1) Do you know what “natural” means? According to Oxforddictionaries.com it means: “Existing in or derived from nature; not made or caused by humankind”. Apply that meaning to your birth and then tell me if you still had a natural birth. All of these things are NOT existing in or derived from nature: epidural, forceps, cannula, synthetic oxytocin. Heck, even hospitals themselves are made by humankind. As are fancy, inflatable, birthing pools. Therefore, theoretically, the only way to have a “natural birth” is to birth under a tree somewhere which is a totally valid, although uncommon, choice.
A beautiful place for a natural birth. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
2) “Natural” is a judgement laden term. Any marketing company in the world will tell you “Natural = better”. It’s why so many companies market their junk food as having “natural colours and flavours”. Because they know that natural sells!
3) And what’s the opposite of natural? Do you want to be the one to tell your friend she had an “unnatural” or “artificial” birth? And if natural = good then if you don’t have a natural birth, your birth is bad. Way to make a new mum feel good about herself!
4) I think we are all using the term natural as a distraction. So we don’t have to use the dreaded “v” word. Because no-one wants to say they birthed a baby out of their vagina. Or that they want to birth a baby out of their vagina. Or admit that they even have a vagina. And this, I think, is a huge problem. Women have handed over control of our bodies to others – Obstetricians, midwives, partners. Our bodies, and the sovereignty over them needs to be taken back. A part of this is ensuring that everyone knows that birth is about women. Birth is about vaginas. Babies may not usually be born naturally, but they are often born vaginally. Say it loud and proud – women have VAGINAS. And they are designed for babies to come out of them!
I need to add an extra comment about one term I hate more than any other – the “natural caesarean”. I get why it’s a popular term. It makes the caesarean seem nicer. Refer to point 2. But I think that this term completely minimises what a caesarean is – It's MAJOR surgery. It’s the surgical removal of a baby form the woman’s body. It’s not, nor can it be, “natural” – the uterus has a hole in it already, down through the cervix. Any new hole cut into it is definitely not “existing in nature”.
Caesarean section doesn't have to mean "bad birth", but it can't really be considered natural under any circumstances. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
So if I don’t like the term “natural birth” what do I propose we use instead? What words can be used to more accurately describe births. A “natural” birth in a hospital might be called a physiological birth, or perhaps a low intervention vaginal birth. There’s also nothing wrong with just saying it was a vaginal birth. A home birth is always going to be a lower intervention birth, but may not still be totally natural. Drug free birth. Medically managed vaginal birth. Midwife assisted vaginal birth. Water birth in hospital. For caesareans we generally don’t need any new terms – caesarean is pretty commonly used and pretty self explanatory. Some women prefer to use the term surgical birth. As for the “natural” caesareans – try using woman centred caesarean. Family oriented caesarean. Gentler caesarean. One word you may notice missing from all these descriptions of births: delivery. I will never describe any birth as a delivery. Babies are birthed by their mothers, they are not delivered by other people. Pizzas are delivered but I’ve never heard of a baby being ordered on thin crust with extra pepperoni!
Mmmmm...Pizza! Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
And as a little post script: Before anyone jumps on me for suggesting it even matters how a baby was born and how we describe it, I hang out in a lot of birthy groups. Some of these are really close knit and we discuss birth in depth. A lot. A question that often comes up is: just what is a natural birth? Or some variation of that. We don’t suggest any one way is “better” than any other, but we like to talk about any and all ideas around birth. And this topic is always a doozy.
So how do you describe births? What words do you like to use and what words do you like to avoid?