Labeling Birth: Unassisted, Home, Physiological, Traditional?

As we here at Indie Birth and kindred spirits around the world venture back towards our traditional midwifery/birth attendance roots, we find ourselves in a linguistic pickle. The word midwife has been hijacked by the state of AZ (and pretty much everywhere else in the US), so there are now legal ramifications of using the term, even if what you do is infinitely closer to the original meaning of the word. Saying “homebirth” makes most people think of mainstream midwifery. So what do we call births that are attended by traditional birth attendants? What language can we use to make bring this renaissance of traditional birthing to the masses when we are legally bound from using the words that most people recognize and understand?

To start off with, we believe in physiological birth, or birth that is ”characteristic of or appropriate to an organism's healthy or normal functioning”. **Thanks Merriam Webster. This means we believe in a woman’s ability to birth completely alone; that birth inherently works without interference or management and needs no one else there to happen.

But we also believe and know that many women WANT someone there who has specific knowledge and skills when it comes to birth. Both Maryn and I have written at length what we think the role of a traditional birth attendant should be, so I won’t rehash that here. Our ideals are very different than what mainstream midwifery in the US is today, we something much more woman centered and traditional.

We often get asked if we attend unassisted births. Or we hear through the grapevine that people in our area mistakenly think that we only help unassisted birthers. I think this stems from the lack of imagination in our culture about birth in general, as if there are discreet categories, and what we do isn’t in one of them, so we just get assigned the closest label that people are familiar with. What makes it even trickier is that we absolutely DO support unassisted/free birth in many different ways. And since we support unhindered and physiological birth, the job of traditional birth attendant often consists of astute but subtle observation, emotional support, practical help with positioning, putting down blue pads or towels, cleaning up, and making sure the mom is fed, hydrated and rested (again see our other posts on the topic of midwifery roles). Very seldom do we have to “do” much of anything or use the skills that we absolutely DO have. But does that mean that a physiological birth attended by a traditional birth attendant is unassisted? No way! To call a birth attended by a skilled birth attendant “unassisted” would be silly and sort of offensive honestly. Unassisted means without assistance. We talk to and consult with women having all types of births, and if we attend births, they are (hopefully) physiological, at home births, but (according to us) they are most certainly not unassisted! Is this making sense?

We wanted to clear up this issue of labels and what to call what we do because it leads to a lot of confusion for others, and sometimes, for us. We attend births as traditional birth attendants – maybe these births should be called “traditional births”? We’d love to hear what you think!