9 Reasons Being A Feminist Can Prepare You For An Unmedicated Birth

by Sabrina Joy Stevens

If you’re like many people, you may be wondering what on Earth a person’s ideological leanings could possibly have to do with preparing for an unmedicated birth. I get it, but I'm also hoping that in "bridging the gap," so-to-speak, I can help someone find the perspective they need to make the best possible choices in childbirth. While I cannot overstate how helpful my childbirth classes and pre-birth reading were for me, and my partner, the habits of mind and sense of self that I've developed as an unapologetic feminist, are and where a critical part of what enabled me to claim the power I needed to have an amazing, unmedicated birth.

There came a point when, after weighing all of my options, it was pretty clear that as a healthy woman carrying a single, healthy fetus, the odds were overwhelmingly in both of our favors to have a safe labor and delivery, regardless of what specific option I chose. Statistically speaking, it was pretty likely that that we’d both survive without major complications, whether or not I chose to have any pain medication and whether I gave birth at home, at a birth center, or at a hospital. So, after contemplating where I’d feel most comfortable, which local providers I felt respected me most and what type of birth experience would give me the best odds of avoiding surgery (and other interventions that might impact my long-term sexual health and satisfaction), I chose to give birth at home with midwives.

I'm acutely aware that the following points completely hinder on my personal experience and how my feminist beliefs helped me find the strength and courage I needed to claim the birth experience I have always wanted. A woman who had a different, disappointing or traumatizing birth experience is in no way insufficiently feminist or otherwise at fault or somehow "lacking." I support every woman in doing whatever it is she needs to feel and be at her best, and I stand in solidarity with any woman against things that may or may not come between her and the joy and dignity she deserves, in childbirth or any other area of life.

Having said that, for folks who are interested in, or even just curious about, having an unmedicated birth, there are multiple ways in which being a feminist can help you get ready, including:

You Question Everything And Do Your Own Research

I know that most care providers of all kinds are intelligent, well-intentioned people who truly want to help families. But as an intersectional feminist, I also know that implicit bias, medical sexism, and medical racism are very real, regardless of someone's intentions.

I know that a lot of available research on birth interventions is limited by researchers’ biases and assumptions, and what they think to ask and prioritize when it comes to women and children. I know that popular media depictions of birth are hideously sensationalized and shouldn’t be my guide when deciding what my body can handle, nor should they influence whether I accept optional interventions that could have major implications for my or my family’s long-term quality of life. So, I knew I needed to research and to weigh information from a variety of credible sources against my own needs, values, and priorities.

You Know The Importance Of Listening To Your Own Body

While I appreciate the knowledge and expertise of doctors, nurses, midwives, and doulas, I also know that I am the only person who is an expert on what I experience. I recognize that my body is strong and exquisitely capable, and that it generates a variety of sensations for many important reasons. Birth sensations convey useful information that I need in order to make good decisions (and when it comes to my body, I decide all things). There is no machine, test, doctor, or midwife who can tell me what parts of me need more or less pressure, or support, to help prevent myself from tearing or experiencing other injuries in childbirth. Only the feelings I feel while laboring and pushing can give me that information.

That is why I wanted to be able to feel them, because while a care provider can treat an injury after it happens, what I feel beforehand can be crucial to preventing an injury before it happens.

You Know That Female Bodies Exist For More Than Just Experiencing Pain

Speaking of sensation, the dominant discourse around women and reproduction centers on pain. But as a sex-positive feminist, I know from my own research and from listening to other mothers and from self-exploration, that my body is built for, and experiences, a whole lot more than pain. I wanted to know what else can happen during labor, and that curiosity helped me to stay present and open-minded. That, in turn, helped me overcome fear and anxiety, which increases pain and could thwart my unmedicated birth plan.

You're Comfortable Taking Charge...

This was critical. Once my labor really got going, there was no time for any, “Could you please?” or, “Is it all right if?” I just moved wherever and however I needed, moaning orders to my midwives and husband. When I think back to my pre-feminist self, who was far less sure of my right to make demands or take up space, I might have been mortified by my behavior. Now? Not at all.

...And Not Worried About Being "Ladylike"

Which is very convenient during any kind of birth, because sh*t gets real.

You Don't Necessarily Fear Being Sensual Or Sexual During Birth

Feminism helped me question all of the dominant cultural messages and practices that attempt to suppress the sensuality of birth, from stork stories and "virgin births," to bright lights and cold metal instruments. The same body parts that get a baby in are usually involved in getting the baby out, so birth is not a great time to forget how those parts work. Fortunately, being a feminist helped me stay in touch (mentally and physically) with what I needed in order for my sex organs to relax, open up, and do their best work.

You Know It's OK To Center Your Own Needs During Birth

Was I prepared to do whatever was needed to protect my baby’s life and health? You bet. I was, and still am, willing to give everything for my child, up to and including my life. Sometimes, during birth, the stakes really are that high. Most of the time, however, they’re not.

I was also totally OK prioritizing my own physical, sexual, and emotional well-being when considering anything a provider or birth assistant might do to me in any situation that didn’t credibly rise to the level of “imminent threat of death.” When my former OB-GYN tried to pressure me into unwanted pregnancy interventions because she “felt really strongly about it,” I fired her. When I looked for new care providers, I chose midwives who talked in terms of support, rather than centering themselves by claiming to “deliver” my baby. Being a feminist made me comfortable enough to assert that it’s not my job to accept or agree to anything that might make my care provider’s life easier or more comfortable. It’s the other way around.

Your Open-Minded And Flexible Enough To Change Your Plans, If Necessary

While my feminism has certainly helped me to love and appreciate my body exactly as it is, my feminism also helped me understand that nothing that might happen during my birth experience would be any kind of a referendum on my worth as a woman, a mother, or a person.

Sure, I might be disappointed or even grieve if an emergency arose that changed my plans, or even if I just changed my mind. But I knew that nothing fundamental about who I am was at stake with the overall birthing experience. Understanding that took a lot of pressure off of myself, eliminating yet another layer of needless tension and anxiety standing between me and the birth experience I've always wanted. It's worth repeating over and over and over again: relaxation and flexibility are critical to rocking an unmedicated birth.

You Know How To Handle Judgment And Shame

I already know that no matter what I do, in any area of life, there is going to be someone out there thinking I should have done it differently. People are always using women and our choices as opportunities to work out their own issues, and birth choices are especially fertile territory for judgement. I knew that I would need to avoid or tune out people who wanted to tell me their horror stories or look down on me or try to talk me out of my choices, so they could feel better about their own. I decided from the get-go that I would not let other people’s agendas intrude on my confidence in my body, which is essential for an unmedicated birth. Fortunately, that was a habit with which I already had plenty of experience.