While using the word “natural” when referring to unmedicated, vaginal births has started to face backlash over the past few years, it is still used widely across the U.S. and abroad. Jules Theis, a Canadian content creator and mother of three living in Cannes, France, once used “natural” to describe the birth experiences she craved for her first two children. But after experiencing two traumatic, unmedicated (“natural”) births—including one in which she experienced sudden death—she has changed her terminology and mindset all together. Below, she tells her story.
It took two vaginal birth traumas and one planned cesarean section to learn that no matter how a baby is born, all are natural.
We hear the word “natural” so often referenced to unmedicated, vaginal deliveries. Like a badge of honor to wear if you managed to get through it without any interventions. The way it is advertised it seems like this is the only valid way to birth, and like you cheated if you chose any form of medication. I hate to admit that before I gave birth, I believed this too.
I was wrong.
When I was planning my first birth seven years ago this is all I wanted—a “natural” birth. I ensured this would happen with a meticulously planned home birth, a midwife there for support, hypnobirthing, and no medications allowed through the front door. However, after the most agonizing 28 hours of labor and no progress past 9 centimeters, we rushed to the hospital for help. As I pushed my baby out in the stark white hospital room, unexplained eclampsia took over my body. I took in one last deep breath for the final push and while my son’s shoulders were emerging a seizure took over my body. My vision flicked from black, to the panicked midwives, black, to my husband James screaming out, then all remained black. My blood pressure skyrocketed beyond what my body could handle and I flatlined on the birthing bed. I woke up alone in the ICU the next morning, soon learning I experienced a very rare sudden death during delivery. Despite having a vaginal birth with no medications, there was nothing natural about this.
I felt like I failed myself and my baby. I wouldn’t get to wear this badge of honor and so much shame came with that.
Soon after my first birth experience I became pregnant again. I wanted to erase the horror that unfolded during that experience and try for a “natural” birth again. This time it would have to be in a hospital due to my health, but I was strict on my no interventions policy. One week early, my labor started on my birthday. Breathing through each contraction at home, I stayed calm through the pain. Before we headed to the hospital, I thought, ‘This time without a doubt I will have my ‘natural’ birth.”
As we headed to the car, I realized this baby wouldn’t wait for the hospital, I would be having him at home. James called the paramedics and as I pushed our second son out on the landing of our stairwell, eight emergency service workers watched me. We were quickly rushed to the hospital in an ambulance, where I delivered my placenta in the middle of a traffic jam, causing extreme tearing. This baby may have been born at home, with no medication, but this birth too did not feel natural to me.
4 years passed and I became pregnant with my third baby. With so much more insight into the birth experience, I knew the goal of “natural” birth was unattainable and not what I wanted. With my mental health at the forefront of my decision, I chose an elective cesarean this time. A birth that is the most medicated and has the most interventions, yet for me after my previous traumas this was an easy decision to make. I found a doctor who is known for his natural take on cesarean sections and ensures the mother’s well being is taken care of. Curating the experience for each mother, I got to choose exactly what I wanted.
The date of my daughter’s birth arrived and I was wheeled into the surgery room where a team of smiling doctors and midwives greeted me. I played my calming playlist on the speaker, I had a support midwife by my head who massaged my temples and scalp with essential oils and James held my hand. I felt so supported. This felt natural. Just a few short minutes later, the curtain dropped and I watched as our baby was pulled up and out of me. We burst into tears as she screamed out. She was immediately placed on my chest, skin to skin for 45 minutes—something I never got to fully experience with either of my births before. This birth may have been my most medical, with the most interventions, and she came from my belly instead of vaginally, but I couldn’t deny this birth made me feel the most connection, the most love, and the most like a mother.
So I wonder, who labeled birth as natural and unnatural? Isn’t the fact that a baby is born and a mother is born with it, natural enough? It shouldn’t matter how the baby comes. By labeling these births it automatically labels a mother and whether her experience was valid or not. It took two vaginal birth traumas for me to see that having an unmedicated vaginal delivery does not mean that it was better and more pure. I know now all births are equal and these labels are harmful to mothers who just want to birth a healthy baby.
So, no matter how women deliver their babies, whether we solo birthed in a forest, had an epidural, or a cesarean, all birth is natural and all births are valid.
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