Several people have expressed reluctance to join a Facebook group entitled Fed up with natural childbirth on the grounds that they have no objection to choosing unmedicated birth, or more generally, no objection to women making whatever choices they prefer. But natural childbirth is not simply a specific set of choices; it’s a philosophy that idealizes a specific set of choices and makes value judgments about women who choose differently. Moreover, it is a philosophy that rests on specific empirical claims; claims that are disingenuous, untrue, or occasionally outright lies.
Below is a list of the most popular NCB falsehoods and lies, the ones that are promulgated by natural childbirth celebrities and organizations, and faithfully transmitted even by purportedly neutral childbirth educators:
#1. Childbirth is inherently safe.
This is an outright lie. Childbirth is inherently dangerous. Childbirth is and has always been, in every time, place and culture, a leading cause of death of young women. For babies, the day of birth is the single most dangerous day of the entire 18 years of childhood.
This lie is a bedrock assumption of natural childbirth philosophy. On this false belief that childbirth in nature is inherently safe rests the claim anything that modifies childbirth must be dangerous or not as good as childbirth in nature.
#2. Fear causes the pain of childbirth.
This stems from a spectacularly racist lie. Grantly Dick-Read, the father of the NCB movement, was a eugenicist whose primary goal was to prevent “race suicide” by encouraging white women of the better classes to have more children. He claimed that primitive (i.e. Black) did not have pain in labor, in keeping with the pervasive racist beliefs of the age that Black women were hypersexualized, and gave birth without pain because they did not fear their natural role. Grantly Dick-Read based his entire philosophy on this lie, hence the title of his book, Childbirth Without Fear.
Contemporary natural childbirth advocates no longer make the absurd racist claims, but they are stuck on the notion that the pain of childbirth is inherently controllable by the mind, and that the mind can therefore be trained to minimize and manage the pain.
#3. Labor is not inherently painful.
This bizarre claim rests on a false assumption that labor pain is qualitatively different than other forms of pain. It’s not. It is exactly like any other form of pain, is initially received by the same types of neurons, passes exactly the same way up the spinal cord to the brain, and is perceived by the brain in exactly the same way as any other form of pain.
#4. Epidurals are dangerous and unnecessary
NCB advocates insist that epidurals are unnecessary because the pain of labor should be managed in other ways, or better yet, should be endured. The claim is both philosophical and empirical. The philosophical claim rests on the naturalistic fallacy and belief in essentialism. The naturalistic fallacy is the claim that because something is a certain way in nature, it ought to be that way all the time. Essentialism is the belief that women share an essential nature and are “empowered” by expressing that nature.
NCB also insist that epidurals are “dangerous” to both baby and mother. That’s nothing more than a lie, created by grossly inflating the purported risks of epidurals.
#5. Interventions are “bad.”
Obviously, if you operate under the mistaken belief that childbirth is inherently safe, it is impossible to recognize the benefits of interventions. However, if you recognize reality, that childbirth is inherently dangerous, interventions represent nothing more than preventive medicine. Knowing that complications are common and often preventable, it follows quite logically that pregnant women should be monitored for a variety of complications so they can be prevented, or treated early when there is the greatest chance of successful treatment.
Since NCB advocates insist that interventions are generally worthless, they are forced into the bizarre position of arguing that medical professionals deliberately offer worthless practices and technology because they are benefiting financially.
#6. Inductions are dangerous and unnecessary.
This lie was adopted by NCB advocates only recently. It flows inevitably from two other mistaken beliefs, the belief that childbirth is inherently safe and the belief that since there are no inductions in nature, there must be no need for inductions.
NCB advocates bemoan the rising induction rate while conveniently ignoring the fact that the stillbirth rate has dropped as a result.
#7 Cesareans are almost always unnecessary.
Again, this is nothing more than an empirical lie. It is well known that in countries where the C-section rate is under 5%, mortality rates are appalling. Indeed, in countries that have C-section rates less than 10%, mortality rates are still extraordinarily high. At a minimum, then 1 in 10 women derive major benefit from a C-section. That is hardly a procedure that is unnecessary.
#9. Vaginal birth is inherently superior
This is a philosophical claim that rests on the naturalistic fallacy. Since everything that is natural is “better” and vaginal birth is natural, it must be “better.” Most women consider that a birth that results in a live baby and live mother is inherently superior, and for a significant proportion of women, that birth is a C-section.
#10. Women who love their babies choose NCB
This is the most hateful claim, but a claim that flows inevitably from all the other lies. When you erroneously believe that natural is inherently safe and that everything else is inherently dangerous, interventions wrongly take on the specter of unnecessary risks. When you wrongly believe that epidurals are dangerous, opting to treat your own pain implies that you value your feelings over the risks to your baby.
Natural childbirth advocates will be the first to tell you that NCB is not merely a vaginal birth without pain medication. It is a belief system that necessitates choosing vaginal birth without pain medication and without interventions of any kind. As we have seen, it is based on a variety of philosophical and empirical claims that range from false to outright lies. Natural childbirth explicitly idealizes certain childbirth choices and derides others. More importantly, it asserts that women who make those idealized choices are better women and better mothers than everyone else. And that’s why I’m fed up with natural childbirth.