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Women Speak Out About What’s Gone Wrong with the United States Birthing System

Written by Tabby Biddle

For many of us who haven’t yet been through childbirth, there’s an image we have of what it’s like: A woman is rushed to the hospital in a taxi; she gets put in a wheelchair and is rolled down the hallway in dire emergency; then we see her screaming, and yelling in pain and then … there’s the baby.

Sadly, this is the image that a lot of television shows have put into our minds, and have led many of us to believe: Birth is scary. Birth is dangerous. And it might be better if we just numb out through the whole experience.

Because so many women don’t have an image of what a natural, empowered birth looks like, there is a lot of fear surrounding the act giving birth. Accordingly, the majority of women give their inner authority over to doctors in their birth process. They trust the doctors more than themselves. The problem with this is that many women aren’t aware that the majority of her doctor’s medical decisions are being made today for monetary and legal reasons, and not necessarily for the good of her and her baby.

Here is the reality: Hospitals are businesses. They want those beds filled and emptied. They aren’t really interested in having women with long labors hanging around. And there is something else you should know: Having a baby in a hospital might not be as safe as you thought.

Did you know that the United States has the second worst newborn death rate in the developed world … and one of the highest maternal mortality rates among all industrialized countries?

You can go to any other developed country in the world, and you will find that they are losing fewer women and fewer babies around the time of birth. The important thing to know here is that in these countries, midwives are attending 70 to 80 percent of the births (doctors are there for the small percentage that have complications). In the United States, midwives attend less than 8 percent of births.

Why is this number so low?

“I’ve interviewed a lot of nurse midwives and I’ve noticed that as soon as their practice reaches over 30 percent of the women in a certain hospital, the doctor will start firing them because that’s too much competition,” said medical anthropologist Robbie Davis-Floyd, PhD, in an interview for the documentary The Business of Being Born (which by the way, I highly recommend).

Hmmmm … interesting.

The common way to have birth now is be Cesarean section. Today in the U.S, the Cesarean section rate is at an all-time high. Since 1996 the C-section rate has risen 50 percent, according to the National Center for Health Statistics.

Today 1 out of every 3 babies comes into this world by C-section.

This seems like a crazy statistic. What is really going on here?

Marsden Wagner, M.D., former director of Women’s and Children’s Health at the World Health Organization, gave his opinion in an interview for The Business of Being Born: “A Cesarean is extremely doctor-friendly, because instead of having a woman in labor for an average of 12 hours, 7 days a week. It’s 20 minutes, and I’ll be home for dinner.”

Many women come to the hospital with a plan for a natural birth, but all too often their birth plan changes very quickly based on a doctor’s decision (that is not necessarily based on any real complication). For example, one friend of mine had written a birth plan with her doctor. She would be having a natural, vaginal birth at St. John’s Hospital in Santa Monica, California. On the day of my friend’s birth, her doctor did not show up. So my friend was then under the charge of another doctor. This doctor decided that instead of the natural birth my friend had wanted, she should have a C-section. His reason: she was taking too long in labor.

But the doctor forbade my friend from squatting and getting on all fours (apparently against hospital policy), even though it felt so good for her and it opened up her pelvis. (FYI: When he left the room, she went ahead and squatted anyway.) My friend knew she could give birth naturally. She felt deep inside that she had the strength and power to do this. She trusted herself. But the doctor kept insisting on a C-section.

After fighting off some medical interventions that the doctor was insisting on (one of these was the “fetal probe”), and a lot of eye rolling and shaming from the hospital staff in the process, her baby was born.  While my friend was happy as can be about her new baby girl, she explained to me: “The birth was something that should have been beautiful, but degenerated into something that wasn’t.”

As Nadine Goodman, Public Health Specialist, has put it: “What the medical profession has done over the past 40, 50 years is convince the vast majority of women that they don’t know how to birth.”

I have heard too many stories from friends and family members where the hospital told them that they were open to the natural birth they wanted, but then the reality was so different. First came the Pitocin to speed up the labor, then the epidural to dull the pain from the strong contractions caused by the Pitocin, and then the C-section “for the safety of the baby.”

As Dr. Eden Fromberg, OB/GYN, has admitted in an interview: “There was a doctor who used to train me who said, ‘They can never fault you if you just section them. Just section them.” In other words, the current thinking in the medical world is: avoid being sued at all costs.

“There’s the prevailing sense among doctors that you don’t get sued for the C-section you do, only the ones you don’t,” said Nan Strauss, a maternal health researcher for Amnesty International, quoted in The New York Times. Amnesty International published a report earlier this year declaring the country in the midst of a crisis in maternal health care.

The reality is that once the hospital starts with an intervention, it becomes a domino effect. They say: Thank God we were able to do all of these interventions to save your baby. But, as Eugene Declerqc, PhD, Professor of Maternal and Fetal Health at Boston University School of Public Health has said … the fact of the matter is if they didn’t start the cascading of interventions, none of the rest would have been necessary.

[By the way, putting a woman flat on her back for giving birth literally makes her pelvis smaller and makes it much more difficult for her to use her stomach muscles to push. The result: It is much more likely that she will need an episiotomy and a vacuum or forceps will be used to deliver the baby.]

Negotiating their way through the hospital environment is a power struggle that many women aren’t interested in, so they are choosing to have their babies at home.

“For most women who are having a normal, healthy pregnancy, it can be safer to have a home birth,” said Cecily Miller, prenatal and perinatal specialist living in Los Angeles, in an interview with me.

When I asked Ms. Miller to tell me more about the benefits of a home birth for expectant moms, here is what she told me:

“Giving birth is a rite of passage. It is an initiation into motherhood. If we want an empowered initiation where women are honored in the female body, and we are ushering in new life to the society, then women need to feel safe in their birth process … Giving birth is the most intimate experience we can imagine. And how we make love is how we want to give birth.”

Cecily explained to me that the qualities of making love and the qualities of the environment – dim lights, private space, intimate space – is the same conducive environment for birth. It should be a place where a woman feels she can be herself, which, as Cecily explained, is usually at home.

Sure makes sense to me.

When a woman is at home she can groan and make natural sounds (these sounds actually open up her pelvis); she can eat when we she needs to; rest when she needs to; have privacy when she needs to; kiss her partner, be held; walk around, look out at nature, and basically do what feels best for her. “The comforts of home afford a woman her ground, her roots … and then the body will naturally in most cases, open, and will give birth,” explained Cecily.

A friend of mine who had both of her babies at home described just that: “The best thing about giving birth at home was that I never had to leave my home. I could be rooted there. My husband brought me smoothies. I could hop in the tub when I wanted to. I could get on all fours … Then after the birth, I was exhausted and all I wanted to do was curl up with my baby in bed … and that is exactly what I did.”

When I asked her about her confidence level for her home birth, she explained to me that through her birth classes and her yoga practice she felt prepared. “Deep breathing, steady focus, determination, and a desire to do it myself helped me bring my babies into the world,” she said. My friend explained that when the time came, she allowed her body to take over and do the rest. “I really do believe we are all strong women. I think the whole hospital realm has brainwashed women to think: ‘Oh you can’t handle this, so we will give you drugs.’ It’s pretty sad.” Agreed. She added: “While giving birth was the most challenging thing I’ve done in my life, having my children at home was so comforting, inspiring and empowering.”

While a home birth might not be for every woman, it’s my hope that more women will consider it as an alternative to the institutionalized and currently over-medicalized environment of the hospital. As Cara Muhlhahn, a Certified Nurse Midwife in practice for more than 10 years, has said: A home birth gives the power back to the woman.

To join an online community of women sharing information, advice and experiences about home births and natural childbirth choices, please visit

If you are interested in learning more about the current situation in hospitals and want to see how a home birth is so different, I highly recommend the documentary film, The Business of Being Born.

Tabby Biddle, M.S. Ed., is a writer/reporter dedicated to the empowerment of women and girls. Her work has been featured by The Huffington Post, The Los Angeles Times, USA Today, NPR, and other popular media. She lives in Santa Monica, CA with her husband.

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15 Responses to Women Speak Out About What’s Gone Wrong with the United States Birthing System

  1. Kenia October 21, 2010 at 3:03 pm #

    This is so incredible. I’ve only recently started hearing about home birthing being a perfectly good alternative for many women.

    I hope to start a family in the next 4-5 years, and so I’ve been especially interested in reading up on this. Even more so, because: the thought of pregnancy terrifies me, even though I want to have children. It’s just like you siad: All I see is screaming, and yelling, and extreme pain, and this horrifically GIANT needle going into my spine *cringe* (EEK!!). Oh My God. I keep thinking, “I don’t know how I’m gonna do it when the time comes!”

    What’s worse: everyone I’ve talked to in my family have confirmed that giving birth really is the most painful thing I will experience. – but they were all done in hospitals…

    To top it all off: not *one* person that I know personally, believes that home birthing is safe – *at all.* I mentioned it to my fiance, and he looked at me with this horrified expression and just said, “How about we talk about it more once we get there.” *sigh*
    So, for many women, like myself, there isn’t just a battle inside the hospital – there’s one outside of it – with all family and friends fighting your decision to even *consider* home birthing!

    My plan, for now, is to educate myself over the next few years. So far I’ve learned that here in California, there are official, state-certified midwives – which I was VERY happy to hear, because that means that the possibility is there, if I choose to take it after all.

    • Tabby Biddle October 22, 2010 at 9:18 am #

      Hi Kenia.

      Thank you so much for sharing so beautifully and honestly about your process of considering childbirth and birth options. You made such a good point: “So, for many women, like myself, there isn’t just a battle inside the hospital – there’s one outside of it – with all family and friends fighting your decision to even *consider* home birthing!” Absolutely.

      I like your plan to educate yourself over the next few years so you can make a choice that is right for you. Here is a link that helps people find midwives and doulas. You could start poking around there to see what’s out there:

      The Business of Being Born website has a cool section where you can send in your questions to a midwife. Here is a link for that:

      I am so happy to hear about your interest in learning more about options and then deciding in your own time about what is right for you.

      Yay Kenia!


  2. Lynn Zavaro October 21, 2010 at 7:40 pm #

    Hi Tabby,

    Check out my friend, Anna Verwaal’s beautiful black and white photography of natural births, which will be coming out in a book soon. She was interviewed in the movie “The Business of Being Born” and is in my opinion the world’s greatest doula. She has long been an advocate for the issues presented so well here in your article and I am grateful to have had her as a guide.

    • Tabby Biddle October 22, 2010 at 9:27 am #

      OMG! I love Anna’s expertise and her beautiful, intimate photography. Wow!! Thanks so much Lynn for letting me and the readers of The Goddess Diaries know about Anna. Anna’s photography really conveys the depth of love and sacredness in the process of home birth. What a rock star with her combined skills as a maternal child-health nurse, birth expert, doula, and birth photographer!

      For those reading this, here is the link to Anna’s site:

      Thank you Lynn!!!


  3. Lynn Zavaro October 21, 2010 at 7:42 pm #

    Oops! link didn’t work…here is the main page and then click the link “photography” and make sure to view the thumbnails:

    • Tabby Biddle October 22, 2010 at 9:28 am #

      Got it! (Just commented to you above.)

      Thank you Lynn.


  4. Joanne Spence October 21, 2010 at 9:06 pm #

    Great article. I have three kids, one at an independent birth center, one at a hospital (midwife staffed)birthing center and one at home, also attended by midwives. I feel very blessed to have had these women by my side and my husband “catching” our babies. We are strong and I think this is part of our destiny. Too bad it was a rare privilege but I am a huge advocate of midwifery and of course, preparation with yoga.

    Thanks again for a great article.


    Joanne Spence
    Yoga on the Square
    Yoga in Schools
    Absolute Beginner Yoga

    • Tabby Biddle October 22, 2010 at 9:33 am #

      Hi Joanne

      What a treat to hear from you!

      I loved hearing about your 3 different birth experiences. Wow! I think it is so important for women to hear from other women who have had a range of birth experiences – and particularly a home birth.

      As Kenia said above: “not *one* person that I know personally, believes that home birthing is safe – *at all* … So, for many women, like myself, there isn’t just a battle inside the hospital – there’s one outside of it – with all family and friends fighting your decision to even *consider* home birthing!”

      Thank you for sharing about your experience because I know that will encourage others to feel safe and strong in their experience.

      As I always say: When one woman speaks her truth, it raises the vibration for other women.


  5. Mary Ann Halpin October 22, 2010 at 10:10 am #


    If you don’t know Evita Ramparte, you should. She has a campaign for conscious motherhood.

    Here is her link:

    Mary Ann

  6. Jesse October 22, 2010 at 10:28 am #

    Hey Tabby: It seems so shocking to me that natural childbirth is still something that folks are uninformed about. Good work with bringing this information up.

    For centuries, women have been giving birth without medical care (sounds so scary to a modern person) without problems. As you point out, the risks and problems with medical procedures are the most dangerous aspect of modern childbirth.

    In the early 70’s, there was a major natural childbirth movement. Information was available to prepare women and couples to have safe, and healthy natural birth (at home).

    I delivered our first child at home (healthy, safe result), based upon this training & information. It still amazes me how modern and otherwise educated, informed people miss the reality and information about the advantages of natural childbirth.

  7. Tabby Biddle
    Tabby Biddle October 22, 2010 at 3:52 pm #

    Hi Jesse.

    Thanks so much for sharing your experience as a dad having your first child at home through natural childbirth. Awesome!

    I absolutely agree about it being shocking that natural childbirth is something so many people don’t know about … And moreso that not enough people question the procedures going on in hospitals today.

    Thanks so much for sharing your positive experience with home birth. I think the more expectant parents of today hear about the perfectly healthy experiences, the better for all!

    Thanks Jesse!

  8. ingrid October 23, 2010 at 5:58 am #

    Hi Tabby,

    This issue is soooooo important. Medicine has to change, and bringing awareness in so important. Thanks for doing the research and spreading the word!!!!


    • Tabby Biddle October 25, 2010 at 12:29 pm #

      Hi Ingrid.

      Yes, agreed! I am happy to hear from you.


  9. Laura Roeder April 23, 2012 at 9:01 am #

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  10. Alonso Rodarte May 1, 2012 at 3:55 pm #

    Is the Rss website link functional? I can’t find a way to join for your primary feed for some reason, however the comment forms feed works perfectly?

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