A Canary In The Coal Mine: The Growing Popularity Of Unassisted Childbirth

Amy Glenn Book Cover

A very small percentage of American women intentionally choose to birth at home without the presence of a midwife, doctor, or nurse. According to Shira Segal, professor at the University of Colorado at Boulder, this is a “radical sub-movement within homebirth ideologies.” Why would women choose to give birth without the presence of medical professionals? For some, this action stems from religious conviction. For others, it’s a philosophical choice. However, a growing number of women are turning to unassisted childbirth (UC) as a result of feeling powerless and mistreated during a previous birth experience. They have lost faith in American obstetrics.

In 2013, The Journal of Medical Ethics featured an article entitled “Unassisted Childbirth: Why Mothers are leaving the System.” The authors argue that health care professionals must understand the growing popularity of UC. Why? The authors claim that contemporary hospital protocols such as “procedural intervention” are “driving women away from formal health care.”

Like a miner’s canary, this small but growing trend towards UC — also called “free” or “undisturbed” birth — should not be ignored. As a doula, I’ve never attended a UC. As a mother, I would not choose one. Nevertheless, the practice both intrigues and concerns me. As a society, we would be wise to study this phenomenon and reflect upon its meaning.




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