In 2017 the Royal College of Midwives announced that they would stop using the term ‘normal birth’ which triggered much discussion over the benefits and harms of birth interventions, as well as questions over ‘what is normal birth anyway’.
The dictionary definition of the word ‘normal’ includes, “usual, typical or expected”. This means that whatever is most common is often what is considered to be normal. Almost every birthing woman or person is given a drug as part of the birth of her placenta. Does this make it normal? In some countries, most women and people give birth by caesarean. Is this normal? By the dictionary definition, yes.
There has never been a universally accepted definition of the term ‘normal birth’. Some people use it to mean vaginal birth, but many women and people who had their birth assisted by forceps, or other interventions that still led to a vaginal birth, strongly feel that this wasn’t normal. If we mean ‘biologically normal’ then using Syntocinon, either to start or increase contractions, or for the birth of the placenta, happens in almost every birth and isn’t biologically normal.
The opposite of ‘normal birth’ is ‘abnormal birth’. Quite understandably, many women and people object to their birth being effectively labelled as ‘abnormal’. On a different side of the same coin, many women and people who experienced a traumatic birth which was labelled as ‘normal’ because they birthed vaginally do not feel that the term represents their experience, and they feel that it undermines or downplays the seriousness of what happened to them.
So if we don’t have a definition of what normal birth means, we can’t make an evaluation of whether it’s a positive or negative outcome to aim for. What is undisputed is that any statement that says that any aim should be “at any cost” is absolutely bizarre and objectively horrific.
What has happened is that this terrifying and terrible phrase has been repeated time and again as an attempt to undermine efforts to reduce harm caused by unnecessary interventions. It can sometimes be used to portray those wanting to reduce iatrogenic (medically caused) harm as wanting to achieve normal birth at any cost. This is untrue.