This could be a book but for the time being, it’s 1700 brief words. The themes of power, responsibility, blame, fear, freedom, life and death are of epic proportions but the fact that this is about freebirth means I have children and the fact that I am the mother of children means I don’t have a whole lot of free time for thinking and writing. I hope I get time to write more about it before the intensity fades in my mind, which it already has somewhat.
Taking charge of your own pregnancy health care, outside of the medical system and birthing at home without the assistance of a medical professional goes by a number of names - unassisted childbirth, freebirth, family birth. There are a lot of reasons why women choose to freebirth. Sadly for some, it is the only option that allows them any sense of autonomy over their birthing process and may not necessarily be their first choice. Women who live in areas without privately practicing midwives to attend homebirths (like in Darwin), women who are ‘risked out’ of public homebirth services (like in Darwin) but want to birth at home and women who want to homebirth but cannot afford a private midwife among other reasons. For many others it is simply because they believe that pregnancy and birth are a normal physiological events that generally do not require the monitoring or intervention the medical model of birth has to offer. This is where my interest in freebirth came from.
Of course there is a big caveat here that I am well aware of. For a small number of women, pregnancy and birth become medical events that require intervention for the safety of mother and baby and for that reason I am grateful that I live in a country and a town that has ready access to any emergency assistance that might be necessary. If I displayed concerning symptoms in pregnancy or labour or my baby or I did after birth, I would be willing to seek emergency medical assistance. Some people would not. Some people live too far away from medical assistance for it to be a meaningful option. Their choices are completely up to them. I do not believe there is a right or wrong way to do pregnancy and birth. There is simply a wide spectrum of options available and the hope that we all have the information, support and freedom to make the choices that resonate with how we live.
So how would I know if I had a ‘concerning symptom’? That has been the amazing beauty of an autonomous pregnancy. Because the buck stopped with me for 9 months, I was very acutely aware of how my body felt and how my baby was growing and moving than I was in my two previous full pregnancies. I paid closer attention to ensuring I consumed a diet that kept blood sugar reasonably stable (as much as possible – there’s not much that can be done about diet in that first trimester, right?) and I paid much closer attention to how I felt and how my body felt. I paid much closer attention to my baby’s movements and growth. I also paid so much more attention to my intuition and spent a lot of time exercising this muscle. If I felt drawn to taking or not taking a particular action, I followed my intuition’s lead.
Taking full responsibility for my own pregnancy, birth and baby was a roller coaster of a journey. For me, freebirth was at once blissfully liberating and acutely terrifying. It is as if taking complete control of the journey is more responsibility than we are used to which is probably where the fear came from. But if we go through the medical system does that mean we are somehow less responsible for our own births and babies? Does that mean that if something goes wrong, we get to blame someone else? Would that feel better than taking full responsibility for the reality of birth? Which is the same as the reality of life; nothing is certain and there are no guarantees.
By giving away the responsibility of pregnancy and birth, we also give away our power. Maybe that does not seem like much of a trade off in a world where we give away our power all of the time, particularly as women. Most of us would not even realise we were giving our power away. I suppose many of us do not even realise we have power in the first place. We also have power as mothers which is so easily given away to others is positions of authority who try to standardise our perfectly unique babies that they have never laid eyes on before.
While I have learned a huge amount about the practicalities and realities of labour, birth and the newborn transition. I have found that by necessity, I have also paid much closer attention to the more spiritual or intuitive side of pregnancy and birth. I feel like freebirth requires us to be functioning smoothly on all levels from physical through to spiritual.
I started my journey with this pregnancy wanting to birth a home with the Homebirth Service (government funded homebirth program attached to the public hospital) again but soon after ‘booking in’ I started to get the feeling that it was not what I wanted. At about 15 weeks I went to the initial appointment at the hospital with two little boys in tow. Spent the best part of 4 hours between the antenatal clinic waiting room, a chat with a midwife who checked my blood pressure, asked if I was going to breast feed, looked at my domestic violence and perinatal depression surveys, did not tell me about any of my ‘options’, asked me to do a swab test and urine test for STI’s I already knew I did not have and a chat with a doctor which was the same as the chat with the midwife before leaving with blood test and ultrasound referrals that I did not plan to do. I left that appointment fairly certain that I had no interest in engaging with the system again. That model of care had nothing to offer me.
As I moved through my pregnancy, I realised just how much we rely on other people to tell us we are ok and by doing so relinquish our own responsibility for our wellbeing. If someone tells us our blood pressure, fundal height measurement and foetal heart tones are good, does that mean we’re fine for another month? This pregnancy was by far my happiest, healthiest, most comfortable and most nourished. I think it is because it was mine. It was my very own creation that I was carefully and diligently tending to and that felt amazing. Have a think about that for a moment. Think about other areas in life where you have created or done something significant all on your own. How amazing is that feeling of autonomy? How amazing is that feeling of having single handedly achieved something meaningful?
Of course I had fears. What if there was something wrong with my baby that meant a hospital birth would be safer for them? What if I bled too much? What if baby did not transition after birth? I spent countless hours reading, listening and processing the information I would need in case of a handful of adverse outcomes. I got to a point where I felt very comfortable with the knowledge I had gained and felt that I could handle whatever came my way. I also had this all encompassing feeling that everything was going to be perfectly ok. My intuition is a muscle I am exercising and developing and I think it served me well during this pregnancy and birth.
During my labour I completely surrendered to the process. I already knew I could do it, I wasn’t afraid of labour, it was just a matter of riding the waves until my baby was born. But at the same time I was acutely aware of my babies movements, how I was feeling and what was needed at any particular moment. I was aware but not thinking. I was observing my mind, body and baby but not in an analytical way, in a feeling way. I knew exactly where my baby was in my body and where I was in labour. I called my helpers to be with me as I started to feel the pressure change of transition. I knew my baby was happy and that things were travelling smoothly. Once the urge to push got too strong to ignore, I completely let go. I roared my baby out and she had great tone and colour from the moment she was born. She started breathing quickly and my placenta was born immediately after she was. The only other thing left on my mind was bleeding, there was a tiny bit, probably less than 150ml so I had some shepherds purse and No Bleed Tincture just to be sure.
I felt amazing. It was amazing. And my baby has been amazing. 10 months on and she is still one of the most content and happy babies I’ve come across. Coincidence? Who knows.
There is so much more that could be unpacked and discussed from my experience of unassisted pregnancy and birth but I think the main things that I came away from the experience are that:
It is very easy to give away our power.
Taking responsibility for ourselves is both liberating and terrifying.
Our intuition is extremely underutilised in just about all areas of life.
If the system doesn’t serve you, you can try and change it or you can make a new one.
Birth just happens.
On another note, what if prenatal care looked different? Might it be more appealing to women like me? And I know there are a hell of a lot of us out there. What if it included in depth discussion around the spiritual/personal journey of pregnancy and birth, inspiration around your strength and power as a birthing woman and supportive guidance around nutrition, emotional health, spiritual health, nourishing movement, social fulfilment, development of intuition, herbs and supplements, rest and sleep and relationship health. Maybe even in a setting that regularly connected us with other like minded pregnant women? That’s some prenatal care I’d be interested in. And what if birth care looked different? What if we had skilled attendants to serve us in ways we wanted but we were ultimately responsible for our births? I’d probably be interested in that too.
I live in Darwin in Australia's Tropical North and am the mother of three beautiful children. I am blessed with working with women through their fertility, preconception, pregnancy, birth and early parenting journeys. I am committed to lifelong learning and am interested in nutrition and natural health, the childbearing cycle, natural parenting philosophy and practice and the spiritual journey of motherhood.