Natural childbirth: Challenges & solutions in the 21st century

by Bree Taylor Molyneaux

Queensland (and Australia) now has the highest caesarean rate in our history;  47.9% in Private Hospitals and 34% in Public Hospitals[1], so the importance of supporting and educating women in birth choices becomes increasingly necessary.

As an independent birth educator I hear a vast range of birth stories which make me both cry with joy and shed tears of sadness and frustration. Birth is supposed to be a joyful event, a rite of passage that marks the transition from maiden to mother. Yet today so many women are unknowingly having this experience taken from them, due to lack of information, education and not speaking up for themselves or their baby.

Hearing that 52.4%[2] of women who delivered by caesarean DID NOT make an informed decision about this birth outcome is even more alarming, as any woman giving birth by caesarean against her preference makes me angry, then incredibly sad.

Sad because :

  • of the lost opportunity of growth, for during labour each woman gets the chance to really find out what she is made of, deep in her core where feminine strength resides.
  • for a woman’s inability to experience the full scope of joy and jubilation that comes with birthing her own child, not to mention the vast array of pleasurable hormones that follow birth and the early bonding period.
  • for the baby, who has also been deprived of the opportunity to make a birth journey that provides the best foundation for a healthy, connected, loving relationship with mum and dad.

So why are the caesarean rates so high today in Australia and other first world countries? I believe it is a combination of things;

  • The expectation that birth should take place in a hospital; that it is something that needs to be monitored, managed and constantly risk assessed.
  • Loss of perspective about what birth really is – a natural instinctive, biological process that has been taking place for more generations than we even have documented history for. How else would our species have survived so long prior to modern medicine and yet not dwindled into extinction?
  • An extreme aversion to risk by many careproviders (mostly obstetricians) which typically results in unnecessary inductions of labour and then a subsequent c-section (50% of the time).
  • Fear and unrealistic expectations of what birth is really like. Think an “ER” Hollywood-ised birth scene, complete with screaming hysterical mum up on the bed and her legs up in stirrups as the Dr forcefully coaches her to push the baby out. It is quite understandable that women want an epidural when these sorts of distorted images of birth are what they expect for a straightforward vaginal birth.
  • Lack of support for birthing woman, the partner and their ability to decide what birth outcome is best for them and their baby.
  • Little or no understanding of the current birth climate (ie. all of the above) resulting in women arriving at private hospitals, hoping for a natural birth but totally unaware that the system they have chosen is often working against them.

In summary, the problem leading to many unnecessary caesareans taking place today is a lack of respect for the natural birth process, lack of education on behalf of birthing women, and distorted fearful expectations of birth resulting in parents naively taking a care providers advice for induction of labour or major abdominal surgery, assuming there is no other “safe way” to birth (this mums VBAC2 story cements that perspective).

With the Australian government failing to provide adequate support for birthing women through a lack of choices in care providers, what we need now is MORE support for the midwifery model of care, through the establishment of more Birth Centres and full support of HomeBirth midwives, so women can choose to birth in an environment that normalises the instinctual sacred nature of birth with the care provider of their choice.

Imagine a world where more than 50% of women birth at home or at a birth centre, under the guidance of a midwife with whom they have an established, trusting relationship and with the full support of the hospital should the need for a transfer occur. Imagine a world where women are supported both financially and emotionally through this time of transition into motherhood, where all appointments both pre and post birth, take place in their own home, and they are provided with at least 12 month (not 3 months) of paid maternity leave to care and be devoted to their babies without financial strain or worry.

Imagine the pressure this would take off our flailing hospital system, by putting the care of birthing women back into the dedicated hands of midwives who understand and support the natural process of birth. Imagine how many less women would be diagnosed with post-natal depression following a difficult birth, where they have no need for feelings of failure following an unplanned caesarean that took place with little or no consent or information about safe choices.

The solution

The solution in my mind is three fold. We need more Education, Communication and Support for birthing women and their families. And we need the government to support birthing women more fully through financial and emotional means, by providing choice and support without judgement.

When women are better educated on their options and the realities of birth today they are able to make better decisions about the place they choose to birth. I encourage (and teach) independent birth education such as HypnoBirthing. For some women, once they have all the information on the current birthing climate, they choose to birth at home. For others it may still be in a hospital that they have chosen with careful consideration (not because it is conveniently located 5 minutes up the road).

When women understand their choices in birth, they can better understand and then communicate their needs, wants and expectations. They can discuss what is important to them in planning for their birth and put in place a plan to achieve that.

Which brings us to support. Unbiased support of women, regardless of where and how they choose to birth their babies is imperative. This includes a continuity of care with a known midwife, where all visits and appointments taking place at home and mums choice is respected. This includes financial support for those choosing a homebirth, and after the birth to allow more than adequate time (at least 12 months) so mum to be there for her child without concerns about financial obligations and putting food on the table.

I strongly believe that birth is a rite of passage for both mum and baby, and sets the foundation for their relationship in both the early days post birth, and as the child grows into a toddler, teenager and adult.

Giving women the support to birth in a safe, supported environment could not be more important that it is now in 2012, with our soaring caesarean rates. Now is the time for change so we can communicate our message with one voice, women and their babies deserve Freedom for Birth. It begins with you taking action, speaking up and making sure your voice is heard.

Much of this solution may sound like a dream, and in truth it is, yet if we all dare to dream the same dream, amazing things become possible.

About the Author 

by Bree Taylor Molyneaux – Clinical Hypnotherapist, Certified HypnoBirthing® Practitioner, mother and wife.

Bree founded Aspire Hypnotherapy & Pregnant Possibilities, teaches HypnoBirthing® classes from Embrace Life in North Lakes and has a range of hypnosis downloads for a range of issues including pre and post pregnancy.

For information on upcoming Brisbane HypnoBirthing classes and independent birth education here.

More information on how to prepare for a VBAC or HypnoBirthing® classes