Pregnant with her first child, Julie Speier prepared to deliver with the help of a midwife at a New York City birthing center. But in June -- three weeks before the due date and 600 miles from home -- her water broke.
Speier gave birth at a Cincinnati hospital, where she and her fiancé tried desperately to keep the birth natural -- a vaginal delivery without pain medication.
"I believe in the power of nature and that creation is next to perfect," said Speier, a 34-year-old yoga teacher. "I knew what I wanted and I had the confidence."
But as labor pains increased and Speier asked about breathing techniques, the doctor replied, "How do I know? I've only ever done two [natural childbirths]."
Today, natural childbirth is a medical anomaly in the United States, so much so that doctors are often thrown off guard by a determined woman like Speier.
A small but growing number of women who seek to avoid aggressive medical techniques like induced labor, epidural blocks and Caesarean sections find they are a lone voice among their friends and doctors.