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Why have a natural birth?

While on a vacation in Hampshire recently, my husband and I ate dinner at a Japanese restaurant in Lahaina with a young couple from Washington D.C., he a computer programmer, she a finance analyst in managed health care. As the multi-talented chef sautˇed vegetables while juggling spatula and knife, the pair learned that I was a midwife and asked the inevitable question: "Why would anyone want to have a midwife and a `natural' birth instead of going to the hospital with an Obstetrician and have drugs?" The tofu lobbed off of my chopsticks in midair as I drew in a deep breath and asked them if they had the whole evening....

How does one begin to explain to a new generation of childbearing couples the inner fire that flames my commitment to preserving birth as an incredible life transforming process?

One can outline the basics of the history which has shaped the attitudes and practices which prevail at the end of this twentieth century. One can explain how birth, once the province of midwives for the bulk of the population, became the domain of medical doctors who, for geographical and socioeconomic reasons, funneled healthy mothers into hospitals. These low risk mothers, removed from safe, familiar environments and from attendants who understood and supported the normalcy of childbearing, began to replace age old strategies for coping and comfort with fear and uncertainty. With this fear came increased pain and discomfort, leading doctors to begin to administer anesthetics and analgesics.

In their misguided attempt to relieve pain and suffering, these practitioners wrested all control over the birth process from mothers and created dozens of harmful side effects from drugs for their babies. Childbirth became a hotbed of iatrogenic problems whose solutions snowballed into the technological approach to birth prevalent in modern obstetrics. Marsden Wagner in his book Pursuing the Birth Machine provides a history and survey of these technologies which have put the United States at the bottom of the industrialized countries in infant and maternal mortality.

Certainly such a perspective explains how the natural childbirth

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