Why Orthodox Women Are Choosing Natural Birth

The Forward—August 12, 2009


Looking for a doctor to deliver your baby when you’re 30 weeks pregnant isn’t exactly ideal. But when I moved back to Brooklyn earlier this month, after living in Europe for the past year, that’s exactly what I had to do.

In my perfect world I wanted to find a caring midwife who could deliver my baby in a non-hospital setting. After some extensive Google research, I found myself driving out one rainy morning to the Brooklyn Birthing Center, a small freestanding practice of midwives on an otherwise dim residential strip in the Midwood section of Brooklyn.

The practice had invited interested pregnant women and their partners to come tour their facility, which consists mainly of two bedrooms and a bathtub where women can labor and birth. I expected the assembled crowd to be other Park Slope women like myself who extol things like organic food and natural childbirth. But half of the women there that day were actually Orthodox Jews.

One man wore a yarmulke with the words “Long live the Rebbe King Moshiach Forever” written across the top. He and his wife and another Orthodox couple had traveled from Crown Heights. As it turns out, a good number of patients at this birthing center come from the Orthodox Jewish community. It was explained to me that many Orthodox Jewish women adamantly try to avoid C-sections.

According to Dr. Deena Zimmerman, a physician who also advises women on Jewish law, or halacha, the halachic issue associated with having a C-section is the possibility of taking a risk for an elective surgery. Many Orthodox women insist on consulting with their rabbis before undergoing elective procedures. “[I]f the surgery is really needed, it can of course be done, but religious women may be more inclined to check into the need before they agree to the surgery,” Zimmerman said.

But the desire for vaginal births can also be related to something more practical: large families.

“From a cultural point of view, religious women are, in general, more likely to want large families and are thus more likely to question the need for a C-section,” Zimmerman said, noting that once a woman has a C-section, it is more complicated to have a vaginal birth with the next child. And for safety reasons, some doctors will only perform a limited number of C-sections on a woman. So, if you want to have a large family, C-sections could get in the way.

I was told that was one of the reasons why Maimonides Medical Center, in the heavily Orthodox neighborhood of Boro Park in Brooklyn, had one of the lowest C-section rates of any hospital in the city.

I also read online that more women in the Orthodox community are turning to homebirth. Has anybody else heard about this?


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