A couple of posts ago, I mentioned I’d made a new sculpture that I titled after a friend of mine and an article she wrote several years ago. She originally sent me the article to review, because she was thinking of sending it to a magazine. Several years passed, several more babies were born, her computer got fried, and the article was lost. However, it stayed with me anyway. It stayed with me when I prepared for the birth of my rainbow baby girl, it stayed with me as I created birth art to prepare for her birth, and it stayed with me as I reached down to catch my baby’s whole pink wonderful self in my hands as she was born in one smooth reflex almost three years ago. So, I created my figure and I emailed Shauna about it and then I went digging. Deep in the ancient, archived messages in my Outlook Express folder on my old laptop that now belongs to Zander (age 7), I found it. I found Shauna’s squatter’s rights article that had so touched my birth consciousness in such a way that I never forgot—even though babies, computers, friendships, and time have all marched on. I was already a childbirth educator when I read it, had already given birth myself, and was deeply immersed in birth work and childbearing. However, that doesn’t mean that certain descriptions cannot reach us and grab our attention in new ways. I’m delighted that Shauna gave me permission to publish her article here and to share her insights and experiences in this way!
by Shauna Marie
Would the new child coming from me be slippery like soap? I rubbed my fat belly. I loved each pound I gained, each craving I had, and every trip to the bathroom. Okay, maybe not every trip to the bathroom. But, I loved this growing baby. Tucked away like a pearl in the sea just waiting to be discovered. I was in a constant state of marvel.
Would I be able to physically do this? No, I don’t mean the labor, nor do I mean the birth. I knew I could do that. I got lost in thought as I planned in my head every moment that would come after my body did the work of labor. The moment would come once my body was ready and the crown of a child’s head pushed itself from me, the moment the child would emerge. That’s what I was planning for; I planned to catch my own baby.
I imagined opening my legs and squatting, I even practiced. I wondered where I’d put my hands, how I would have my legs, and if this little wet creature would be so slippery that I’d drop him or her. In December of 1999 this would be my second birth, but my first time catching a baby.
Like many people from a young age I was led to believe that women didn’t and couldn’t birth outside hospitals. The ones who did were radical or even dangerous. I was led to believe that the birth doesn’t matter, the baby matters. For my own personal sanity, due to cultural birth fear, I had to just come to the conclusion that as long as my baby was okay I could endure anything and that it would all be over soon.
Now rewind a little bit here, because there is something to be said about being at the right place at the right time; or knowing the right person. As a person who now tries to make a difference by being a strong home birth and natural family living advocate, I know who you know can sometimes make all the difference. For some people they just need that connection with real birth; they need to know someone who will talk about what birth really is about from a natural and physiological point of view. Above all people need to be exposed to home birth because it normalizes birth.
I was almost connected at one small point during my first pregnancy, just weeks before my first birth a friend of a friend was having a baby. I asked where she was having the baby at and when. My friend said she was in labor now, and having the baby at home. A jolt of sudden uncomfortableness and worry struck me, “At home! Why?” (Thinking oh my gosh there is no epidural at home!) My friend responded with a rather obvious sounding answer, “Well her mom is a midwife.” “Oh,” I said in an understanding tone. Somehow this made total sense now. If her mom is a midwife then it’s okay for her.
Quickly all home birth thoughts were intercepted with other conversations of non-birth related content. To this day I feel that should have been my contact with home birth. Instead I missed my first calling and just two months later I was induced two weeks before my due date against my own wishes (along with two other women from my OB’s office) to fit into the OB’s schedule.
I learned an awful lot that night. I learned I would never give birth to a healthy baby in a hospital again. I learned that in a hospital it is okay for others to look at your body, touch you, reach into you, and deliver your baby; but it’s not okay for you to do so.
I also learned that birth does matter, not just a healthy baby. Healthy empowered moms matter and instincts are stripped away by technology and birth colliding. This often even includes the instinct to breastfeed.
I was shocked at how disconnected I felt from the waist down. These strangers were in charge of me. There is something about being tied to IV’s and monitors, naked from the waist down in a hospital bed, legs in stirrups, that takes your power away. Even though some one at some point said, “Here comes your baby, look at your baby come” I felt like I wanted to reach over my belly and feel, or catch. I’d seen that in a birth video once –a nurse said something like ‘you can touch your baby’s head and feel’ to a mom giving birth flat on her back. I waited for someone to say that to me, but no one did. Be it because of hospital policy, or be it because of shame, it was a no-no to touch or even catch what was mine. I felt so disconnected as I tried eagerly to see over my belly, knees being held up to my ears by three sets of hands to the chants of, “Push, push, pushhh…. good girl.”
I wondered so much about just staying home. I had what I thought was an unexplainable and unfounded desire to hibernate in a dark corner like an animal.
Around the same time that I got pregnant with baby number two I heard a doctor on television actually say that women are physiologically unable to catch their own babies. Already committed to having a home birth that comment further sealed the deal. I was catching my own baby this time. Not only do I dislike someone telling me that I can’t do something, I didn’t believe a woman would let her baby just fall to the floor (many mammals are born that
way though). Surely even if a woman didn’t squat with intent to catch her baby the child would be born slipping onto bed or floor without assistance or harm. My research lead me to discover that women have given birth effortlessly while in comas, unassisted and unmedicated. We’ve all heard the stories of scared teens giving birth suddenly, alone in a bathroom. The body just gives birth when it’s time. Not to mention National Geographic taught me from a young age more than just that women in tribes go topless; they also sometimes give birth to babies unassisted and catch them.
I was also somehow sure a woman could give birth in total control; in control of her thoughts, feelings, and use of good judgment. I was no longer buying into the stereotypical out of control agony portrayed in movies. I didn’t know, but I deeply believed a woman giving birth, if allowed, could totally be in control and instinctively know how to give birth.
I figured that squatting would give me the best angle to catch my baby. Being in a squat, on bent knees, or even on all fours is clearly the most natural and easiest way to birth a baby. Squatting has roots in ancient history as far as birth goes back. It is only within the last 100 to 150 years, since physicians took control of birth, that women have been required to have babies laying their backs in the lithotomy position. Lying on the back (or semi lying) has obvious benefits from the doctor’s perspective as it provides a good view and way to manually remove a baby, as well as use a scalpel to cut a wider opening to the vagina. The use of gigantic tongs (forceps), vacuum suction extraction on the baby’s head, and even manually pulling on the baby’s head have all been routinely practiced by physicians.
Elizabeth Noble, author of Childbirth with Insight, states, “Women who squat for birth can generally deliver their babies without any manual assistance at all. Gravity and the free space around the perineum allow the baby’s rotation maneuvers to be accomplished spontaneously.”
There are vast differences in giving birth in a squatting position rather than lying down. Well over half of all the births in this country currently involve some type of surgical or operative procedure such as; cesarean section, episiotomy, vacuum extraction, or the use of forceps. These interventions and their accompanying risks could be avoided if women would just adopt a squatting position for birth. Aside from working with rather than against the body and gravity the birth canal depth is shortened during a squat, and the pelvic diameter is increased. In fact just the simple act of squatting can open a women’s pelvic outlet by up to 28 percent. All of these benefits can shorten the second stage of labor and the need for interventions. Squatting also reduces the risk of tearing. Dr. Michel Odent writes in Birth Reborn that, “This position assures maximum pelvic pressure, optimal muscle relaxation, extensive perineal stretching, and minimal muscular effort. It also provides the best safeguard against serious perineal tears.”
Routinely birthing moms are put on their backs or reclined in beds which center the mother’s weight on her tail bone, narrowing the pelvic outlet and compressing major blood vessels which reduce proper circulatory function. This in turn reduces oxygen to the baby and to the uterus making contractions less productive and more painful. Less oxygen to the baby signals distress in the infant, which if in a hospital could cause a whole round of interventions. Combine an oxygen deprived baby with a mother trying to push uphill with a baby that cannot move into a good birthing position because of restricted pelvic room, and ultimately you have mothers who are very good candidates for a birth that must be forcefully assisted by forceps, vacuum extraction or the ever so common routine C-section. The Centers for Disease control states on their website that cesarean sections are now at 32.8% in North America (2011).
Delivery of the after birth in an upright position also has clear advantages. When the placenta isn’t compressed there is less chance of blood pooling up and creating large clots, and gravity aids in placental expulsion.
When the day finally came for me to catch my baby I talked myself through the contractions. I told myself I could do this. I said over and over I can do this, because as a pregnant mammal it’s what I was put here to do. When I felt it was time I squatted over a mirror and saw the crown. I told myself to enjoy this moment, not everyone gets to catch their own baby, and I didn’t want to miss one second of this experience. I swirled the thick wet black hair that was presenting around in a circle with my fingertips. Any and all pain was gone, it was amazing. I focused on this new life that was unfolding from my body. I waited for contractions and I let my body do the work without forceful pushing or feeling agony. When the baby slid into freedom and the room was engulfed with newborn smells and newborn cries I cried out, “It’s a boy, it’s a baby boy!”
The impact of that birth was powerful and amazing; so much so that I have caught five more children from my body since then. There is a saying about the “thrill of the catch,” and midwives and doctors know this. It’s intoxicating and it’s very powerful to catch a baby.
So much harm has been done to cloud the process of childbirth. Birth isn’t just about babies, it’s about mothers too. It’s about how they work together. Catching your own baby puts you focused on your birth, and without trying you take the control and suddenly you feel and know what you need to do. Focusing on the important task of birth made an impact on me a very positive way as a mother. True freedom over my body gave me independence, confidence, and self-control.
Not every woman may want to catch her own baby, but every woman should be encouraged to do so, or at the very, very least know they can if they do wish to. Most women I have spoken with actually say they have never even thought of it.
The state of birth in this country lies squarely in the hands of birthing women. Until we start demanding more respect and more variation in our birthing options we have no one to blame but ourselves. We must first credit ourselves with being able to birth safely the way nature intended before anyone else will give us that credit. The seeking out of safe and natural birth options will slowly continue to influence and change how birth is perceived.
There are specialized hospital beds that can be converted in a way that women are more upright. If you will be giving birth in a hospital request them, demand them. Hill-Rom makes such a bed; the Affinity Three Birthing Bed aids a woman to side lie, squat, kneel, sit, and lean in various positions. It has a labor bar and position controls that are quite impressive. The bed can be lowered or raised up, down, back, and forth
There are birth balls, birth bars, and birthing stools that can aid in more natural upright positions in whatever birth setting you choose. There are showers and tubs to soothe a mother.
I share my experiences with catching my own babies, and have even shared very private birth photos and even one video with others in the past; because I have been told by so many women it has empowered them. I also hear from lots of women who say how strong both me and my legs must be to squat down like that. I assure that it’s not my legs that are strong; it’s my heart and my passion, and the willingness to open up and catch what is mine.
Shauna Marie is happily married to the man of her dreams. They live in the Midwest where they juggle eight energetic children while homeschooling and developing upon a one acre hobby farm of veggies, fruits, chickens, geese, and the dream of a dairy goat. She blogs about her life at Life with Eight Kids. Shauna is very passionate about family with an emphasis on childbirth and healthy, happy moms and babies.
Postscript: Shauna’s most recent birth story, excerpted below, is an excellent description of a squatting birth!
I was standing there in the still of the labor lull a rush of hormones hit me and the baby’s head slipped fully into the birth canal. I squatted down instinctively. I was then super indecisive: I flip-flopped between on my hands and knees to squatting, then squatting with one leg up and one leg down, then a leg up on the side of the tub, then standing upright, then a squat-stand and finally then back to the other positions all over again. This baby was going to start to seriously crown in a big way and I had no idea where I wanted to be! Having done this so many times I had way too many choices in my head and I knew what they all felt like. Later Ricky told me he got nervous that I was moving around so much in the tub; he was worried I’d slip and fall. I however felt firmly planted like a rock. I told him later I felt like I had sticky gecko pads on my limbs and slipping never crossed my mind.
Our baby was starting to crown as I finally squatted down low with one leg higher than the other (I was out of time to change things up. I’ll just squat and do it the same ‘boring’ highly effective way I always do it I thought lol.) I used some counter pressure on her velvety head to help ease her head out but it wasn’t really needed and a painless contraction inched her head fully out.
Related Talk Birth resources:
(Elizabeth Noble, Childbirth with Insight, 78). See also Golay, J., et al., “The squatting position for the second stage of labor: effects on labor and maternal ad fetal well-being,” Birth 20(2) (June 1993):73-78.
Postpartum outcomes in supine delivery by physicians vs nonsupine delivery by midwives.Terry RR, Westcott J, O’Shea L, Kelly F. J Am Osteopath Assoc. 2006 Apr;106(4):199-202. Conclusion: Nonsupline positions during labor and delivery were found to have clinical advantages without risk to mother or infant. Enhanced maternal outcomes included improved perineal integrity, less vulvar edema, and less blood loss.
Dr. Martha Collins D.C., Pregnancy and Chiropractic Planetciropractic.com
Russell JGB. Moulding of the pelvic outlet. J Obstet Gynaec Brit Cwlth 1969;76:817-20
Squatting can enlarge the pelvic outlet up to 28 percent (Russell, J.G., “The rationale of primitive delivery positions,” Br J Obstet Gynaecol 89 (September 1982):712-715
Paciornik M; Commentary: arguments against episiotomy and in favor of squatting for birth. Birth 1990; 17(2): 104-5.
The total U.S. cesarean delivery rate reached a high of 32.9% of all births in 2009, rising 60% from the most recent low of 20.7 in 1996 Martin JA, Hamilton BE, Ventura SJ, et al. Births: Final data for 2009. National vital statistics reports; vol 60 no 1. Hyattsville, MD: National Center for Health Statistics. 2011.
Marion Sousa writes: “[Squatting shortens and widens the pelvic outlet.” (Childbirth at Home. New York: Bantam, 1976 in Judith Goldsmith, Childbirth Wisdom from the World’s Oldest Societies, 153)
Several studies have reported that in the majority of women delivering in the lithotomy position, there was a 91% decrease in fetal transcutaneous oxygen saturation (Humphrey et al. 1973, 1974)
Robertson, Empowering Women: Teaching Active Birth in the 90s, (105)
Dr. M. Odent Birth Reborn, (101)
Hill-Rom Affinity Three Birthing Bed educational video and website. Online user manual http://www.hill-rom.com/PDFs/manuals/UserManuals/u025_iet.pdf