Birth as a Spiritual Experience
Women who choose to give birth unassisted often see birth as a profoundly spiritual experience. Laura Shanley, who freebirthed all five of her children, describes birth as “exhilarating and exciting, sexual and spiritual, magical and miraculous.” Other freebirthers talk about power and knowledge given to them by “the Goddess” who helps them through the birth. In Rediscovering Birth, Sheila Kitzinger says, “Birth has always been considered a testing time for women, entailing courage and endurance. In Englishwomen’s diaries and letters of the 17th and 18th centuries, it was perceived as a spiritual journey and a transforming experience, as well as a physiological process” (Little, Brown).
This ideal of birth as a spiritual experience clashes with a woman’s birthing experience in a medical, technological hospital environment. A woman who wishes to focus on her body, her experience, and her baby, will find it difficult to do so in a strange place, with strangers coming and going, with machines beeping and pinging, with deadlines being imposed. Unassisted childbirth, or staying at home and surrounding oneself with a few close loved ones, enables the woman to get in touch with her body and with the spiritual forces she believes to be present with her.
Unassisted Childbirth in Other Cultures
In many African tribes, unassisted childbirth is the norm. Kitzinger records that “women of the tribal people in the Kalahari desert of Botswana and Namibia in southern Africa are exceptional in that with their second and subsequent births they do not expect help from other women during birth.” Part of this is because “they, too, see birth as a transforming experience which draws on spiritual energy. They are proud of giving birth out of doors, in the bush, alone. While men dare death by going into trances and hunting antelope, women accept responsibility for birth.”
Modern Perceptions of Unassisted Childbirth
Michel Odent is a French birth philosopher and surgeon-turned-midwife who sees solitary birth as the ideal. This type of birth is in tune with nature. According to Kitzinger, Odent “describes how companions interfere in labour, disturbing the first contact between mother and baby.” Freebirth is thus a continuation of the unity that has existed between woman and baby for the past nine months; the mother may catch her own baby, hold him or her close, and remain closely connected with this little person whom she knows better than anyone else.
Freebirthers are often seen as radicals, women who are risking their lives and their babies’ lives. But women who choose this birth option see birth as a normal, natural process, one for which their bodies are uniquely equipped. Like the women of the Kalahari desert, they accept responsibility for their birth experience by preparing carefully and trusting in their bodies.