Why would a pregnant woman and her partner choose unassisted birth?
Why not have an experienced midwife there “just in case”?
For that matter, why not give birth in the hospital, surrounded by state-of-the-art technology and highly trained medical personnel?
Every woman has a different reason.
Some mamas don’t mind birth being a spectator sport. But others—like most other mammals—feel safer and more secure when there are not others watching, talking, commenting, monitoring, and interrupting them.
Women who have unassisted births report being better able to allow their bodies to open up to give safe passage for the tiny human who has been growing there for nine months when they are in a familiar space, surrounded by love.
Harmed by Hospital Birth
Things were not easy for Brogan Metcalf, 28, and her husband Chad, 26, after their first daughter, Dalila, was born at the hospital. In the midst of adjusting to being a mom, Brogan had a miscarriage in September 2015 when Dalila was 18 months old. Then she an ectopic pregnancy in January 2016 and the doctors had to tie one of her fallopian tubes.
Throughout this health ordeal, while striving to raise her daughter as naturally as possible, Brogan started to realize more and more that her hospital birth had been far from ideal. So when Brogan got pregnant again in April 2016, she knew she wanted to do things differently. She thought she would have a home birth and, mostly because of social expectations and other people’s fears, she played with the idea of having a midwife there to assist. But then a friend added her to a Facebook group for women who have had or are considering unassisted births and Brogan changed her mind. The more she researched unassisted birth, the more it appealed to her.
She realized wanted to have her baby unassisted, with just her daughter and her husband present. Having midwives present did not fit into the vision she had for the birth.
When we talk on the phone, Brogan tells me the decision to have an unassisted birth was mostly based on intuition. She saw herself birthing at her home in Wallops Island, Virginia with just her husband and her daughter present this time.
She wanted her new baby to come into the world gently and peacefully.
She did not want the sterile, bullying, interventionist experience she was subjected to during her labor at the hospital with their first baby.
“Although my daughter’s birth was only ten hours and I didn’t have an epidural, there was so much that I disliked about that experience,” Brogan explains. “I hated the hospital setting and being told how to birth—as if they somehow knew more about my body than I did. My water was broken for me. The nurses and the doctor told me if and when to push. I was planning a natural childbirth in the hospital but once I was there I no longer had control of my body.”
Brogan and Dalila watched home birth videos together and Dalila, who was only two, was totally intrigued. Dalila loved the moment when the mama pushed the baby out.
It took a little longer to convince her husband Chad that an unassisted birth was a good idea. “At first he thought I was crazy,” Brogan laughs, “but then he came around.”
Chad did his own research, reading stories of unassisted births and talking to Brogan about it a lot. A few times he asked Brogan, “Are you sure this is what you want? Why just us?” In the end, though it was her decision, her husband was totally supportive.
The midwife who provided prenatal care was also supportive. “She was cool with it,” Brogan says. “She was amazing.”
Birth Without Fear
Here’s how Brogan describes the unassisted birth of her son Lincoln:
I woke up around 4:00 a.m. on Tuesday, January 10, 2017, and went to the bathroom. I felt as though my mucus plug fell out, but I wasn’t certain. I had known as soon as I was in labor with my daughter. This time I wasn’t as sure.
I couldn’t fall back asleep.
About an hour later the contractions started.
I still wasn’t sure if I was really in labor and I didn’t want Chad to miss work if he didn’t have to so I waited.
The contractions were very mild at first. I got myself a snack and some water and sat on the couch for a bit.
I remember texting some of my close family to let them know I thought I was in labor.
As the contractions got stronger, I would stand with my hands on my knees, rocking back and forth letting the rushes roll through my body.
I remember being very calm and aware of my breath.
I was having steady contractions now so Chad called his work to let them know he wouldn’t be coming in.
Around 7:00 a.m. we started preparing the house. Chad cleaned and disinfected the bathroom and we put a shower curtain on the bed to protect the mattress and blankets over it in case I decided to give birth there.
Our two-year-old daughter had been up since my contractions started and was watching TV.
I remember going up to her and hugging her with tears in my eyes (I am crying now as I write this), telling her how much I loved her. I felt waves of emotion and I was suddenly saddened by the idea that with the birth of this baby I would be letting go of the relationship we had, when it was just her with me. We were so close, cuddling together, taking naps together, making meals together, doing everything just the two of us. All those memories of just her and me … somehow I felt bad that I was bringing another life into our precious space.
Around 7:30 a.m. the contractions were getting more intense. I got into the bathtub. In the water the contractions came about every ten minutes. Before they had been coming more often—about every 2-3 minutes. I thought that perhaps the water was slowing down labor so I got out of the tub. Ouch. I immediately got back in to the tub because the water was just more comfortable.
Dalila was in and out of the bathtub with me. I will never forget it. She played and we laughed and hugged and kissed. It was a beautiful moment for us. While I was in the tub I had meditation music playing on my phone. Eventually the contractions got so intense I needed my husband in there with me. He had been so wonderful, kind of hanging back, supporting me but giving me space so as not to interfere. He had been bringing me water or almonds and he let me know he was on standby for anything I needed. If he was nervous, he didn’t show it.
Things really picked up around 9:00 a.m. Chad was sitting on the toilet as I rested my head on his lap and wrapped my arms around his leg, squeezing tighter through each contraction. In between contractions Chad would pour boiled water into the tub so it would stay warm.
I was starting to feel as though our little man would be coming soon.
Chad asked if I thought I was dilated enough, and I told him to trust me because I knew this feeling.
At one point, he was about to leave the bathroom and I yelled “No! Stay here!”
I knew my labor wouldn’t last much longer.
I tried to breathe through every contraction. I was so exhausted that in between contractions I almost fell asleep. For most of my labor I had been humming through even the most intense contractions but in the final stretch I could barely keep calm.
About 9:30 a.m. I felt that urge to push. I tried to breathe through it.
Dalila was in the bathroom with us.
In between yelling during contractions I remember telling her that I was okay and that I loved her.
She was so calm, just taking it all in. She wasn’t worried at all. I remember screaming while pushing and the baby’s head came out.
Chad tried to get me to change positions to make it easier but I was too exhausted to move. I didn’t have it in me. So I stayed in the tub holding onto the side in a semi squatting position, leaning back. I yelled at Chad to “PULL THE BABY OUT!” because I didn’t think I could do it! Two pushes later Lincoln Grey glided into the water, meeting us earthside, no pulling required.
Dalila watched him come out into the water and crooned, “Oh, baby!”
The cord was wrapped around Lincoln’s neck. Chad calmly swooped it off, over the baby’s head, and handed my baby to me.
Chad and I looked at each other with tears in our eyes. I said, “We did it.”
Lincoln was absolutely perfect; he barely made any noise.
He was so calm and quiet that I was worried at first. But he latched on to my breast immediately and was alert as could be.
We stayed in the tub, skin-to-skin, for about an hour. Then I felt I was ready to get out and get in bed. About ten minutes after I got into bed, I delivered the placenta. We kept the baby attached to the placenta for well over an hour.
My body felt so good after Lincoln’s birth, almost like I didn’t just give birth.
I couldn’t believe it.
I was walking and moving and much more at ease then after Dalila was born.
Even though I manifested my dream birth, I was surprised how calmly and perfectly it all happened.
It was almost effortless.
I was also amazed about how emotional it was for us.
Birth is beautiful and perfect. Especially when you give birth without unnecessary interference.
It is the most powerful thing I’ve ever done—birthing on my own.
Have you had a free birth? Would you have a free birth? Share your birth story with us in the comment section below! And please contact Jennifer Margulis if you would like to share your home birth, outdoor birth, or unassisted birth story on this blog.
Brogan Metcalf is a stay-at-home mom of two. Her passion is to educate people using self-love to better their health and their minds in order to create a better future for their children and themselves. She has a degree in liberal arts from Sussex County Community College in New Jersey. She is a certified personal trainer as well as a reiki teacher/master.
Jennifer Margulis, Ph.D., has had one hospital birth, one midwife-assisted birth, one lay midwife-assisted birth, and one unassisted birth. The story of her unassisted birth is featured in Laura Kaplan Shanley’s book, Unassisted Childbirth, which includes a foreward by Michel Odent, M.D. An award-winning journalist, Jennifer Margulis is the author of Your Baby, Your Way (Scribner) and the editor of Toddler: Real-Life Stories of Those Fickle, Urgent, Irrational, Tiny People We Love (Seal Press). Follow her on Facebook (here and here), Twitter, and Pinterest. Watch her in the upcoming documentary mini-series, “The Truth About Vaccines.”