Archive | January 11, 2011

Birth Lessons from a Chicken

Birth Lessons from a Chicken

by Molly Remer, MSW, ICCE, CCCE

Originally published in Midwifery Today, 2009 Spring;(89):49

“Should we just let her sit on them?” my husband asked. He had been struggling to keep a broody hen off her nest for almost two weeks.

“I always vote in favor of the mother,” I told him. So, we stopped trying to oust her. My husband gathered up six random eggs from the coop and put them under her and we let her sit.

We consulted our book on raising chickens. The chicken book had very little encouraging advice about “natural incubation.” After reading it, we learned that she was likely to let the eggs get too cold causing them to die, or perhaps just chill a part of them causing the chicks to have deformed feet. If she did manage to hatch them, they will probably get bacteria in them from the “unsanitary” nest site and get “mushy chick disease.” This is, of course, if the eggs happen to be viable at all, which is improbable. It is recommended not to let her sit and if she persists to either cull her (kill her), or to just let her sit there until she dies of starvation trying to hatch infertile eggs (and therefore culls herself). The book also informed us that if she has feathery feet (she does), she will probably knock the eggs out of the nest by accident and break them. Also, she should definitely be sitting in the spring and not the dead of winter. After studying the book, we are left with a clear sense that incubating eggs artificially is the preferred way to go and that “natural incubation” is fraught with difficulty and dangers.

However, there our chicken sat in the unheated, but well built and insulated chicken coop as the January temperatures outdoors reached -2F. We concluded that she probably had a 5% chance of actually hatching anything and I felt sad for her.

Then, one morning when my husband went to feed the chickens, he heard a funny noise. He looked at the broody hen and from beneath her, a fuzzy head appeared. Then two. Eventually, four. In this cold, cold weather at the wrong time of year with the wrong

The mama hen and two of her chicks

kind of feet and the wrong kind of eggs, she did it! We didn’t trust her, or believe in her. Our book and the experts didn’t either. However, her inherent mothering wisdom won out—it trumped us. At the risk of excessive personification, it truly seemed that she had believed in herself and trusted her instincts (or perhaps, that Nature believed in itself).

Perhaps we could have had the same result with an artificial incubator—a tray that rotates the eggs, instead of “clumsy” feathered feet; a properly temperature controlled unit instead of the heat of her own breast; a sterilized box instead of a wooden coop with an unscientific amount of possibly “germy” feathers plucked from her own body.

My husband ran to get the rest of the family and as we watched that first small fuzzy baby with its eyes bright with life, I was awash with the parallels—the book tells her that her pelvis will be too small, labor will be too painful, her skin won’t stretch, she might have GD, there might be any manner of complications, maybe she should elect to have the baby surgically. Why all the fuss about doing it “naturally” anyway?

Then, as we continued to stare in amazement, the mama hen clucked to her baby softly and fluffed her wings around it until it disappeared beneath her with the others. Isn’t this the birthright of every new baby of any species? To be snuggled immediately after birth into the warm embrace and near the breast of the female body that has given it life? The body that has cared for and nurtured it so lovingly so that its head may finally peek out into the world?

If our chicken were to write a book about hatching babies—or about giving birth—perhaps her section about natural incubation would read:

Maybe she knows what she’s doing.

Maybe you should trust her.

Maybe she can do a better job with her own body and her own babies than you can.

Maybe she can do this all by herself.

Molly Remer, MSW, ICCE, CCCE is a certified birth educator and activist. She is editor of the Friends of Missouri Midwives newsletter, a breastfeeding counselor, and the mother of two young sons and a baby girl on the way. She loves to write and blogs about birth at, midwifery at, and miscarriage at

This is a preprint of Birth Lessons from a Chicken, an article published in Midwifery Today, 2009 Spring;(89):49. Copyright © 2009 Midwifery Today. Midwifery Today’s website is located at:

Book Review: Gentle Birth Companions

Book Review: Gentle Birth Companions: doulas serving humanity
By Adela Stockton
McCubbington Press, 2010
ISBN 978-1-907931-00-0
104 pages, paperback, £13.00 (worldwide)

Reviewed by Molly Remer, MSW, ICCE, CCCE

Gentle Birth Companions is the first book “written about the doula movement beyond the US” and as such it was a fascinating read. I hadn’t realized how ethnocentric my own perceptions were about the role and history of doulas and I previously assumed that the “doula movement” was essentially synonymous with the “doula profession in the US.” Not so! Indeed, Stockton discusses the way in which in the US, doula professional organizations strive mainly to be acceptable to the medical community, whereas in the UK the doula operates outside of (or parallel to) the medical system. And, she provides an interesting analysis as to whether doulas should be referred to as “professionals” in the first place (this is also due to a difference in what the word means in the UK compared to the US). She expresses several criticisms of certification or even of specialized training programs, feeling that professionalization builds additional, unnecessary layers of bureaucracy into the maternity care system and that the role of a doula should be the role of a lay woman. She also posits that the role of doula actually represents a return to the role of traditional midwifery—what midwifery was supposed to be and has now become removed from politically, socially, and culturally.

Gentle Birth Companions is divided into three sections. In the first, Grassroots, it explores the origins of the doula, the 21st century doula (including doula preparation and training), the UK “brand” of doula, and the wider doula community (thoughts about a global movement and also about doulas in the developing world as well as the industrialized world). The second section, Guardians of Gentle Birth?, explores the doula’s role both antenatally and postpartum and the return to “traditional midwifery” represented by the role. In the third section, Doula Tales, some UK doulas share birth stories , experiences, and thoughts in their own words.

Gentle Birth Companions is an excellent look at the “politics” of the doula movement and the professionalization and motivations of such, as well as at the role and purpose of the doula in women’s lives.

Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of this book for review purposes.