Dr. Robert Austin Bradley has been called the “father of true natural childbirth”, was the co-founder of the American Academy of Husband Coached Childbirth and author of Husband Coached Childbirth. Upon entering medical school in 1944, he was horrified by the observance of the delivery of human babies in hospitals where he was doing his residencies. This was the era of “knock them out, drag them out” medicated deliveries, where the mother was drugged to the point where she was sometimes incoherent and half conscious and her baby was forcefully taken from her body. Many of these deliveries were violent in nature, and occasionally even ended in maternal or fetal death as a result of the anesthetics and drugs given in an attempt to relieve the mother’s pain. This was a far cry from what Dr. Bradley had experienced growing up on a farm in Kansas. As a child, he would excitedly await the births of baby cows, horses, dogs, cats, and sheep, observing the act of a peaceful, loving, calm, seemingly pain free birth. These animals walked in labor, they moved, they nested, they breathed, and when it came time, they birthed in dark, quiet spaces with no intervention- immediately nursing their young after the birth. They followed an instinctual pattern of conduct during labor and birth that human mothers seemed to have lost touch with. What had happened to the act of human birth? Why had it turned into such a violent, un-joyful experience?
Dr. Bradley reasoned that if humans could learn skills instinctual to other perspiring mammals, such as swimming, why couldn’t they learn how to give birth using the same patterns of behavioral conduct that those animals exhibited? For example, let’s say that you didn’t know how to swim. If I told you that in nine months, you were going to be thrown into the deep end of a pool, do you think that in that nine month time period you would take the time to learn how to swim? Of course you would, otherwise you would drown! Dr. Bradley saw the act of childbirth the same way. Human mothers had nine months to learn how to imitate the behaviors of perspiring mammals in order to minimize pain during labor and birth and avoid the dangerous medical interventions that were becoming “the norm” in everyday hospital births. Dr. Bradley began to work with out-of-wedlock single mothers (who in that time were often “sent away” to facilities during their pregnancy and birth), applying his theory and coaching these mothers to learn how to give birth naturally. It worked so well, that in 1947 he selected a group of volunteer married nurses in his facility who were impressed with the births that they had witnessed. Critics of Dr. Bradley had said that his work was irrelevant with single mothers, as they “had no husband to put on a show of martyrdom for”, and therefore, his theory would not work if these women had husbands present.
Dr. Bradley saw his work with pregnant married women a different way. He thought that if the husband and wife were in a true, loving relationship, that there would not be martyrdom but instead the birth would be infused with love, affection, support, and joy. Now remember, these were the days where husbands were supposed to be in the waiting rooms handing out cigars! Dr. Bradley took them out of the waiting rooms and brought them into the delivery rooms, telling the fathers that “they had to finish what they started!” (This, of course, was not without major opposition from hospitals and administration. Dr. Bradley had to contend with tough, dramatic opposition to his
ideas for many years.) He began training husbands as they proved to be ideal coaches, capitalizing on the love relationship and bonding that was already present to help the laboring woman through a supportive, loving birth experience. The totally unmedicated mothers and husbands were delighted with the birth outcomes. They were experiencing incredibly encouraging, calm, peaceful, intervention-free births that were full of happiness and joy.
The Bradley Method ® continues to view birth as a natural process, teaching women how to give birth naturally and providing education so that couples can make informed decisions about the birth of their baby. With the changing definitions of what makes up a family, the term “husband” takes on it’s original definition- “manager or steward, cultivating and raising”. Therefore, the coaching partner that the pregnant woman chooses does not have to be her husband per se, but has to be someone who is infinitely invested in her and in the life of her child. It is a simple method of increasing self-awareness, teaching a woman how to respond to the stress of labor and birth through trusting her own body and the natural processes of breathing, relaxation, exercise, nutrition, and education.
Please visit www.bradleybirth.com/emilyevans for more information.
Bradley, R., et al. Husband Coached Childbirth (Fifth Edition). New York: Bantam, 2008.