* Photos courtesy of Nurture Nature Photography
What is Normal? A look into “why not home” (birth)
“Normal is simply what you’re used to*.”
Our ideas and fears around birth are shaped by the sum of our prior experiences and the stories we have been told. Whether you are a doula, an expectant mother, a nurse, a doctor, or a midwife, it’s worth considering the question: When it comes to birth, what are you used to? What’s your normal?
Popular media and culture have done a good job over the years making sure that “normal” childbirth is viewed as frightening, painful, fraught with danger and the potential for emergencies requiring a host of technology and highly skilled surgeons. But is that the truth?
Data shows us that over 85% of pregnant women in the US are low risk and are great candidates for midwifery care. Unfortunately it seems that our cultural norms often produce a kind of self fulfilling prophecy.
We are taught to fear the pain of childbirth and now 61% of women get epidural anesthesia during labor.
We are told that birth is dangerous and requires skilled surgeons, so most births in the US are attended by OB/GYNs. It’s not surprising then that the rate of cesarean section has increased to 33%. That means that one in three births are via cesarean section, a major abdominal surgery.
Could something required for every one of us to come into this world really be so fragile? I am of course not suggesting that all c-sections are unnecessary or that epidurals have no place. The interventions themselves are not the problem, rather the overuse of these interventions that too often produce unintended consequences, and that over time have become the new normal.
I’m not suggesting that “normal” is the goal, rather that the very word is culturally defined. In medicine and nursing, we often define things as “within normal limits.” This phrase acknowledges that there is a range of experiences that fall within what is classified as normal.
I am suggesting that we work together to shift the needle. That our cultural norm moves toward physiologic birth, one that is powered by the woman and the fetus, free from outside intervention. That we shift away from the high tech intervention heavy birth we are told is normal in our current system.
Changing our cultural definition of “normal birth” is not something that will happen overnight. In doing so we must also be cautious not to leave out women whose experiences fall on the ends of the spectrum.
Normal is not solely defined by the outcome of a healthy baby. If you’ve seen Exposing the Silence project, you’ll know that too often women are disrespected and suffer trauma during labor and birth only to be told that they have a normal healthy baby and they should be happy. Their voice and experiences is important too.
If you believe that our cultural norms around birth need to change, then please join me. Let your voice be heard. Share your story. If it was an empowering experience, share it. If it was a traumatic experience, share it. Normalizing childbirth isn’t about hiding from difficult experiences, but learning from all experiences and supporting each other along the way as we work towards improved outcomes and experiences for women and families.
*Dr. Melissa Cheyney, Professor of Anthropology at Oregon State University and Certified Professional Midwife used the phrase, “Normal is simply what you’re used to,” during an interview I did with her at her home in Corvallis, OR.
Jessicca Moore is a Family Nurse Practitioner, filmmaker, and mother living in Petaluma, CA. She is finishing post-production on her feature length documentary about doctors and nurses who attend birth in the hospital and had their own children at home. You can watch a trailer and learn more at “Why not home?”