Inspired to achieve a natural, vaginal birth after her first child was born by an unexpected cesarean section (she did!), Tina Cassidy set out to educate society about the history of birth, and how it’s influenced by different cultures and time periods — through her book, “Birth: The Surprising History of how we are Born.” During our interview with her, she shared where exactly her inspiration for birth advocacy comes from — along with some excellent words of wisdom and encouragement for expectant mothers.
What inspired “Birth: The Surprising History of how we are Born?” What do you hope readers take from the book?
I was inspired by the birth of my 6-year-old, George. I had an unexpected c-section after a perfectly healthy pregnancy, and afterward, my husband asked what would have happened in this situation 500 yrs ago. The answer they gave was horrific — and sparked my interest in how birth has evolved over time. It’s fascinating hearing the women in my family speak about their births throughout different time periods and cultures.
I hope readers question birth more. I hope they understand that just because this is how we do it now doesn’t mean that this is how it’s always been done, that other countries do it this way, or that it’s the best way. Its just they way we do it. Other countries actually have better birth outcomes and spend less money achieving them. Many countries have lower infant and maternal mortality, and higher maternal happiness after birth than the U.S.
What went into the decision to deliver your second child VBAC?
It’s funny because when I ended my book, I wasn’t even sure I was going to have another baby. I wasn’t planning on it, but lo and behold, I found myself pregnant. Over the years, it has become harder for women to have VBAC in hospitals — some flat-out refuse, and others watch and monitor very, very carefully.
This was no way for me to labor and have my baby. It’s scary. It’s stressful. Since my chances of having a VBAC in a hospital were slim — not because it wasn’t safe — but because they were going to be over-precautionary, I decided to give birth at home. I wanted to enjoy having this baby, and I knew from all of the research that a VBAC was a safe option for a low-risk woman like myself. I made the choice to deliver VBAC at home for me and my family, but didn’t take the decision lightly. It turned out to be the most amazing experience I’ve ever had, and I’m so glad I did it. I’m by no means a radical person, and understand and respect that for some, it’s a wild idea. My first birth was (I believe) unnecessarily intervened by c-section, and I didn’t want it to happen again. My second birth was amazing.
How can women progress labor and manage pain naturally?
I am a real believer in the concept that we’re mammals, and believe we behave like animals in birth. It’s not an accident that when we enter a hospital to give birth, and are surrounded by strangers, we don’t feel safe or protected — we feel scared. The best thing to do is surround yourself with people you know and trust — whether that be a doula, midwife, friends or parents. Your partner is great support, but you need more — because they’re scared, too! Also, make sure you’re in the right frame of mind. Labor can be painful, but if you’re focused on getting it done, its less painful. I had a water birth, and it helped me manage the pain a lot. Being weightless helped me be in an otherwise uncomfortable position for a long time.
Birth interventions and cesarean sections are on the rise. Why do you think this is?
Hospitals have forgotten that birth is a natural, physiological process, and just because we have technology, we use it.
In the midst of these interventions, how can women achieve the happy, healthy births they desire?
Expectant mothers have to stand up for themselves long before the birth day arrives. Be sure to make the right choices about your caregivers, support network, and the right place to give birth — whether it’s a birth center, a hospital or at home — you have to arm yourself with enough information about the best place for your birth, and the best people to be there for support.
Tina Cassidy was a reporter and editor at the Boston Globe for more than a decade, covering everything from business to politics to fashion — the very things, she would learn, that have influenced birth for centuries. She went on maternity leave in 2004, which morphed into a book leave, which became permanent in late 2005. “Birth: The Surprising History of How We Are Born” is her first book. For more from Tina, visit her blog.