According to Gaskin, women can experience a sort of “birth ecstasy” if done under the right conditions. Though Gaskin has no formal nursing education, she has been delivering healthy babies for decades, authored several books on the topic, and teaches a class on midwifery at her commune in Tennessee.
Her premise? That a women’s state of mind influences how easy her birth is. She uses an obstetrical technique she learned from the indigenous Mayans of Guatemala (which has also been published in medical textbooks), and practices alternative strategies such as encouraging women to make out with their husbands during labor.
Gaskin is so adamant about sharing natural childbirth with today’s generation of women, largely because of the concerning rise in Caesarean section births and drugs used to induce labor.
Gaskin believes the rising maternal death rate in the United States (which has more than doubled since 1998) is a direct result of these medical practices, and believes natural childbirth is the safer option. Ina Gaskin is well-known among midwives and natural birth specialists as the developer of the “Gaskin Maneuver.” This is an obstetrical maneuver (the first ever to be named after a midwife) that involves a woman moving onto her hands and knees during a difficult labor. Gaskin introduced the technique in 1976, after learning it from a Belizean midwife, who had learned it from Mayan midwives.
It was published in the Journal of Reproductive Medicine in 1998 -- where it was praised for being a “rapid, safe and effective technique.”
Unfortunately, in the United States childbirth has been turned into a highly medical procedure, when often traditional methods still work best.
Gaskin is also often credited as helping to trigger the rebirth of midwifery in the United States. While only 4 percent of women gave birth with a midwife in 1990, 8 percent of women chose a midwife in 2003, according to the National Center for Health Statistics.
Yet, at the same time, the U.S. caesarean section rate is very high at 31 percent (even The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists admits this is worrisome). In some cases, of course, a cesarean section can save lives. But in many others, it is far from the best childbirth option.
While I don’t have the numbers on this, I suspect that a large part of this growing rate has to do not with medical necessity but with convenience and doctors’ fears of liability (of not performing a caesarean, especially if someone requests it). Yet, it’s well known that planned caesarean sections (which have been becoming increasingly trendy among celebrities) are not the safest option.
One study last year in the British Medical Journal even found that a woman’s risk of death during delivery is three to five times higher during caesarean than a natural delivery, her risk of hysterectomy four times higher, and her risk of being admitted to intensive care is two times higher.
Ultimately, of course, the choice is yours, but know this: There is not a single report in the scientific literature that shows obstetricians (specially trained surgeons) to be safer than midwives for low risk or normal pregnancy and birth.
So if you are among the more than 75 percent of all women with a normal pregnancy, the safest birth attendant for you is in fact not a doctor but a midwife or doula.
There are many excellent resources out there for anyone who is planning a natural childbirth, and here are some to get you started.
- Birthing from Within: An Extraordinary Guide to Childbirth Preparation by Pam England and Rob Horowitz
- HypnoBirthing: A Celebration of Life by Marie Mongan
- The Womanly Art of Breast Feeding by the La Leche League International
- Ina May's Guide to Childbirth and Spiritual Midwifery by Ina May Gaskin
- Safer Medicine by Dr. Mayer Eisenstein
- Immaculate Deception II: Myth, Magic, and Birth by Susan Arms
- Natural Childbirth the Bradley Way by Susan McCutcheon
- Optimal Foetal Positioning by Jean Sutton
- Prenatal Parenting by Fred Wirth
- The Home Birth Advantage by Dr. Mayer Eisenstein
- Homefirst Health Services
- Check the yellow pages or do a google search for home birth providers in your area
- Doulas of North America
- Childbirth and Postpartum Professional Association
- Association of Labor Attendants and Childbirth Educators
- Midwifery Today
- BirthLink (Chicago area)