Ask the Expert: What is ‘Free Birth’ and Why are Women Doing it?

The Free Birth Society is dedicated to exercising complete authority in their pregnancy and childbirth experiences.

I recently interviewed Emilee Saldaya, the mama-to-be behind Free Birth Society, an underground tribe of women dedicated to exercising complete authority in their pregnancy and childbirth experiences.

Here’s what Saldaya has to say:

Q 1. What is a free birth?

A. Free Birth is really just birth; birth as it’s been for forever until quite recently. But since we are currently living in a society in which childbirth has been co-opted by the patriarchy and birth has become monopolized by the medical model, we have to call natural birth “Free Birth.” It’s like having to call food organic because the default food available is actually not natural at all.

Free Birth means choosing not to opt into the medical model of obstetrics and to instead be your own authority, allowing labor to spontaneously unfold at home. It also means that the woman is choosing to not hire a medical professional to manage her pregnancy and birth, and instead takes full responsibility for her experience. She does her own prenatal care and assembles a team of her choosing to support her in her birth at home.

Related: Recent Research Confirms that Homebirth is Safe, Costs Less

Women, like all mammals, have always “free birthed” as medical assistance is relatively new. Sadly, while the medical model increases safety for a small percentage, it may harm the vast majority of healthy mothers and babies with its unnecessary disruptions, interventions, and lack of trust in the normal physiological process of mammalian birth.

Undisturbed birth is almost unheard of these days, with about half of American women being artificially induced for non-medical reasons and one-third of women ending their birth experience with surgery. Even during an un-medicated birth (without an epidural or narcotics) women are still routinely restricted to a bed, administered IV fluids that dilute their birthing hormones, given episiotomies, and are separated from their infant for some period of time after birth.

There is no such thing as a truly natural or unhindered birth in a hospital setting — simply being in a non-home environment and having to interact with, or be observed by individuals we are not in intimate relationship with, disrupts the hormonal blueprint for an optimal, physiological birth. It’s imperative that we remember this, and keep striving for better and more normal births.

Q 2. Have you heard any misconceptions about free birth? 

A.  The main misconception about Free Birth – which is sometimes called Unassisted Birth –  is the idea that women who make this choice are irresponsible and careless on account of opting out of the medical paradigm. In fact, Free Birth is about women taking full responsibility for our experiences, and re-wilding herself into a deep relationship of trust and autonomy, allowing the physiological and biological sequence of natural mammalian labor to unfold, undisturbed.

Q 3. What advice do you have for a woman preparing for her first free birth? 

A: Choose your team carefully and be very intentional about those with whom you share your choice to free birth. Establish healthy boundaries with anyone who is unsupportive. Prepare or don’t prepare as much as feels intuitive. Debrief and process previous births as much as possible and address any fears you or your partner may have about your upcoming birth and postpartum. Do not let anyone attend your birth who are afraid or unsupportive, even if it’s your partner.

One of the coolest parts of managing your own prenatal care is you get to decide what, if any, tests and technology you want to use. Does an ultrasound feel good or does it feel best to forego technology that is known to cause objective harm to developing cells? Does blood work feel intuitive? Do you want to track your weight and blood pressure, or maybe not? What diet works best to you? Do you like the idea of a midwife palpating your belly to feel baby’s position?

Related: Utah Home Birth Rate Double National Average

You get to be in charge and pick and choose what feels right to you and for your baby, it’s the essence of individualized care! This is the journey of taking accountability for yourself and owning your own decisions.

Q 4. What resources are there for women planning a free birth? 

A:

Websites:

The Free Birth Society: I offer private sessions via Skype to prepare parents for Free Birth. I also have the “Free Birth” podcast on iTunes and SoundCloud that shares personal narratives of women consciously birthing in power away from the medical model, all around the world. Please join our mailing list to stay informed of upcoming free birth preparation and birth worker support courses!

BauHauseWife.com: Yolande Clark has a Free Birth book coming out, so be sure to like her Facebook page as well.

Indie Birth: This website is a great resource and has a podcast called “Taking Back Birth” on iTunes that covers the wide range of topics for birthing outside the system.

The Matrona: Specifically read “The Holistic Stages of Birth” It’s incredible and easy to digest.

Books: 

  • Unassisted Childbirth by Laura Shanley
  • Gentle Birth Gentle Mother by Sarah J Buckley, MD
  • The Power of Women by Sister MorningStar
  • Birth by Tina Cassidy
  • Pushed by Jennifer Block

Facebook Groups: 

The Free Birth Society

Radical Independent Birth Workers

About Emilee Saldaya:

“Emilee has been a Birth Keeper for 13 years. She has run her own for profit doula business for over a decade, been a home birth midwife assistant, and leads private consulting in birth education. She founded and runs a non profit in Los Angeles that provides free birth doulas to low income women and teens, as well as free abortion and bereavement doulas to women experiencing pregnancy and fetal loss. Having attended hundreds of births in every environment imaginable, Emilee became quite intimate with the many ways in which the medical model of care is failing the vast majority of women and children.  Emilee began the Free Birth podcast early this year that shares personal narratives of women birthing in power away from the oppressive medical model that has monopolized childbirth in the past century. She began networking the thousands of underground women around the world through a private Facebook group who are also making these autonomous birthing choices. She currently has just moved to Maui, Hawaii from California with her wonderful husband where she is settling in to welcome her first baby.”


7 thoughts on “Ask the Expert: What is ‘Free Birth’ and Why are Women Doing it?”

  1. Glad to hear of all the great experiences people have had with this but if I had done this, me & my baby would both be dead. Our midwives were traumatized almost as much as we were by our last-second unforseen complication. Women having been using midwives throughout time. If you find the right midwife, you can still have autonomy.

    1. Agreed and same! My sons heartrate tanked, i hemorrhaged. I will never NOT be grateful there was a licensed medically trained midwife by my side to address those factors so my UNtrained, extremely stressed, panicked husband did not have to figure it out and probably live his days in grief and regret. Further I DO NOT believe this is an empowering movement. I left a comment with this and real data on Free Birth Society’s IG page and what did she do? She blocked me. A woman who believes in true empowerment not only holds space for EVERY woman’s story, she does not hide facts from her followers. She trusts them to see all the facts and be faced with all the realities and to be capable of making an informed decision. She does not filter what they see, hand them rose colored glasses and insist her way is the best way still. That is being a cult leader, not a feminist.

      Here are some FACTS: In the early 1900’s maternal death rates were nearly 1,000 per 100,000 births, when “free birth” was still commonplace.

      That dipped under 700 per 100,000 around the 1930’s when prenatal care began to become standard. 300 lives saved a year by basic screening that isn’t even as advanced as it is today!

      Between 1935 and 1940, between 85% to 90% of birth started happening in hospitals taking the death rate down to around 400:100,000.

      I the late 40’s, blood transfusions were available for birthing women, and the death rate continued to drop! Imagine that. Now it was less than 200:100,000.

      This information is available on the National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine. Other excellent places for this and data that supports it are on pubmed.

      Given my personal experience being censored about my home birth (to keep an audience where one wanted it), I suspect the people taking it on themselves to influence this following are not offering all this info or all the facts or all the risks. For every photo of a freebirth they post with all their poetry, prose and “empowered” snark, how many women who were influenced to choose that way and were harmed have been silenced, their stories conveniently pushed behind the scenes? Do they maaaaybe share a tiny fraction of THOSE stories, to filter the reality while appearing to be #keepimgitreal? How many preventable miscarriages, stillbirths, brain injuries, vaginal tears, and blood losses have been kept quiet to continue to romanticize going it alone? There weren’t any professionals there to document and chart, so I would guess the reporting and data available to represent those women and tell their story is dismal at best.

      I chose home birth and would do it again, but I do not believe I have to eschew the education and experience of a midwife or nurse to feel powerful or empowered. There is nothing weak about having appropriate support for you and your child. If this website really believes in the l&d bill of rights, there is no need to continue spreading the tripe that even having a midwife present would undermine your choices and autonomy.

      1. Wow. I’m so sorry you had such an experience!
        My wife is expecting now, and it’s our second child. We have been thinking about her giving birth at home this time as after reading stories similar to yours, we are getting more stressed day by day. (Our first child has her unique story of birth, and we are sure it will such a story will never occur to our next child just because… well… we weren’t expecting it could be like that, yeah. 🙂 )
        So, thank you for sharing!

  2. There are questions about Emilee’s honesty. One of her followers lost a baby after a long, difficult labor that included serious medical warning signs. Emilee denied in her forums that she’d been involved, but leaked screenshots from a conversation with a third party indicate otherwise.

    If you read her responses here, she’s often giving vague answers and avoiding being pinned down. Even if I didn’t know about the screenshots, I’d consider that a red flag by itself.

    I encourage caution before committing to Emilee’s philosophy.

  3. I am wondering why there is no mention in this article or by Emilee of the original midwife, herbalist and author who coined the terms “free birth” and “Birth keeper” so many years ago and whose words are copied by Emilee almost identically? Jeannine Parvati was an innovator and far ahead of her time but she should still be honored for her work in this field.

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