When It Comes To Natural Birth Vs. Hospital Birth Stories — Can We All Just Get Along?

birthing stylesMotherhood has humbled me in a million ways. All jump-started by the day my son was born – the most humbling experience of all.

I definitely had a plan for his birth. I had seen all the documentaries and read all of the literature. I believed it all. I knew that New York City had a pretty high c-section rate.  I was prepared to go into battle and fight for my right to a natural birth.

In the months leading up to son’s birth, I became a self-proclaimed natural birth advocate. I tried to impart my knowledge on any pregnant woman who would listen. I believed that women everywhere were being duped into not having the births of their choice, and I wanted to do my part to turn the tides. I preached endlessly about refusing an epidural, delayed cord-cutting, the negative effects of pitocin. I longed for a home birth. If I hadn’t happened to live above a really loud bar on a main street in Brooklyn – I probably would have planned for one.

I thought the women who expressed no desire to go for the natural birth experience were selfish and uninformed. Don’t you know this is best for your baby? If you’re not willing to experience some pain for the benefit of your child, what kind of mother will you be? Those were real thoughts that were actually swimming around my head. I wasn’t even a mother yet, I hadn’t even experienced giving birth — yet I was still so comfortable judging everyone around me.

I left the gynecologist that I loved in favor of a midwife. I was certain that he was a part of the “establishment” and if I left my birth in his hands it would end up rushed and surgical. I opted instead for the only free-standing birthing center in Brooklyn and put a faith (that I refused to place in a doctor who knew me) in some midwives I had never met.

We took hypnobirthing classes and configured a birth plan just in case we ended up in a hospital. I would be refusing the epidural, insisting that I be able to move around the room, demanding delayed cord-cutting and refusing inductions of any kind. We were ready for everything.

Except reality.

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You can reach this post's author, Maria Guido, on twitter.
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  • Abby

    Interesting article! I went both directions with my two girls; the first I went all natural–no epidural, no anything (won’t lie, kind of did it for the bragging rights :-D ). The second one I went into the hospital earlier than necessary and hadn’t dropped almost at all, so by the 20th hour, when I was dilated to a 3 and they told me I still had hours to go, I was all for a lovely epidural! Neither way makes me love either daughter more or less–I was just happy to have my babies. I think it’s best to read up and become educated on all options, and then make the decision you feel most comfortable with. Make allowances for change if necessary, but do what feels best for you and your child.

    • Ordinaryperson

      You said you went earlier than necessary to the hospital? I’m just wondering, why didn’t they tell you that you were there too soon and send you back home? Is it normal to get admitted even though you’re not set to go? Where I’m from they don’t let you in unless you’re really ready to go. You hear so many stories of women being told to go walk around the mall for a few hours and come back. They sent me away with my second child when my contractions were 2min apart but I wasn’t far enough along in other respects. I’m just curious if what they do at the hospital here is normal in other places.

    • Abby

      My first one was about three and a half weeks early, and she came pretty quick once I started contractions. With my second, my water didn’t break, but I had been having contractions about 3 minutes apart for hours. I wanted to wait for my water to break, but we decided to play it safe and go in to get it checked. They had us stay and walk around for about two hours, until I was at a 4 (I went back down-ugh!) We talked with our doc (who we LOVED!) and decided to stay overnight because I needed a penicillin drip anyway. I think next time I will try to wait longer before going in, but everything went reasonably well overall.

    • Sullivan ThePoop

      I think it depends. With my third I was 70% effaced by 6 months and 90% at 8. My OB told me not to wait until my water broke and to come in the minute my contractions showed any consistency. So, I did and the minute I got to the hospital my contractions stopped all together. They checked me, I was 100% effaced and 4 cm dilated. They gave me a sleeping pill and told me I would not be leaving until after my baby was born. The next morning when they checked me I was 6 cm dilated and still not having any contractions so they broke my water, gave me a little pitocin and it was all over 4 & 1/2 hours later without a single bad contraction.

  • Kate

    I wish more moms would take a live and let live approach with other moms. Kudos to you for this article. I wanted an epidural from the outset because I wanted my birth process to focus on the joy of welcoming my son to the world instead of pain management. Everyone wants something different – and that’s okay.

  • http://twitter.com/marisab67 Marisa Miller

    I had the opposite experience. I WANTED a reg. ob/gyn experience. My first son’s birth was a pitocin nightmare followed by a CPS visit b/c I was honest about my use of medical marijuana for morning sickness so bad that I had to be hospitalized.I swore never again. When I got pregnant last year, I’d had so many miscarriages and a stillborn that I waited until 16 weeks to go to Dr. Even though we have great insurance they wanted payment for the birth in advance and for me to run through a million drills b/c I was 44. And I couldn’t bring my other son to any of the visits due to a no children in the office policy (??!!!) Made me so unhappy that I said fuck it, had zero pre-natals, and squeezed Abe out on the floor of my bedroom while my husband walked Evan to school. I hate our medical system. All I would ever allow them to do would be save my life. If you had a Dr. you loved, that’s lucky. For them to be the same doctor at your delivery, in California at least, is like winning the Powerball lottery.

  • Jessrose

    Love this article. As an OB nurse, I’ve seen it all. I work in a high risk medical center in Seattle, where there is an abundance of home-birth advocates as well as birth centers. We receive women as transfers from these environments, and as their nurse, we are in a place where we must respect their plans and wishes, as well as inform them of the limitations of their wishes in the hospital setting. To set the record straight, we always place baby on mom’s chest skin to skin when born if there are not complications or if there are not pediatricians needed at delivery. We will not whisk your baby away or lock it in a room. We will not tie you to the bed if you do not have an epidural, you are free to move as you please, so long as you don’t mind us moving your monitors around every so often… there are many very satisfied women who come in wanting the natural birth experience, and it doesn’t end up that way, but our postpartum surveys and repeated referrals tell us we’re doing a good job with that transition. On a more personal note, I’m due to have my 2nd baby any day now, and will deliver in the hospital where I work, as I did the first time around. I trust that my ideas regarding my birth experience (and hoping for a natural birth as well) will be respected and only can hope for the healthiest delivery possible for myself and my baby. I wish more women were more open and honest and less judgmental in all areas of mothering, especially when it comes to the birth experience.

  • C.J.

    Great article!! I wish more people would respect the opinions and decisions of others. Personally, I wanted hospital births, we don’t have a great track record for having babies easily in my family. I didn’t put much thought into a birthing plan, mostly because I didn’t have to. I had a very well known doctor that I knew I could trust completely. He asked my wishes on everything long before it was neccessary, gave me as much information as possible then wrote down my decisions and respected them. He also told me everything that was going on while I was delivering. We are lucky to have a very good labour and delivery department at our hospital. I also know a Doula who I would trust completely, not that I am having anymore kids. I can see how people would feel comfortable with both. Actually, where I live Midwives are welcomed into the hospital to deliver babies if the mother chooses so the hospital is a lot more open to mothers wishes. If we all thought the same no one would ever learn anything and life would be boring!

  • http://blisstree.com/ Carrie Murphy

    As a doula, I agree with everything you say here, Maria. I became a doula to support a woman’s choice in giving birth: whether that’s a totally natural birth at home in a birthing tub or a prescheduled Caesarean section. What I find incredibly difficult as a birth professional is the amount of ire that exists on both sides of the debate…there is no right choice. There is only a right choice (or a choice that seems best) for a particular woman with a particular pregnancy on a particular day under a particular set of circumstances. Let’s hope that that woman and her care provider are careful, conscientious, and informed. That’s what this is, and should be, about. As a culture, we should be supporting women and their families to make informed choices about where and how they want to birth, as well as what to do when (as in your case) something goes wrong.

  • http://expandng.com/ lisacng @ expandng.com

    Amen to your post! Love that you can see both sides of the story now!!!! I also went into labor having an ideal vision — no drugs, pop comes the baby. Not. After 3 hrs of nada movement down the birth canal, a humongo pain in my lower back b/c baby was sunny side up, and fear of pushing! — I agreed with doc and had a c-section. I was also depressed afterwards!!!! No one understood me. They all kept telling me to focus on the outcome! It was so hard to “get over” my “failure”. Now that my kid is 2, that delivery day and the events afterwards seem so insignificant to this healthy bouncy boy. I’ll prolly deliver a 2nd by c-section b/c of fears of uterine rupture and pushing again, but I’m certainly not closed minded to trying a VBAC. Tks for the post!

  • LiteBrite

    “We were ready for everything….Except reality.”

    Best. Line. EVER.

    When I was pregnant with my son, I considered natural birth. I had visions of this whole surprise birth process, complete with calling my husband excitedly at work and rushing to the hospital. The reality is that I had a scheduled C-section because not only was my son a foot-long breech but he also had the cord wrapped around his neck twice, thus taking away any decision I might have made for a more natural birth. Yes, I was disappointed at first when I scheduled the C-section, and yes, I felt slightly like I was being robbed of some mystical birth experience. Then my sister, 5 months pregnant with her second, found out she would not be delivering that child after all. Trust me; that put my own feelings into great perspective.

    I have no personal objections to any birthing process nor do I feel any jealousy or resentment towards those who went through a natural process. For me, the outcome was the most important, and I don’t regret a thing, thus no reason for me to jealous or resentful towards anyone who had a different experience. As long as you’ve done the homework and have determined this is right for you and your child, have at it, whether it be at home or a hospital.

  • http://twitter.com/mariaguido Guerrilla Mom

    Thanks for all of the positive feedback, ladies. I think I was really close-minded the first time around – because I had never been through it. Since I will be going through it again in a few months – I am hoping I can have less anxiety around the delivery. The birth of my son certainly forced me to grow up a little and realize that women are entitled to approach the birth of their child in whatever way they see fit. Who the hell am I to project my idea of an “ideal birth” on anyone else?

  • http://twitter.com/mariaguido Guerrilla Mom

    Thanks for all of the positive feedback, ladies. I think I was really close-minded the first time around – because I had never been through it. Since I will be going through it again in a few months – I am hoping I can have less anxiety around the delivery. The birth of my son certainly forced me to grow up a little and realize that women are entitled to approach the birth of their child in whatever way they see fit. Who the hell am I to project my idea of an “ideal birth” on anyone else?

  • Lucy Eveline

    I had a natural birth AT the hospital – due completely to the fact that the gas mask and tank was WAYYY freakier than the pain I was feeling. No disrespect to anybody else.

  • Tinyfaeri

    I can’t stand “natural birth advocates” who trash other ways of giving birth…or posts like this one that highlight what I think is a manufactured divide among women along the lines of who gave birth where and with what intervention. They’re typically why I can’t talk about my daughter’s birth (even when asked) without getting eye rolls or people acting like I’m bragging. Usually I mumble something about a birth center and change the subject. I think I actually kicked my husband once when he brought it up. Not that I’m ashamed, I just resent feeling like I’m labeled a zealot because I went through a birth center and had what people have decided to call a “natural” birth.
    So yes, please, let’s not judge anyone because of how they give birth, and then no one will feel awkward when hanging out with other women and the subject of birth comes up. The way I look at it, you have a baby, and that’s awesome. It shouldn’t much matter how you got there as long as everyone’s happy and healthy.

    • Justme

      My SIL is one of those “natural birth advocates” and her constant tirades against OBGYNs, hospitals, c-sections and interventions left me feeling terribly guilty after I had all four of those things during labor.

      I understand that they are trying to help a cause that they obviously feel SO strongly about but by being so………PASSIONATE……….and even forceful about their beliefs, it can actually alienate women from wanting to have a natural birth.

    • Tinyfaeri

      Sorry she made you feel so bad – that’s never, ever cool. :(

    • Justme

      It took me a LONG time to block out her crazy talk and just focus on what was best for me, my husband and our daughter. My SIL is very open-minded to unique and “crunchy” ways of pregnancy, delivery and childrearing yet very close-minded and judgmental if you want to do all that more mainstream.

  • chickadee

    And now perhaps we can quit judging on the basis of cloth v. disposable, formula v. breastfeeding, organic v. nonorganic…..the reason why the comments were particularly vitriolic on the earlier article was in part because the author seemed to be blaming the hospital birth experience itself, which was an unfair and inaccurate generalization.

  • http://www.facebook.com/portia.mount Portia Mount

    Maria, like you I would have loved a natural childbirth with my son, now three. In reality I ended up not dialating more than 5cm. After 22 hours (and seeing my son’s heart rate drop dramatically) my Dr. told me it was the end of the line and time for C-section. So confident (and smug) was that I that I wouldn’t need a C-section that I hadn’t even bothered to read up on it during my pregnancy. Anyway, about 12 minutes later they pulled my darling son out of my belly screaming his head off. Do I regret having a C-section? Hell, yes. Was there anything I could have done about it? No. I totally agree with the premise of your article. We have enough crap to worry about without getting all Sanctimommy about how we deliver our babies. Every woman is different. Best of luck to you for number two and I’m routing for whether you decide to try a VBAC or have another C-section.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Carmen-Finnigan/841528248 Carmen Finnigan

    Sure if we can dump the ridiculous false dichotomy of natural vs hospital. Humans are the product of nature and what we do is natural.
    Birth should be about getting a healthy baby. The best practices according to science should be followed, without worrying if they are natural. They are. We a part of nature no matter what.

  • Amy Tuteur, MD

    I have a suggestion on where to start:

    Let’s make it clear, once and for all, that that natural childbirth is not better, safer or healthier in any way than childbirth with pain relief. Most people do not realize that the father of natural childbirth, Grantly Dick-Read, fabricated his claims about painless childbirth. Grantly Dick-Read was a eugenicist who wanted to encourage women of the “better classes” to stop fearing labor and have more children. He thought that he could convince them that the pain of labor is all in their heads if he pretended that primative (i.e. African) women had painless labors.

    Did you notice that there is rather important group missing from the natural childbirth movement? I did, because I’m one of that group: women obstetricians.

    Women obstetricians routinely favor high levels of interventions for themselves. They are open to C-section on maternal request and often have C-sections for maternal request. They love pain medication and freely use epidurals when they have children of their own.

    Why aren’t they on board with NCB and homebirth, like some of their male colleagues? Let me count the ways.

    1. They have personally experienced the pain of labor.

    2. They have personally experienced the pain of labor.

    3. They have personally experienced the pain of labor.

    And having personally experienced the pain of labor, they recognize Dick-Read, Bradley, Lamaze and Odent for the sexist blowhards that they are.

    There are additional reasons:

    They have a wealth of knowledge about childbirth and its dangers. They have more experience and skill in handling childbirth than any CNM, CPM, doula or childbirth educator. They know that most of the NCB/homebirth trope is fabricated.

    I find it quite ironic that while women without formal training in science, medicine and statistics (like Ina May Gaskin and Henci Goer) and male doctors with strong ideas about how women should react to pain encourage being “educated” about childbirth and interventions, they don’t seem to notice that women obstetricians, the people with the MOST education and personal experience of childbirth, are not on board.

    If we don’t believe that natural childbirth is better, safer or healtier in any way than childbirth with pain relief, why should anyone else?

    • jessica

      I love you. I love your comment. I am a nurse and I am currently studying to become a midwife (at an accredited, highly respected program I promise). Sometimes I am scared by the attitudes of some of the other students in my classes. More specifically, they lack humility IMHO- a very important trait that in my opinion must be present in anyone who is in any way involved in providing medical care to human beings. Basically, I am well aware of my own limitations. I will not hesitate to consult an OB if I have even the slightest reason to suspect that my patient may have some kind of issue that I lack the training and knowledge to properly treat. And homebirths may be appropriate in some cases, but generally I think a hospital setting is best given that complications can arise suddenly that often require immediate intervention by, say, a surgeon. Simply put, doctors are not the enemy, hospitals are not the enemy, epidurals are not evil, c-sections are not an abomination, etc, etc, etc. Enough with the us versus them mentality. Every birth is different and the end goal should be a healthy mom and healthy baby.

    • Gabrielle Ravina

      My own OB had 3 drug free labors including a HOMEBIRTH and natural birth of twins. She helped me through an epidural free VBAC and no it really was not that painful until transition when I was almost done. Thankfully not all OB’s share your views. So glad you were not my OB.

  • mearcatt

    oh my GOD this is one of the best articles i have read in a LONG time. thank you for posting. it is so true- everyone is more than entitled to have an opinion on birth, but it become a problem when people on either side start shoving their opinion down your throat and get preachy on the soapbox. sorry, but i find it most with natural/homebirth advocates. they are entitled to their opinion, but don’t sit there and judge me because i don’t agree with you. you have a right to decide how you want to birth- please extend the same respect to me because i want to birth in a hospital with doctors. i don’t get that respect back and it is severely lacking in the homebirth community- i know, i’m unfortunately related to some of the worst pushers of homebirth i could ever imagine. if homebirth advocates want to have their positions respected, they need to start looking internally at their own community and tell those “know it alls” and judgmental members to shut up because they are making them all look bad. maybe if some of their advocates weren’t so pushy and judgy, i might have a different opinion of the movement as a whole, but some bad apples have ruined the bunch, so to speak.

  • anonymom

    I’m an American who had my baby in the UK, where I had a random assortment of NHS midwives (no doctors) for all prenatal care, hospital delivery (with their standard ‘painkiller’, sucking on a mix of laughing gas and oxygen like a frikkin’ hookah) and postnatal home visits. I think maybe a doctor breezed in at some point after the birth to do a basic check on the baby — I can’t quite remember, as the midwife was stitching me up where I’d torn. This way of doing things seems to freak out Americans who think of midwives as some unsafe hippie practice, or who are attached to the idea of one single medical person dealing with the entire 9-mo process. Like everyone else here is saying, it’s the outcome that matters. People around the world all do it differently and have different attitudes about things.

  • Renee

    I had all sorts of plans and ideas about how the birth of my son would occur. Then I went into unexplained preterm labor and my son passed away during childbirth. Having an outcome like that has changed my view on pregnancy and childbirth more than I can possibly explain. I’m now pregnant again and all I want for my childbirth experience is to bring my baby home with me alive. All the judgment that surrounds natural vs medicated vs c-section is something I have no patience for. Every woman’s #1 goal should be a healthy baby. The opinions and pressure that surround how that baby comes out is absolute BS. If someone wants to judge me for how I give birth, then have at it. I judge them for not having their priorities straight.

  • Becky Hermans

    Amen sister! Just because you deliver in a hospital, doesn’t mean you have to get an epidural/meds/c-section. Sometimes the just-in-case frame of mind puts women at ease. I’m perfectly fine with women who want to do home births/natural births, but I watched a documentary about one that didn’t go perfectly and baby wasn’t doing so hot after delivery. The parents were upset because of all the medical interventions once they got baby to the NICU. Do you want your baby to survive or not? Do the natural thing, that’s fine, but sometimes modern medicine is good too!

  • roseau

    Agree on many levels, but one caveat – in being so considerate about one another’s experiences, we fail to pass along important information. I was lucky enough to have a sister experienced in natural birth and a lovingly aggressive midwife. Both helped me ‘train’ for natural childbirth, physically and emotionally, including to work through my own hangups about ‘failure’ ie the many ways in which it would not go according to plan. Without their brutal honesty, and that of my Bradley teacher, I would have been less prepared and less successful ie felt like I had lost control of my experience. I won’t tell you what happened, because it’s irrelevant. The point is that we can’t all be judgmental, and we can’t all be so delicate, because women need to share information and wisdom and support and struggles so we can all benefit from one another’s experience.

  • http://twitter.com/WendiKent Wendi Kent

    Thank you, thank you, thank you for this.

  • Linda

    The same thing happened to me albeit I did not have surgery luckily but I did have to get transferred to a hospital after a failed homebirth because my child’s shoulder was stuck. The depression that follows afterward is crippling. It’s not post partum depression, it’s a different kind of depression that I can only describe as feeling like a failure. Failure is how I labeled my entire experience, including my inability to breastfeed. Up until it all happened to me I was an advocate of natural birth, natural everything including breastfeeding and abhorring anyone who even considered formula. Now that I’ve lived through it I understand that my views were ridiculous, because in the end, it was a success. I had a healthy beautiful child born into my childless life. It was important for me to remember that, but I couldn’t because I set myself up on this pedestal of perfection prior to the entire ordeal. It was a far from perfect experience.