The reason I like it so much is because it's an excellent and very gentle buffer between the womb and the bright, cold world.
Think...they are all scrunched up, totally held and warm and comfy....then they are sqquuuueeeezed out in to a bright place that is TOTALLY OPEN...no constricting womb, their arms and legs floating,there body feels heavy in a way that they never felt before and instantly, the fluid on their bodies starts to evaporate and they are cold.
With water birth...they are scrunched up, held tight and warm and comfy by their womb home....and then they are squeeezed out into a warm, wet place...they are floating, suspended, their arms and legs are freer to move in ways they haven't been able to but still, enveloped in arm water they do not flail, it does not feel so open and scary. Soft hands lift them, for the moment between the birth canal and the wide open world, there is only muffled sound, lights are brighter than they are used to be still veiled by water....and then, their head is above water, laying on a soft place that smells somehow familiar. They are kept warm there on mamas chest until she is ready to get out...and warm towels are immediately placed all around them, they dry in these towels until they are no longer wet on their skin and can be swaddled/dressed.whatever.
My DD was born in water. My son in the kitchen on a birth stool. I know my DDs birth was gentler. Just seeing her face, the way it looked up almost curiously as her dadas hands lifted her to mine and my hands lifted her out of the water. That moment in time will live in my memory, clear and sharp, so long as I live. Her little face, coming closer and closer....it was just so damned gentle. So peaceful.
So yeah. I'm like you. I'm MOSTLY going for a water birth this time for tearing reasons. With DD I tore because she shot out like a rocket and I also have come to think because I had been in the water for *literally* a half minute when she started being pushed out of me by my maniac body. With DS I tore like CRAZY even thought I tried really hard to "slow the freight train" and stretch a little better. I think I am just small skinned or not very stretchy or something...but this time I'm going to try going into the water for longer to see if it helps me skin to be stretchier.
But aside from tearing, just having BTDT with both a land and water birth, I really believe that water can provide a very nice buffer between the womb and the world...as you can imagine how different those two places can be and I think birth is kind of intense for babies anyway...so any bit of gentleness we can give them is nice.
I have never and would never think twice about water inhalation...I just wouldn't. The chances are so small that it would never outweigh my other reasons for wanting to do it and it's just not a visualization I would let enter my mind. Babies inhaling water happens much less frequently than many other things that can go wrong in birth, you know? There are SO many risks and scenarios to be concerned about...that kind of risk falls into the "I'm not even going to let that enter my mind" category FOR ME.
As far as "is it really natural" - I have read things here and there about women in warmer climates giving birth in special parts of sacred rivers....I know I read something once about ancient Egyptian noble-people giving birth in water...and I know I've seen something about certain tribes of people who gave birth in the ocean (sea water seems a little intense...maybe it was fresh water inlets to an ocean or something??). I'll have to go look for more info on that because now I'm being reminded that I was interested in learning more about it.
Good questions. Either way, you can have gentle birth, you know? Water is just so nice, so peaceful. Funny thing is, my DD was born in water and is SOOOO cautious about water now and my son, born in the kitchen, is a water NUT! So, haha, just a little fun fact there I guess.