You want to give birth to your child naturally. You want childbirth to be a positive experience. You have read about, talked about and surely thought about the labor and birth that lie ahead. Maybe you have taken childbirth classes to prepare yourself. Maybe your only preparation is a desire to do the best you can for yourself and your baby. You are in labor, you check into the hospital. Now it’s all in their hands. Wait a minute.

Now what? Does the responsibility of the parents end at the hospital door? Because you have signed forms releasing yourself of decision-making power are you without choice? Do you have no voice in routine procedures that are of questionable value to you, your baby and your family?

The experience of childbirth in the American hospital has more and more become one of obstetrical intervention. The use of powerful drugs in labor and delivery is routine in most hospitals, including those in the Chapel Hill area. Even natural childbirth mothers are routinely given drugs to speed up and intensify contractions, drugs to contract the uterus after the expulsion of the placenta, a task that immediate breastfeeding usually accomplishes. The use of fetal monitors has become standard. This requires rupture of the amniotic sac and the insertion of an electrode into the fetal scalp. Often the laboring woman is told to lie on her back, a position difficult and potentially dangerous. Mothers and infants are routinely separated for six to twenty-four hours in spite of research indicating that such separation greatly interferes with maternal behavior and infant response. Breastfeeding is made difficult by a hospital regimen that imposes further separation on the nursing couple and the rest of their family. Many such hospital practices which have been seriously questioned by parents and by professionals alike seem to be on the increase.

The next question might be, “Suppose I don’t want certain procedures, must I comply?” Be informed, be prepared and by all means discuss your feelings, preferences and demands with your doctor. Investigate alternatives. Take responsibility from the beginning — it’s yours all along anyway. If your ideas meet with negativity, what then? You can give in and convince yourself it is for the best, stick fast to your choice alone against overwhelming pressure and odds or join with other parents and professionals (including a different doctor) to consider and plan alternatives.

Last November a small group interested and involved in these questions formed NAPSAC, the National Association of Parents and Professionals for Safe Alternatives in Childbirth. The goals of the organization are 1) to promote education about the principles of natural childbirth, 2) to act as a forum facilitating communication and cooperation among parents, medical professionals and childbirth educators, 3) to encourage and aid in the implementation of family-centered maternity care in hospitals and maternity homes, 4) to help establish safe home birth programs, 5) to provide education to help parents and parents-to-be assume more personal responsibility for pregnancy, childbirth, infant care and child-rearing.

Already NAPSAC has received national attention. Its board of advisors includes top names in the fields of natural childbirth and birth at home including Marion Thompson, President of La Leche International, Gregory White, M.D., author of Emergency Childbirth and Doris Haire, President of the American Foundation for Maternal and Child Health and author of Implementing Family-Centered Maternity Care. The May conference in Washington, D.C., “Safe Alternatives in Childbirth,” promises to draw national attention to the need for home birth programs and more natural and family-centered care within medical facilities. Speaking at the conference in addition to the three advisors mentioned above will be Lewis Mehl, M.D., researcher in home birth outcomes in the U.S., Nancy Mills, former president of the Northern California Midwives Association, and Betty Hosford, CNM, Coordinator for the Maternity Center Association of New York City. For further conference information contact Dr. David M. Stewart, Box 1307, Chapel Hill, NC 27514.

In its home area NAPSAC participates in public education on the issues of its involvement, offers childbirth classes and publishes a newsletter. You can join NAPSAC by sending $6.50 to Joy F. Dawson, Membership Coordinator, Rt. 2, Hillsborough, NC 27278.