As a doula, I have seen a million natural birth videos, showing women with glowing, ecstatic faces. Their births are peaceful and gentle, transcendent. Or the stories are of Homeric journeys, women whose bellies are their body armor, and in the mist of a new morning after a long, dark night, rise triumphantly. Women who cry out, "I never knew I had such strength!"
I engage in a fair amount of childbirth education with clients. While I worry about the woman whose idea of birth comes from reality TV or prime time dramas made for entertainment purposes, I worry equally about the woman who has only watched videos that promise her either bliss or empowerment -- in exchange, all she has to do is birth naturally. I do emphatically believe in the revolutionary idea that childbirth is not something we should be taught to fear; but as birth professionals it is critical that while we educate women to trust their bodies and trust the process of birth, we should also remember that the uninterrupted process of birth can be full of surprises. Nature - responsible for crystal streams, painted mountains, and skies spotted with sparkling jewels - is also responsible for hurricanes and gale-force winds.
As a pregnant woman anticipating my 3rd labor, I made all the right choices for a natural birth: I got prenatal care from midwives, chose a birth center instead of a hospital, and shook my head when well-meaning friends suggested that it was time for an induction as I got more uncomfortable. I was determined it was going to happen naturally, and it did. But my labor was naturally precipitous, and if I were to compare it to something in nature, it would be a riptide.
There are women whose birth stories have them, somehow, scanning the ocean in search of the crest of the wave, and once found, they ride it, shifting their weight here and there so that they don't fall if they begin to lose their balance. The sea water is spraying them in the face, and the mix of salt and perspiration on their skin is invigorating, affirming. And then there are other women in the riptide who are like me. I didn't fight it. I didn't navigate it. I didn't negotiate with it in any way. For weeks I have struggled with the mental picture of me being knocked down by a single wave; but I am starting to see that a woman's strength in birth is also in the letting go and allowing herself to tumble fearlessly with the current, never losing sight of the belief that, when the energy of the tide is through, she will find herself upright again on the shore.