Longtime friends Dalecia and Brooke discuss how they both came about having unassisted births in 2012.
Brooke Benoit: How do you feel about the term “unassisted?”
Dalecia Young: The term “unassisted” is somewhat shallow and misleading to what mothers like you and me are doing. I needed and received plenty of assistance; from my partner and family, from you my good friend as well as other “unassisting” mothers. The truth is that we are constantly gathering wisdom from all around us; our partners, other mothers, and yes, even medical professionals such as midwives, doctors and their professional associations and literature in preparation for our births so even the clarified term “medically unassisted” still falls short. Perhaps “medically unattended” is more fitting for the biggest difference between birthers such as us and typical birthers is the attendance of a medical professional at the birth itself.
Brooke: Yes. “Unassisted” sounds so alone, which is rather frightful. I remember with my fifth birth, which was my third homebirth, I was having difficulties finding a midwife to attend the birth. The midwifery board of Alaska had chosen to not let licensed midwives attend homebirth vbacs (vaginal birth after cesarean section) and even though I was fine with using an unlicensed midwife, there simply weren’t any available in Anchorage as they had all chosen licensing likely to be able to receive insurance. So my fabulous midwife who was seeing me only for prenatal had told me about unassist- I could “have an unassisted birth” she said. I thought that was really out there. Why would I want to do that all alone?! But she explained that I could choose anyone to attend the birth (not her though as her hands were tied!) such as a doula or friend or even no-one at all except my husband. That just didn’t gel with me at the time. I wanted someone to supervise the delivery…
Dalecia: What were your fears about unassisting and how did you face them?
Brooke: My fears were solely about complications. I took some comfort in knowing that there was an urgency center just a block away in case there truly was a complication we couldn’t handle. A friend in the states sent me an emergency birth book that paramedics used to keep on hand. It was really very cute- retro with great graphics- and I skimmed through to the areas I was worried about, mostly her getting stuck or coming out at an odd angle. The book was lost somewhere in our home before my husband could get a good look at it, but unlike before my first birth when I had thought that I would just be completely spaced out during labor and expected the midwives to tell me what to do and when, this time I well knew that I would be present during labor and could communicate my needs to him if things felt or looked off.
Then just a few weeks before I gave birth, one of the many online birth circles I belong to posted a bunch of links to roadside or accidental homebirths. I read through as many of them as I could and although I knew it was (probably) inappropriate I was just giddy with the joy at how simply these women had all given birth without any medical intervention at all- many truly alone. And even though there is a horrid problem of women in labor being turned away from medical services for various reasons and having to go it alone, these unassisted women who were sharing their stories didn’t sound traumatized at all. It was totally cathartic to just wholeheartedly laugh off all the build up I was feeling against what I was about to do… it was such a relief to be comforted by all those accidental unassisted stories.
Dalecia: My greatest fear was also complications, and I also found comfort in such stories and birth stories from other unassisting mothers. What also helped me to face my fears has been my ongoing journey of loving and trusting my womanhood, a journey that began when I was 16 when I abandoned any shame against my cycle and continues to this day in various ways. During both my pregnancies I developed a sense of awe and trust in the wisdom and design of women and the amazing things we are able to do. If we weren’t able to do them, humans as a species would not have survived, thrived, and achieved so much for the past estimated 250,000 years! If birth were inherently dangerous this would have never been the case. Not only this, but it has never been safer to birth, in any manner a mother may choose. We are blessed in that we are not over worked and underfed, we have access to nutricious foods, adequate exercise, and healthcare when we need it, and there is more knowledge and literature about birth than ever before, both classical and contemporary.
Brooke: Where did you first get the idea to do an medically unattended birth?
Dalecia: My husband was the first to suggest it when we were expecting our first daughter in 2010. I was discussing how shy I am and how unnecessary I felt pelvic exams were and devastated I believed I would become during labor and he suggested that he deliver our baby himself in our home. At first I thought he was kidding with me but he was serious. We looked up on the Internet if people do that, and what do you know, they do! I was still uncomfortable with the idea initially, so we planned otherwise. By the time we became pregnant with our second I had definitely warmed to the idea.
Brooke: I remember this! Your first pregnancy was during that period that I was pregnant with my fifth and couldn’t find a midwife who either wasn’t effected by the midwifery laws or who would work outside of them. You rather casually mentioned to me this option you were considering and I don’t remember what I responded, but I was worried. I wasn’t actually worried about the birth because I knew you were thoroughly educating yourself, but I was worried about your husband! Ha! Seriously, I had only met him once and when I heard that this was his idea I was really wondering about him- yet another overbearing male perhaps? You and I have certainly encountered enough of those! And my husband got similar responses when he would reveal our plans to have an medically unattended birth with our sixth. People kept telling him “There won’t be any men there!” which is either a flagrant lie as so many women have experienced- you have little control once you are in their territory- or yes, that included him not being allowed to be present at the birth.
Brooke: What happened with your first delivery?
Dalecia: Ha! I remember you got really babbly after I mentioned it and I changed the subject to Mary Shelley. He had freaked me out a bit too with the suggestion, he was really into the idea but once I decided against it he let it go.
We did want a homebirth with a midwife, but things just didn’t pan out with that so we went with the hospital. When I opted out of routine eye ointment for my daughter I was told my birth canal was dirty. When I hadn’t progressed as quickly as the midwife had hoped she told me that either she would break my waters artificially or send me home. I was hollered at to push (as if I’d forget!) and end up popping blood vessels in my face from over pushing due to stress. After each contraction a nurse would examine my belly, this was very annoying because I gave birth on my hands and knees so she was really getting in my way. I was slipped pitocin unnecessarily after the delivery, which I now attribute to causing a delay in our bonding; I did not fall in love with my firstborn until 8 hours later, when I feel that the pitocin probably wore off, in fact I felt very disconnected from her those first 8 hours.
Brooke: Dang, I thought my ability to change the subject was slicker than that. Shelly *cough* Orientalist racism and classic Islamophobia. *cough* I’m sorry, reading your birth story really upsets me. I am so glad that you were really prepared- as in self-educated- and still we see what happens. Of course it can be made worse if you are prepared because some of those medical professionals do not appreciate being told how to do their jobs. And I can’t fully imagine the extra added biases you may have received as a teenager, a Muslim and a woman of color.
Dalecia: I tried to educate myself with my first pregnancy, but unfortunately my reading was very mainstream. I feel blessed to have had the wonderful midwife I did have while in labour. It was a hospital-related group of midwives and could have been anyone of six. She was really excellent though, and yeah when the nurse started getting argumentative and mean with me trying to monitor the baby while I was in the pushing stage, the midwife got her off of me. There were other bothersome things too, such as being threatened to be induced, being hooked up to an IV and yes a man did have to enter the room even though I was told he didn’t. And then the midwife was not there to protect me and the baby in recovery and those handful of hours I stayed over. That’s when I became extremely frustrated, it was a beratement of continual disrespect and condescending. Before I was even in my room I was arguing with the admitting nurse who wanted to take the baby for a bath. Then every nurse who came through and saw that I wasn’t doing x,y,z according to their procedures would get huffy with me and several asked if he was my first baby. And my pediatrician- which had to be chosen before labor, as he has to ok the baby to leave- he was just a horribly rude man. The actual birth was great in that it was so different than what I had feared, the surrounding “support” and technicalities- not great at all.
Remember I labored in the Alaksa Native Medical Center, so literally EVERY patient is a person of color, so the staff, for the most part, is pretty good about cultural respect. I believe it was my age (I was 18 at the time, but I’m still putting up with this crap, i can’t wait until I’m 30!) that threw my labor team off the most. The triage nurse, the one who said I was dirty, spoke down to me like a child, and gave me plenty of attitude when I asserted my sovereignty over my and my child’s bodies.
Although my hospital birth experience was stressful and unpleasant, I’m glad it happened, I learned a great deal firsthand about the modern maternity care system, and more importantly it helped me to quickly realize that I want nothing to do with it; something many other mothers I’ve learned and read from hadn’t realized until several children, and oftentimes injuries and trauma, later. I don’t see myself seeking the attendance of a medical professional in future births so long as my risk profile remains low.
Brooke: I have been wondering if I would do it again. Up until about a month before the birth I continued to halfheartedly look for a local midwife to do a homebirth in Casablanca. I could have brought in a midwife from abroad, like many expats do, but that just didn’t appeal to me as I knew that there should be a midwife available locally somehow (everyone in Morocco knows someone who was born at home if they weren’t themselves- where have all the midwives gone??) but ultimately I felt comfortable about doing an unassist if need be. Where I live now many women tend each others’ births and would possibly do so for me, and that could be nice- to have a midwife again. Though it was very stress free with only my husband present, so I wouldn’t mind just he and I again either.
Again, I never felt alone or unassisted during the whole process of my unassisted birth. I had already received loads of support and knowledge from my fabulous former midwives, especially Susan and Page in Alaska. And then during that last pregnancy I received tons of support from several wonderful midwives, including Mai’a of outlaw midwives, Nicola of wysewomen and Maria or being Maria– so much love and thanks to them.
Dalecia’s unassisted birth story of Salma Luna can be read here on her blog: ‘Shukr with My Coffee’. Brooke’s unassisted birth story of Asiya Eve (we know, we have cool baby names) can be read here on her blog ‘A Clichéd Life’ and her DIY Birth Kit is explained here.