I refer to my approach to childbirth education as “woman-centered.” Why? I believe woman-centered birth supports normal birth. The two are inextricably linked. According to the Association of Labor Assistants and Childbirth Educators, “woman-centered childbirth recognizes the primary role of the mother, and allows labor to progress according to the mother’s natural rhythms.” As an ALACE trained educator, I stress the importance of respecting the mother’s instincts and choices about how to give birth, including positions for labor and birth, comfort measures, and choice of caregivers and support. My goal is to help women reclaim trust in their bodies inherent abilities to give birth in a safe and unhindered manner.
This does not mean there is not a role for the father in birth or that I do not value the role of fathers. A father most definitely goes through a “birth” of his own–into fatherhood–and the psychological growth he experiences is significant. He also experiences fears and changes as he prepares to meet his baby and is of significant importance during labor and birth in his irreplaceable role of loving and supporting the mother of his baby. My beliefs about birth are underscored by the feeling that the mother is of central importance in the process of birth and that respecting birth as a woman-centered and woman-directed passage is the healthiest, safest, and best way for babies (and therefore, families!) to be born.
I realized I have used the term “normal birth” several times without explaining what I mean. First, I wish to be clear that there is no value judgment in the phrase normal birth–it simply refers to the physiologically normal process of birth. It is birth as it is biologically programmed to happen and allowed to unfold without interference in a physiologically normal way. This is “normal birth”–birth that is unhindered, undisturbed, and not interfered with. Approximately 90-95% of births would be normal births if left undisturbed. The other 5-10% benefit from the presence of (or access to) a skilled birth attendant.
Birth is physiological and biological in nature, but is influenced and shaped by personal, social, cultural, and historical factors.
Normal birth is sadly a rarity in our present birth culture in the U.S. What we have come as a society to view as “normal” parts of birth are often actually things that impair or interfere with the normal process and the natural unfolding of this exquisite biological event.
A definition I like is one from midwife and author, Penfield Chester:
“The holistic model holds that birth is a normal, woman-centered process in which mind and body are one and that, in the vast majority of cases, nature is sufficient to create a healthy pregnancy and birth.”
My certifying organization, ALACE, uses the word holistic to mean a childbirth educator who incorporates psychological aspects and mind-body integration into their classes.