All natural

. January 15, 2013.
pp2010-183

It’s the moment you’ve been dreaming of for nine months. You’ll soon hold your baby for the first time. You want to do so free of any drug-induced stupor, but then again, you worry. What if something goes wrong?

Ann Arbor mom Cynthia Gabriel has a solution — natural hospital birth.

Sharing experiences 

Gabriel isn’t only a medical anthropologist, she’s a doula — a mom’s companion during childbirth, someone she describes as the “grandmother you would have had 200 years ago.” She’s also the author of Natural Hospital Birth: The Best of Both Worlds (The Harvard Common Press, 2011). The book helps moms-to-be share their desire to experience the most intervention-free birth possible — preferably without induction drugs to increase the speed of the event or anesthesia. “The number one mistake I see is women trying to argue with hospital staff about what is right. If they argue on medical grounds they will always lose,” advises Gabriel. “Instead, you have to reach the medical staff on another level — ‘I really want to have a natural birth. Please give me the chance to try.’ Get the doctors and nurses on your team.”

In her book, she advises moms to develop a “birth plan” and offers practical suggestions to deal with the pain of giving birth. It’s advice she developed after
working in a maternity hospital and as a home birth midwife in Russia. 

“When I went there it was the last year of the cold war. I wondered, how could it
be so bad?” recalls Gabriel, 40, mother of three children, nine, seven and 15 months. “I went there and found out it wasn’t. Women at the maternity hospital were having natural childbirth.”

The good and bad

“I was there at a time when there were many foreigners from the West trying to tell them how to do things,” she remembers. “They just mocked the Westerners.
They said, ‘if you know so much, why is your c-section rate so high?’” 

Russians grow up with a very different sense of their place in nature, according to Gabriel. “They are used to using the natural world for healing, even if they’re college- educated physicists,” says Gabriel. “Russian culture says suffering is good for you. You will be forced to find the depths of your own strength. They think you will know more things about the world — the good and bad. The belief that suffering is helpful helps women value the pain of childbirth.”

Gabriel experienced one c-section and two natural births when she brought her own children into the world.“The difference is the incredible sense of accomplishment, feeling like you can do anything in the world,” she said. “It’s a glow and a feeling that it’s the peak moment
of my life. 

”Sometimes natural birth isn’t preferable, including situations where it may trigger post-traumatic stress syndrome. Women who don’t experience natural
childbirth shouldn’t feel guilty, says Gabriel. “My message to women is all birth is amazing no matter how it happens; I would like to honor all women’s birth experience.”