My daughter's birth was wonderful. I would even say perfect. But I find that I am always hesitant to share the story of her birth with other mothers. In fact, I rarely do. I thought I'd try to flesh out the source of my hesitation. I realized that I really hate the two basic reactions I get to the story.
"You're a hero!"
Or variations on that ("you're so strong" or "you're so courageous"). The thought is that by virtue of the fact that I gave birth totally unmedicated and at home, I must be something super-human and extra-ordinary. I think it bothers me especially to hear women who have had c-sections express this sentiment to me because when they describe their harrowing recoveries, I feel like they are the hero. The reality is that any woman who brings a child into the world--in any way--is a hero, strong and courageous. There is no method of bringing a baby into the world that is a walk in the park. Even our mothers who were knocked out for the births of their babies were strong and courageous. Even if there was pain medication administered, I mean, no matter the circumstances, bringing a baby into the world is an act of heroism in my book.
It's just that given a set of information and given my own personality and background, I chose to give birth at home without medication. It was one choice made out of a plethora of options. It was a choice that, yes, took courage to make because it goes against the tide and, some would say, common sense. But in my mind, I am not a superhero because I decided that I wanted to do things this way. I'm not a superhero because of what I believe. I'm not virtuous or the uber-mother because I gave birth in the way I did. I know that if another mother was me, well, she would have made my choices.
"You're so lucky"
This one is tricky because sometimes I do feel this way. All my pregnancies and births have been straightforward. No complications to speak of. Everything progressing "normally". And so yes, I feel fortunate in this regard. But it's awkward when I'm speaking to moms who have had equally normal pregnancies but ended up with c-sections. Especially when I have doubts as to whether the c-sections were absolutely necessary or not. Of course, I never express my doubts but I do wonder whether these moms, in a different birthing environment or under different circumstances (more knowledgeable birth attendants, for example), would have been able to have normal, vaginal births. Always in the back of my head is the terrible rate of c-section in the United States. What was the last statistic? The highest rate of c-section in the entire developed world. It's no secret: a surgical procedure that was supposed to be for emergencies only is proffered as the solution for so many "complications" of birth that may have been ameliorated by simple things like position change.
But the funny thing about birth is that in the midst of it, in the thick of things, it's scary to debate and it can be deadly to hem and haw. So I give it to these moms. I let them have it. Okay . . . I am lucky that I didn't end up with a c-section. I do know that the one time I did birth in the hospital, I was this close to one. I even asked for one. I escaped it just by grit and some good support. I was very lucky. For the second and third birth, I didn't want luck. I wanted to do everything I could do in my mind to avoid the possibility of it happening. Could it have still happened? Could there have been some unforeseen emergency? Of course. So I am grateful everything went off without a hitch. But I won't go so far as to say everything went off without a hitch purely by coincidence. It wasn't pure luck.
. . . .
The other day I came across an article, Getting Honest About Midwifery and the Flaws of the Natural Birthing Community. I really agreed with much of what was said in that article. There are legitimate reasons for all the interventions of child birth including c-sections and to deny that would be dishonest and also dangerous. But what prompted this post was this:
I would love to see us stop talking about empowering women. It drives me absolutely batty for natural birth supporters to act as though they have the ability to give a woman her own power.
The only person able to give or take power away from a woman is that woman. This is huge and once we all understand that, I think we've made some real progress. To say that a woman who gave birth by c-section or with other interventions is disempowered somehow is presumptuous. It's not up to you to say because you don't know a woman's state of mind, history, story or personal circumstance.
I think, though, that this is the last reason I don't like sharing Z3's birth story: because for so many women, birth happened to them and they didn't feel like they did or could have had much say. I am evidence that it's possible in some ways to affect how one's birth experience goes (albeit it with the acknowledgement that birth itself is a wild, wild ride that can be fiercely unpredictable). So I guess I feel their resentment. I feel their defense mechanisms go up as they explain why things happened the way they did, why things didn't or couldn't go as planned. I feel their need to not feel judged. I feel they feel I am judging. And sometimes I feel their criticism for taking such a "risk" as I took. All the time, I feel their ambivalence.
How to end this post? Birth is a miracle and I hate that it has become so mired in politics and has such an impact on women's self-esteem. I want to feel solidarity with other mothers and it's just so sad to me that other women would feel judged by my birth choices and experiences. I hope that changes and that all mothers one day will in fact feel like heroes for the important work they do: keeping the human race going.