Is preferring natural childbirth all about valuing contact? No, it’s more complicated. Some women want birth to be natural—vaginal, and fully experienced from beginning to end—because they value sheer naturalness. Granted, they don’t prioritize naturalness always—they let the dentist numb them before pulling teeth, for example—but they think childbirth in particular is worth preserving in its most raw state.

Again, valuing "the natural” to some degree is common—even nearly universal. For all of us, there’s something we’d reject for being excessively artificial. Most of us wouldn’t want our babies grown in artificial laboratory wombs, even if that were just as safe for baby and mother. Women want to experience pregnancy, and it’s hard to think of a reason besides the fact that for humans, pregnancy is simply part of the way nature works. We most likely wouldn’t want to carry babies inside of us if the normal form of pregnancy for our species were spawning outside our bodies, like fish do. Men don’t seem to be in any hurry to find a way to gestate babies, even if women value that experience. Why not? Maybe because it’s natural for women to carry babies, but not for men.

There’s a third thing that natural-birth choosers want. This came home to me after talking to a colleague of my husband’s. A high- level executive, she exuded strength and competence when she talked first about being a runner and then about delivering her two boys without drugs. The pride and confidence in her voice when she told the story hinted at what it meant to her. Natural childbirth was an accomplishment for her, perhaps like running a marathon. Most runners wouldn’t take drugs that blotted out all the experience of pain and struggle during a race, and likewise it was out of the question for her to opt for medicated delivery.

If you think of birth as something you will do, rather than merely undergo, and you want to do it well—if mastery of the whole thing is one of your goals—then natural childbirth may be what you choose, assuming there are no special circumstances like carrying multiples. And this is not terribly singular; there are times when mastery is important to us all. We want to make it through some part of life on our own steam. What’s distinctive about women who opt for natural birth isn’t the value they attach to mastery but the importance it has to them in this particular context.

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