The subject line of the email read: “birthing terror”. It was from one of my friends, and inside she had linked to an article on “perfect births”. She wrote only one line: “I mean, this just seems too stressful.”
So obviously, since the words “perfect” and “birth” were in the subject line, I dropped what I was doing to read that article. It was about the pressure to have the “perfect” birth. About how an industry is making massive amounts of money on mothers’ desires for perfection. And about how countless times, perfection is never reached. How women feel competitive, feel guilty, feel bad about their births.
Oh, you guys. It made me have all the feelings.
First I was defensive. Then I was annoyed. Then I agreed whole-heartedly. Then I said, “but wait a second …” and then I decided, I just have all the feelings.
You guys know my birth story. You know it did not go as I had hoped. I had what the article described as “the holy grail of births”, a vaginal, unmedicated delivery. But I did not feel good about it, at least not 100%. I have ALL THE FEELINGS still about my birth. They are starting to fade and heal with time, but they are still there.
During my birth classes, our instructor told us that it always blew her away how differently women reacted to births. She said she would watch as a woman with a “perfect” birth wept because it didn’t go the way she wanted, while a woman with a horrendous birth would gush to her friends about how great it was.
This article cited social media as a big contributor to these “icky” feelings among women about their births. They said women “eagerly” compare and swap stories with eachother, implying that this was a sort of one-up-manship game. I have mixed feelings on this. We all know the women whose lives are just soooooo fabulous, and who just looooovvvveeeee being a mom more than ANYTHING IN THE WHOLE ENTIRE WORLD and could not possibly find one thing imperfect about bringing their child into the world. I mean, I guess these people exist? I haven’t met one in real life yet, but there do seem to be quite a few on social media. I suspect that MAYBE things aren’t QUITE as perfect as they seem, but you never know.
But for me? Sharing my birth story with other women who felt like I did was incredibly healing. In fact, it was one of the only things that healed me. I would tell my story in real life but I really needed to tell it more. I wasn’t getting what I needed. The people I would tell it to were trying to be supportive, but I got the feeling they were getting kind of bored and impatient with my whole not getting over it fast enough thing. Sharing my story on social media was the therapy I desperately needed, because it resulted in a chorus of “that is NOT ok” and “me too!”s that made me feel incredibly validated for the first time.
I used to be a part of a mother’s forum online, and several months after my daughter was born, I stumbled upon a thread about “birth disappointment”. I read it and cried and cried. All these women exactly like me. They got it. But you don’t have to read too far into any conversation like this one before you see the following: “You got a healthy baby,” they will say. “What are you even complaining about?” Ok, OBVIOUSLY a healthy baby is the ultimate desire. But statements like that completely minimize the experience that a woman who has had some sort of birth trauma is trying to share. I read on as people attacked posters for being “selfish”, “entitled”, and “un-grateful.”
And I think this is part of the problem. A huge fucking part of it. As women we are so often told (sometimes out loud, but usually more subtly) that it is not polite, or attractive, or popular to talk about our pain. We are expected to be grateful, be humble, be pretty, be quiet. Society wants us to share nice, quiet, easy birth stories that end in us floating away on a cloud of rainbows with our perfect babies into parenthood bliss. Society wants us to HAVE nice, quiet, easy births. Which leads me to my next point …
I have a problem with the ridiculing of mothers for their birth decisions. I have a problem with the ever-popular nurse blogs making fun of those silly first-time-moms who obviously have NO CLUE what birth is really like. Dear doctor/nurse/medical professional who is ridiculing me: I know you have way more “birth” experience than me. I get it. But how many times have you delivered this baby from my body? I think it’s a safe bet we have the same amount of experience there.
I have a problem with moms who believe in natural birth looking down on the moms who get an epidural. I have a problem with the moms who berate the natural birth moms for their choice.
I have a problem with all these things because I have lived them. I wanted a natural birth, and I got one. But along the way I was completely mocked and ridiculed with rolled eyes and snide remarks. I was made to believe my body wasn’t capable. During labor I was made to believe I was making my doctor work “too hard”, and that if I would have just had an epidural everybody would have liked me more. When really, I was later informed if I had an epidural, I would have also almost without doubt ended up with and emergency C-section.
More than anything, I have a problem with the people who make me and other women feel like we shouldn’t have a say in what happens to our own bodies and the bodies of our children. Because either way you argue it, that’s what it seems to come down to. The people who mock birth plans don’t think you should be able to control the birth environment, or they believe you won’t be able to, and shouldn’t kid yourself with having some sort of plan. The people who are so pro-epidural or pro-natural birth are just as bad – they may know what is right for their own bodies, but they don’t know what is right for mine. Or even if they do, I should get to make my own decision.
Birth brings out all the feelings. We feel guilty about so much. Sometimes when I am talking to other moms I want to hide the fact that I had the “holy grail” of births. Because I never want to make her feel like hers wasn’t “enough”. Because I don’t feel like mine was “enough.” And ok, being honest – I do want to brag. I want to brag to everyone who told me I couldn’t, everyone who made me feel like a total idiot for wanting a natural, unmedicated birth. I want both things. But I want to do the bragging thing as a reaction to people who made me feel “less than” for my birth choice.
Damn, you guys. It’s hard enough to physically carry and birth a baby (HOWEVER its done) without having to deal with the mind fuck that is people’s opinions on your birth.
So I wrote back to my friend. I didn’t know what to tell her. How do I tell her that the article was wrong and right and everything in between? That birth is an absolute miracle and absolutely ordinary? That you might feel insanely proud of yourself and insanely guilty about the same experience? I didn’t know how to tell her that, so I wrote this instead. Friend, if you are reading, the only thing I want you to take away from it is this: I will love you and support you no matter what your future birth choices are. I promise. But please, please tell your story if you need to. I think only beautiful things can come out of us telling our completely imperfect, perfect stories.