I'm A Doula. Here's Why I Don't Use The Term 'Natural Birth'
As a doula, I don’t resonate with the term "natural birth" because all birth in itself is natural. We are all from nature.
In 2018, when we really consider inclusivity and the attempt to give people more empowerment and autonomy over the experience that they’re moving into, it’s important to start replacing certain language. We also have to keep in mind that birth is a fluid process. There are no set outcomes; we don’t know how it’s going to go.
Here's what's wrong with the term "natural birth."
The term "natural birth" implies that if you do it a certain way, it’s going to be natural. What you might mean when you say "natural birth" is a physiological birth, or birth that doesn’t have any medications or interventions. "Normal birth" is another term to use, which means that nothing is added to the process, and the birth happens without any augmentation.
The fact is that it’s your choice to decide to use or have an epidural or any medication during your birth. Judgment around what’s natural should not negate you from having a birth experience that feels natural to you. It’s important that we get rid of what I consider to be paternalistic, emotional language to describe the birth process. Instead, it helps to take the charge out of it and replace emotional language with universal bio-medical terms that can help you advocate for your needs with care providers. Birth is an experience that really deserves more color and shade and less reductive thinking.
Using more specific language around birth empowers pregnant people.
More women and pregnant people have felt empowered knowing that they can discuss their experience by saying "I had an unmedicated vaginal delivery." Or "I had a medicated vaginal delivery." Or "I had a planned Cesarean birth." There needs to be more inclusivity and less emotionality in the language we use. It’s been so paternalized and so emotional for such a long time that it’s time to extrapolate that language so people land in the experience they are actually having, so conversations around what you’ve experienced are less loaded. When people share their birth stories without shame and without connotation, we really get a chance to see each other, meet each other, help each other, and move away from comparison. What informs how someone moves through their birth experience belongs to them and them alone, without being judged by anyone else.
You never know what someone else is experiencing.
Especially in the time of #metoo, with so many people coming forward about sexual misconduct and sexual trauma, we need to suspend judgment and onboard more empathy about decision people make about their birth process. Sometimes people plan to have a cesarean birth or surgical birth because of because of triggers around pain, sexual trauma or just a generalized fear of the process that can be overcome with education or support. Their decision to have a cesarean birth comes from and empowered place and is apart of their self-care process. When the typical response to a cesarean birth is “Oh I’m so sorry, what happened,” we’re negating their autonomy, we’re negating their experience and telling them that we feel bad for them because they had a surgical birth experience. And that’s a problem.
We’re in a time when we need to invent new language and invent new realities, so that’s why I feel that the term "natural birth" doesn’t really work anymore. It’s not an insensitivity to people who use it, but in 2018, it’s time for better language.
Erica is a doula, health educator and author. She is an inherent activist, empowering people around reproductive health and guiding thousands of people in their transition from pregnancy to parenthood in her practice and through her book, Nurture: A Modern Guide to Pregnancy, Birth, and Early Motherhood.
Erica began her work in San Francisco, volunteering within the prison system working with pregnant inmates. She went on to build a successful doula and reproductive health coaching practice in Los Angeles.
Her company, LOOM, exists to provide education and inclusive community that empowers people throughout the reproductive, pregnancy, and parenting experience.