LONDON (Reuters) - They insist they’re no superwomen, they have no special powers, and are certainly not pain or adrenaline junkies.
But ‘freebirthers’ choose to go through what some call the most painful and potentially frightening experience of a woman’s life with no drugs, no midwife and no medical help.
Delivering their own babies at home, often alone, they dismiss what they say is “fearmongering” by doctors and midwives and confidently catch their offspring as they leave the womb.
“Birthing uses the same hormones as lovemaking — so why would you want anyone poking and prodding you, observing you and putting you under a spotlight?,” said Veronika Robinson, an Australian based in Britain who sees growing interest in freebirth among readers of international magazine, “The Mother”.
Her comment is echoed by many in online discussion groups about freebirth, where women insist having a baby is as intimate an experience as having sex.
“We were the only people there when she was conceived, and it felt absolutely 100 percent right that we were the only people there when she was born,” writes Laura Fields from the United States.
Robinson says medical establishments in Britain and across other westernized nations have for years been “taking something that’s natural and making it into a disease”, and now, with freebirthing, “women are taking their power back”.
Free- or unassisted birth means having a baby with no medical or professional help. In Britain, as in North America, where its popularity is growing, it is legal as long as delivery is not “assisted” by an unqualified partner, friend or husband.
To some, like new mum Janet Sears, the idea of giving birth alone, with no-one around to help if things go wrong, is little short of madness: “It’s my idea of hell,” she told Reuters.
But one of its most prominent supporters, Laura Shanley, an author on childbirth, is now mother to four children — all of whom were born at home without the help of doctors or midwives.
Shanley, who lives in Colorado in the United States, says that in essence birth is only problematic because of three main factors — poverty, intervention and fear.
As long as clean water and reasonable living standards are available — as they are to many women in the west — then the task is to eliminate the other two factors and a natural birth will be as safe as it can be.
“As I began to understand how fear affects the body, and that birth is not inherently dangerous provided we don’t trigger the fight-flight response and shut down labor, then to me it was natural to want to just trust myself,” she told Reuters.
“It didn’t make sense to me that something that ensures the continuation of the race would be a dangerous and scary event.”
Diana Drescher, a Dutch freebirthing enthusiast who lives in Britain and wants a fourth baby with her German partner, agrees.
“We’ve been giving birth for thousands of years and we’re still in this world. If it was that dangerous we wouldn’t be here,” she told Reuters.
Coming from the Netherlands, where there is a more relaxed attitude to birth, Diana finds British medical authorities far too quick to intervene and is determined to have her next baby here with no professional presence.
She says she will also avoid being in her partner’s native Germany where she says freebirth is virtually impossible without fear of the authorities finding out and intervening.
“I do know some people who have had unassisted births in Germany, but they will not talk about it. It’s a very close community that does it and they have to be very careful.”
Britain’s Department of Health frowns on the practice of freebirthing and says every woman should have a midwife.
“The safety of mothers and their babies is our top priority,” a spokesman told Reuters. “Midwives are the experts in normal pregnancy and birth and have the skills to refer to and coordinate between specialist services. Every woman needs the care of a midwife in labor and birth and those women with more complex pregnancies may need a doctor too.”
And some doctors, as well as some friends and relatives of those who chose to go it alone when they go into labor, are fiercely critical of what they see as a selfish, reckless, even irresponsible approach to childbirth.
“Dr Crippen”, a British National Health Service doctor who writes an award-winning blog on the Internet, has reacted angrily to growing interest in freebirth, saying babies born this way should have a right to legal recourse later in life.
He says “giving birth is the most dangerous thing that most woman will do during their life”, and argues:
“Does a mother not owe a duty of care to her baby? Should a mother not take reasonable care to protect the baby when she gives birth? And if she does not take reasonable care — and the standard should be objective not subjective — why should a baby who has sustained avoidable brain damage due to the mother’s negligence not take action against his mother?”
If a baby were to die during a freebirth, Dr Crippen argues the mother should be prosecuted for manslaughter.
Mary Siever, a mother of three who lives in Alberta, Canada, said she has experienced the wrath of those around her when they learned she had a baby on her own.
“There are people who are horrified when they find out that an unassisted birth has taken place,” she told Reuters.
“I can’t claim to know why they feel this way, but my belief is that the majority of them — doctors and health authorities — truly do not think women are intellectually capable of making their own decisions when it comes to birth.”