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There's a lot of talk of "birth without fear," particularly among people like me. I realize that's a remarkably vague term, so I'll clarify: "People like me" who prefer unmedicated, natural births and the midwifery model of prenatal care if at all possible (as opposed to the medical model). There's this idea that perhaps we can just walk into birth without an inkling of fear, and I'm just not sure if that's even possible.
My daughter is 12. She was 9 when she watched the home water birth of her little sister, our third child. She hung out during most of the midwife appointments at our house the entire time I was pregnant. She watched the midwifery model. She watched a peaceful birth (well, loud, but "peaceful" in the sense that it wasn't rushed or frantic or "scary"). She saw her sister draw her first breath and she helped us sing "Happy Birthday" to her when she was just a few hours old.
And yet, the other day she announced how "terrified" of birth she is. Now, considering she's 12 years old, this is an understandable reaction. She's a kid. However, she seemed afraid of dying during childbirth, or something going terribly wrong, like the whole process is this giant gamble with death, and I wondered: "Where did she get these ideas?" I thought I had indoctrinated her the other way. (Joking, sort of. Not really.)
But I already knew the answer.
This is the foundation of the entire American concept of birth. As a society, we fear it completely. It's treated as a sickness, an unpredictable, terrifying ordeal that must be "managed" carefully lest tragedy ensue.
Though actual tragedies are extremely uncommon, and many of the more common problems are caused by the very interventions we think will help "manage" labor and birth, we still view childbirth as an inherently dangerous proposition.
And it doesn't go away just because you're planning a homebirth.
I've read so many books on natural childbirth over the past 13 years it makes my head spin. I have read numerous studies delineating the safety of homebirth. I have researched the childbirth statistics of countries where homebirth is the norm. I have had a successful homebirth and two other natural, unmedicated births.
And yet, currently pregnant with my fourth baby, I still have to reread all the books to remind myself that I'm "safe," that my body knows what to do, and that if I remain a low-risk pregnant woman, home is just as safe a location for me to give birth as a hospital. (Yes, I know about all the studies you've read "proving" the dangers of homebirth. For each one you send me, I'll send you one that "proves" the opposite.)
The stakes are too high
Then again, I wonder if the stakes are just so high that fear is a requirement. There is inherent risk in childbirth no matter where you give birth, and frankly, the tragedy is incomprehensible. We hear the stories. We read the heartbreaking tales. And we wonder if it could be us this time.
I suppose that's what makes location and empowered birth all the more important. A woman should give birth in the place that makes her feel safest, strongest and the most supported. During the most vulnerable few hours of our lives, when the stakes are perhaps higher than they'll ever be again, we must pull not only from our own well of strength, but also trust where we are, completely, whatever that looks like.
Maybe someday they'll be "birth without fear." But for now, I guess I'll face "birth with less fear than it could be." And that's good enough for me.