Alternative Reality

Continuing the series of blog posts on Dr. Rixa Freeze‘s doctoral dissertation on unassisted childbirth…

On page 167 of the pdf (p. 153 of the document), she notes that with the advent of the internet, it has become easy — or even possible — for people in otherwise isolated locations to come together around a common purpose. In this case, the cause or practice of unassisted birth; but it could be anything — birth-related or not — it could be “people with pink poodles” or afficionados of Pride and Prejudice, or a specific food, musician, artist, etc., as far as that goes:

With unassisted birth, there is a paradoxical withdrawal from conventional social interactions that surround pregnancy and birth and an immersion in alternative virtual communities in which unassisted birth is seen as a normal, reasonable choice. Women often withhold their birth plans from family and friends, fearing disapproval and negativity. Some also worry about governmental interference because of their alternative choices, so they too choose not to reveal their plans. In order to make up for the social isolation that UC often brings, they selectively enter into intentional communities that support unassisted birth.

I recently expressed this same type of feeling on one of my email lists. Out of hospital births, intentional or not, make up about 1% or so of all births in the nation. Intentional home births are even less. We who support the idea of home birth are a small group — obviously! But it doesn’t feel that way when I’m online and reading and writing to the women who are on these lists who share my opinion and thoughts on the matter.

There is a story I heard of years ago, of a preacher back in the olden days who had a member of his church who had stopped coming to church. The preacher stopped by to see the man one cold winter day, and sat by the fire to warm himself. The man braced himself for a lecture, and was getting ready with all the excuses he could think of; but the preacher didn’t say anything. He merely took one of the coals out of the fire and set it apart from all of the other coals. Of course, within a short period of time, the coal died out. The preacher picked up that piece of coal and put it back in the fire, where it instantly caught fire again and burned brightly. Then he got up and left. The man was back in church the next Sunday, having caught the message of the silent lecture: when you are isolated from the group, you can only burn so long before you burn out and get cold; but by going back to the group, you rejuvenate yourself and help others to stay warm, as well.

That’s the same kind of thing that happens with online communities, for good or bad, regardless of the subject matter. It happens just as much on pro-C-section groups getting the women to all conform to the group norm and willingly choose a C-section, as it does on UC groups who promote giving birth unassisted.

If I had only my “in real life” friends, I’d probably burn out on birth pretty quickly, because most of them don’t really care too much about it, are certainly not as passionate about it as I am, and some of them think I’m a little weird for having home births instead of having epidurals, etc. Some people support home birth as a choice — have even given birth at home themselves — but it’s not their “thing” — their “thing” is… fill in the blank — home schooling, quilting, literature, economizing, music, art, etc. Birth is a side issue for them, just like art is a side issue for me. Sure, I like to look at pretty pictures, but I’m not enthralled by it the way some people are. I am, however, enthralled by birth. Fellow “birth junkies” get that; other people don’t — although they may be equally “into” some other issue or cause that I’d become bored with after a day. Diff’rent strokes for diff’rent folks.

If it was just me and no internet… I can’t even imagine it! In some ways, it might be better, because not having an online community (this blog, other blogs I read, my email lists) would force me to move beyond my comfort zone in my real community and reach out and find some connections somewhere. But if I couldn’t, I’d probably burn out. That’s one thing that conventions do, I’m sure — bring together far-flung Trekkies (or birth junkies, or whatever other die-hard fans you can think of) into one big fire, and stoke the individual coals into a huge flame — far bigger than the sum of the individual parts could be.

I’ll admit it: sometimes I get so immersed in my pro-natural or pro-home-birth online culture, that when I step out into the real world and have discussions about birth, I’m taken aback by some of the things I hear. These things are, almost certainly, the norm — or at least are valid choices by most people’s thinking; but they seem weird to me: “you’re choosing a C-section when the doctor is willing to attend a VBAC??”; “you’re getting induced for no medical reason?”; “you’ve already planned on having an epidural, and you’re not even pregnant yet?” — that sort of thing. But in my little corner of the ‘net, these things are weird. And I think they ought to be! I like living in my alternative reality, and have no plans to change that any time soon.


5 Responses

  1. Oh, I so hear you on that last paragraph. My heart sinks when I am confronted with it. Where to start? I often don’t unless I feel an interest. Gah.

  2. I loved this post. That is what is so great about life. We get to create our realities. Even though I am not a homebirther (my husband is a doctor and was super supportive about using a midwife, but not supportive about home birth…yet:-) I am grateful for my passion about birth. I am excited for number two and plan to do it very differently.

  3. I’m really lucky in that I have a semi-large group of IRL friends who feel the exact way I do about birth (and related issues). We have a “mindful mothers” group that gets together monthly to talk, we have a friends of midwives chapter, I am the LLL Leader and have a fairly thriving group, and we have a homeschool playgroup (with about half who are on the birth bandwagon and half who aren’t). We all subscribe to Mothering magazine too 🙂 Real-life connections are incredibly valuable and I wonder if there ARE people out there in your community who feel the same way you do (I know people have made their way into my network before and said, “thank goodness! I had no idea there was anyone else out there who felt like me!”)

    How big is your town? Mine is 16,000, which quite small to some people and large to others! (I actually live 20 miles away from it).


    • My whole county is probably smaller than your town… or about the same size. I haven’t found any “moms groups” locally, except the homeschool group of moms that meets once a month for “Mom’s Night Out”, and I haven’t gone to it yet. I know several women there, because they’re from my church, but most of them, if not all of them, have older kids and/or aren’t going to be having any more, so it’s not exactly conducive to a “birth” group.

  4. Oops. Forgot to say that sometimes because I am surrounded by like-minded people in real life, sometimes it is like being in an “echo chamber” (i.e. own beliefs bounced reassuringly back at me) and when I get outside of it it is a SHOCK to realize how differently the rest of the world lives/believes.


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