Giving Birth the Old Way
Laura Shanley not only had her four children at home, but she
birthed them without a doctor or midwife. Hunkered over a plastic tub, she even
tugged out a breech baby by herself while her husband was away. This was
decades ago, before home births, much less unassisted births, gained
Shanley, author of Unassisted Childbirth, is not alone,
although she is still in a distinct minority, probably because of the
significant risks perceived to be associated with this decision.
"Doctors think I am crazy," laughs Shanley. "But I
believe childbirth is not inherently painful or dangerous unless there is
interference from within or from outside."
"She sounds like one of those women who have an easy
time," deadpans Marion McCartney, a certified nurse-midwife and director of
professional services of the American College of Nurse-Midwives in Washington.
"Most of us are somewhere in the middle, between easy and hard."
Shanley says she had not even planned on having children until
she met her husband-to-be, who was exploring various issues of consciousness
and turned her on to a book called Childbirth Without Fear by Grantley
Dick-Read. That must have been quite a first date! "That book told me about
the fight-flight response [changing muscle behavior in response to fear] and
approached it all so logically," she recalls. "It made sense to
"People often contact me and say they are high risk,"
Shanley comments. "I don't tell them what to do: All I say is what I
did." Shanley does argue, however, that a lot of problems that define high
risk are the result of the overmedicalization of pregnancy and delivery. She
mentions the confining belt monitors and sensors that are attached to the scalp
of the emerging child. "Those can pick up variations that probably aren't
dangerous at all," she claims. "If you become afraid, blood stops
flowing to your uterus and labor is impeded. If I had had my breech baby in the
hospital, they probably would have cut me open."
Most doctors and midwives would disagree.
Predictably, Shanley also had no prenatal care during her four
pregnancies. "We call it 'prenatal scare,'" Shanley says.