Trying to Take Back Childbirth

'Go Ahead and Medicalize It'

"Most women say go ahead and medicalize it," she told "Low-intervention birth is on the decline because people are no longer interested. They say, 'I want an epidural and a C-section is fine for me.'"

Streicher opted for "zero pain" in her own pregnancy and planned to get an epidural even before her first contraction. But when her water broke weeks early, her anesthesiologist was on a ski holiday and her obstetrician was having a hysterectomy.

"I didn't panic," she said. "I had three or four very painful contractions, but after that it was a very lovely, easy labor and I pushed her [daughter] out."

She also agrees with women who say "there's no shame in doing a C-section."

But Dr. Louis Weinstein, chair of the obstetrics and gynecology department at Thomas Jefferson University, points out that although the mortality rate is "very low," a Caesarean is 6 to 20 times more dangerous than a vaginal delivery.

Though he will agree to an elective Caesaean, he makes sure the woman is informed and understands all the risks.

Weinstein also warned of the misuse of induction hormones, which he says studies show are the second most common source of medical errors.

Still, he said the use of epidurals, which carries its own risks, is safe when properly administered. "With all due respect, labor is uncomfortable and the reason someone coined it is you are working your rear end off," he told "Labor is very, very uncomfortable."

"I believe in choice, but this is a women's issue," Weinstein said. "We get more nasty letters that we didn't have time to put in the epidural."

But midwives say women are not encouraged by their doctors to explore alternatives such as birthing centers, where low-risk women can give deliver naturally, balancing technology with a home-like environment.

There, no pain medication in administered, but women receive the support of a trained midwife and an assistant, who work with doctors to ensure safety. A warm and intimate environment -- and sometimes hot tubs and whirlpools -- provide a soothing atmosphere to experience the birth naturally.

"Most women don't know about their choices," said Asya Portnaya, 29, and a certified midwife from the Brooklyn Birthing Center in New York. "They are only aware of a hospital birth and just go as the doctor tells them to."

Midwives Show Lower Caesarean Rate

According to the Public Citizen Health Research Group, certified nurse-midwives have a Cesarean section rate of 11.6 percent compared with a national average of 23.3 percent.

"In a hospital, you get lost in the system, even as a midwife," she said. "If you take a child birth class in the hospital, they don't talk about natural birth as much. They talk about the epidural and the whole system supports an unnatural birth. You can't fight that."

Meanwhile, Julie Speier fought hard to see that the Cincinnati hospital team respected her wishes for a natural childbirth.

When the doctor seemed unable to guide the process, Speier's fiancé called a midwife friend and relayed her instructions to the doctor.

"At one point, the baby's head came out and the doctor pulled, but I said, 'Don't pull the baby, wait!'," she said. "Every doctor and nurse we spoke to knew it was important for me to have a natural childbirth. It was hard for them, but they stood back."

Despite the initial drama, Aine Joy, now 7 weeks old, was born healthy. Now ensconced in the joys of parenthood, Speier said she feels more empowered after going through the birth naturally.

"I have more faith in my body than in medical systems," she said. "This is what a woman's body is meant to do."

Cloe Shasha contributed to research in this report.

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