it), and if no freestanding birth center is in your area, next best option IMO is to look for a hospital that is certified Baby-Friendly. The steps to becoming Baby-Friendly certified are mostly related to breastfeeding, but those steps also generally lead to a more open-minded-to-natural-birth mentality in the facilities from what I’ve seen. Waterbirth became an option at my local hospital a few months after they became Baby-Friendly certified. I still prefer birthing at home though (and my 1st was my only one not born in water, though I spent a good deal of labor in water. Even if they don’t “allow” birthing in the tub or shower, labor & delivery rooms frequently DO have at least a shower if not a bath, unless it’s a really old facility).

    Women should birth where they feel safest and most supported, wherever that is. The hormones released when we are afraid are NOT good for birth. Birth caregivers who needlessly and carelessly scare laboring women are, in my opinion, abusive.


  6. First of all great article about natural birth at home. I completely agree that it is something that people should do more.
    I believe that today people are to obsessed on what others are doing and want to do like them. We are in such a superficial world that we don’t do what we want anymore. I’m sure if you gave a woman an actual choice explaining the pros and cons of births in hospitals or at home it will take them a 10 seconds to decide that a home birth is a much better idea*.

    *with a medical practitioner in close quarters 🙂


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