I am fascinated by birth stories. I suppose it comes with the territory when you are a Birth Doula, Childbirth Educator and all around birth junky. Women of all ages and stages open up to me on park benches, at the post office, in the preschool pick up line, and especially across the coffee shop table.
Usually the stories begin unfolding when they realize that I work in birth. I become a safe space to retell the journey that brought them their child(ren). There will be caveats spattered throughout the telling of the tale, little side notes of “my body didn’t go into labor,” “my water wouldn’t break,” or “I had to be induced.” I nod and fully engage in their story, awaiting the next twist or turn, learning their path, offering possible ideas when they get stuck on a name of a medication or intervention that was influential in their outcome or marveling at their strength and power when they made difficult choices or conquered their biggest challenge.
Often the stories can take u-turns into the space of trauma, sadness, guilt, or shame. When the story begins to wind its way through to the darkness, women will often end quickly with “But they’re healthy and that’s all that matters.” And that’s where I stop. Is a healthy baby all we can ask for? Is that really all that matters when all is said and done? I’ve read countless articles and posts where the “birth experience” was torn down as simply a selfish quest of the birthing mother. Saying that the only thing guiding these women was the experience and that none of the plans, choices, or preparation had anything to do with what was best for the baby. Is there really a right way to give birth? Yes. The right way to birth, is the way that matches your values, takes account for your health history, and leaves you feeling empowered, strong, and capable when you are holding your baby. Notice that I did not say the right way to birth is a mode or method of delivery. First I should explain my terminology. I don’t know what “natural birth” even means. I don’t use the phrase personally, since it describes such a gray space. Instead I use the phrases:
I consider a medicated birth to be a birth in which the baby came through the vaginal canal and used pharmacological methods to either ease the sensations of labor or to make the birth proceed. Un-medicated birth describes a birth where the woman used no pharmacological methods during her vaginal birth. Surgical birth describes a birth where the mother birthed her child in an operating room through an incision in her uterus.
Do you know what all these births have in common? They are births. No one is better or worse than the next. Each one describes a woman, giving birth, to a child. So why does it matter? It matters if the woman feels like it matters. One cannot whisk away a woman’s story with a quick, “All that matters is a healthy baby,” and a flick of the hand. When we say that to women we are in turn telling them “You don’t matter.” Can we not demand more from our current birthing practices in this country? Can we not say HEY! It DOES matter! It matters if this woman feels safe, supported, encouraged, and strong when she claims her baby and holds them in their arms for the first time. The point of this whole thing is not “natural vs. unnatural,” labeling women as some how less than if they experienced something different than the beautiful images or stories that we read. Instead it’s an empowered caring thoughtfully supported birth vs one where a woman was voiceless coerced and dismissed. You can see how both an un-medicated birth and a surgical birth could be described as either one depending on the birth team and how the woman was cared for.