They say the third time is the charm, but for Simone Surgeoner, it was the fourth time she gave birth that changed everything. The Australian mother uploaded a video of her daughter, Perouze, being born outdoors in the Daintree Rainforest a year ago. To date, more than 23 million people have watched her little girl come into the world under the watchful eyes of the birds, the bees, and the trees.
For the first time since Lifetime announced a reality show about women giving birth outdoors that many say is inspired by Surgeoner's wildly popular birth video, the mother of four is speaking out about what it's like to have millions of people worldwide watch you give birth, trusting your own mom body, and why she's so passionate about what she calls the Earth Birth Method and "breaking the shell on conscious birth."
The Stir: What made you decide to film your birth?
Except for my eldest daughter, all my daughters’ births were filmed (by a family member). Knowing Perouze’s birth would be unique and special only added to my desire to film her birth.
Who filmed it?
Nick, my partner, filmed the birth, except for right at the end when I asked for his assistance - then he passed the video camera to Ron, our friend who was assisting the birth.
What made you decide to share it online?
Prior to giving birth, I did consider that I might share it publicly. By way of preparing my 2-year-old for the birth, we watched a lot of birth videos on YouTube together. I deeply appreciated so many women sharing their special births online.
Once I gave birth and we were all back home, I occasionally thought of putting it online. But I was so busy being a mum to four daughters, including a toddler and baby, that I didn’t give the thought much attention. Then, as Perouze’s first birthday approached, I felt a strong urge to edit her birth video and make it into something special for Nick. It was during that process that I decided to share it online.
How did your partner feel about sharing it? Did you two have a conversation before you uploaded it?
Nick was fine about me sharing it – I was the one who was incredibly nervous about putting myself out there in full exposure!
Nick also knows how passionate I am about birth, including why I wanted to give birth in nature in the first place, so he was very open and supportive of me sharing my experience and knowledge with the world.
How did it start getting traction on the web -- any idea how it went so mega viral?! It's everywhere!
I remember posting it on my Facebook page the day I uploaded it and feeling really vulnerable when I saw, on the first day, it was watched 500 times. Suddenly realizing so many of my friends had seen me naked in the most explicit way was a shock! I honestly thought just some of my female friends or those in my birthing network would watch it -- because who else watches birth videos? To say I was naïve is an understatement.
When the video reached 5,000 views I remember thinking, “Wow, that’s a lot of people!” The video reached 1 million rather quickly (and overtook all the other birthing videos on YouTube). Something was happening beyond me. I kept thinking it would slow down and reach a cap; instead it kept growing steadily.
One of the things I believe “helped,” which was completely unintentional, was the still picture used by YouTube. I only had a choice of three stills, taken from the video, when I uploaded it -- the other two didn’t look like they had anything to do with birth. It was very scary having a still picture of me naked and squatting, but I had no real choice. I think it generated a lot of male attention and people, who wouldn’t normally seek out or watch birth videos, were watching. I’m not very good at understanding how YouTube works, but I figured out that the more views it got, the more YouTube put it as a “suggested” video in the side bar.
The video reached 19 million views in 18 months. Then an article came out about a reality TV show of women giving birth in the wild. Apparently my video inspired the concept, so of course then it went really viral, gaining 3 million views in less than a week.
How does it feel knowing 23 million people have watched your little girl come into the world?
Awe inspiring. Honestly, I don’t think my mind can fully comprehend that number. It’s been a journey of growth and learning for me, especially having to deal with all the daily comments I receive on the video. I feel honored I am part of something which, I believe, is much bigger than me.
What do you think has drawn people to your birth story?
Novelty. Humans love something new and different. Although, as many people point out, births like mine are not unusual in the non-western world.
There are as many factors as there are people in regards to why people are drawn to my birth story. For most people, my video being unique and unexpectedly out of “normal” context, simply raised their curiosity.
So many people comment that they had never witnessed a birth before they saw mine. There is definitely something that makes them want to watch it, no matter how they react. I think we all relate to birth in a very primal way, as we have all experienced being born. Then there are those who are pregnant, have given birth or witnessed the birth of their own child. For them it is an opportunity to compare their experience, however they choose to interpret it.
Baby Perouze today
Did you have any concerns when you decided to give birth outdoors? What were they and what made you decide to do it?
Absolutely -- I had all the concerns any pregnant woman has. The first and foremost being worried the birth would not result in a healthy, live child. Fear of death or suffering is present no matter where we give birth.
There were many concerns about trusting in myself. I have always made decisions with a balance of research, education, common sense and listening to a deeper knowing inside me. Examining all my thoughts, motives, intentions, experience and knowledge, with more than my usual ruthless honesty, was part of the process. Knowing that if anything went wrong, I had to face judgment from other people, was not as hard as knowing I had to live with myself. In the end I came to a place where I was willing to take FULL responsibility for my decisions.
Deciding to give birth in nature was a culmination of years of experience, education and the knowing I have embodied. There’s no simple straightforward answer. To do justice as to why I made the decision to give birth in nature, I plan to write a book, which will hopefully give deeper insights.
Basically it was for my daughter, it was for me, it was for my other daughters, it was for nature and for ALL the reasons I believe we need to help humanity evolve to preserve our species and this earth. Not that I am saying birth has to be in nature, just that we need to re-think current birth practices.
Moms have been giving birth without medical intervention for centuries, but can you explain what the term Earth Birth Method actually means?
Earth Birth Method is an evolving method of pregnancy and birthing practices which consider the whole birth, especially the impact on the child, mother, family, humanity and the earth. The method embraces tried and true wisdom (such as that learned from indigenous cultures), modern knowledge, science and a deep understanding of the emergence of humanity at this point in our history.
As humanity converges we are beginning to truly appreciate sharing and learning from all points of knowledge. All knowledge, whether it is common sense, spiritual, folk methods, philosophical, technical, scientific or even abstruse, contributes to a greater whole.
We have it within our power now, as humans, to choose to direct the way we make collective decisions. Earth Birth Method is about everyone consciously choosing to come together to create a better birth system for every human born. What that ends up looking like -- I still don’t know (although I do have my own thoughts and insights to share also).
What do you mean by "breaking the shell on conscious birth?"
I think my 16-year-old daughter expressed it best when she described it as the “re-birth of birth.” A shell, whether it’s a shell of an egg or seed, signifies opening of new life. For me, it’s no longer just about birth, it’s about conscious birth. Being conscious means different things to different people and I don’t wish to define it. What I do want people to do is start thinking universally. It is important that we ask the deeper, more challenging questions on an individual level and not just hand all our responsibility over to “experts.”
Like many things in this world, I perceive there is much fear, control, beliefs, superstitions and a basic lack of education around birth. I also think all of these limitations extend to many areas of life, especially sex and money, not to mention how women are still treated. I want to go back to the source, because I believe how we birth has a deep impact on how we live and reflects our values as a society.
Clearly not everyone is going to give birth the way you have chosen -- what do you say to the critics? What about to moms who are just skeptical, if not judgmental?
Great! I welcome mums being skeptical and at the same time I hope they are open to wanting to know more. Being interested in others and their experiences helps me grow and also be more compassionate and loving. As a doula it is what I do -- supporting someone else have their birth and trusting their own innate knowing.
Of course, I’m human and judgments will bother me at times, particularly if I’m in a vulnerable space. Generally though, I believe someone’s comments are a reflection of who they are inside and not ultimately about me. People can disagree with my choice and still be open and supportive, or they can be critical, judgmental and harsh. I encourage we all learn from each other and support one another.
What do you hope moms can learn from watching your birth?
Trust their bodies, trust themselves, educate, educate, educate and to take responsibility for their births.
I also wanted people to see a “normal” birth in a different context. The birth itself was painful, long and hard and I needed a little assistance at the end. In many ways it was my most challenging birth. So I don’t think, from that perspective, it was that unusual. I would like to witness birth normalized beyond the current medical system.
Are there any misconceptions you'd really like to clear up about your birth story and the Earth Birth Method?
Many comments on my video constantly need clearing up and I am intending to do a FAQ’s page on my website. Most of them just reflect people’s ignorance around birth, which is understandable if they have never seen birth before, eg. “Why is the baby purple?” is a very common one (she was a perfectly normal colour for a fresh newborn).
I think the only misconception that I really want to clear up is that I’m an “attention seeking whore” (or some other version of that). I’m actually averse to it being about me!
Sharing the video publicly was never about me, however I do believe passionately in what I do. Passion and inspiration is taking precedence over my fears of exposure and vulnerability. People think it’s peculiar when I tell them that giving birth in nature was easier for me than being in the public eye. We all have our comfort levels and I have learned to gently expand mine, rather than trying to push through them.
We've heard the new reality show on Lifetime was inspired by your birth story; are you working with them?
Until the proposed Lifetime reality appeared in an online news article, I hadn’t heard about it, I learned about it the same time as everyone else. I was totally unprepared. The show has not contacted me, and I actually find it a strange reflection of the media system. I honestly don’t understand how any of this social media works, so I’m not trying to figure that one out.
Really, I’m just hoping the show is respectful of women, babies and birthing choices.
To see Simone's video (it's not safe for work) and to find out more about the Earth Birth Method, visit her website.
What was your reaction to seeing Simone's birth?
Images via Simone Surgeoner