--written by Rachel Brinker
One of the wondrous--and sometimes terrifying--things about birth is that so much of it is completely out of our control.
Sometimes a birth goes exactly how the parents wish for it to go, and sometimes it doesn't. One of the most common struggles we hear as postpartum doulas is that of women who wanted a natural birth but ended up with interventions, medication, or a cesarean. Because they didn't have the "natural" birth they wanted, they feel like they failed somehow. Friends and family will often say, "Well, you and the baby are healthy, that's all that matters."
It's not all that matters. How you feel about your birth has huge impacts on your identity as a mother, and going through a traumatic birth experiences puts you at greater risk for postpartum mood issues.
This failure felt by some women who wanted a "natural" birth but missed out on that experience is something that sometimes gets dismissed and brushed aside in the homebirth and natural birth communities. In order to be seen as legitimate, the focus has been on the benefits of "physiologic" birth (birth without medication or interventions), on the beautiful potential of such a birth, and on the dangers associated with medical interventions. Too often, there has been a one-sided message from the natural birth community, and an us vs. them mentality. When there are just two teams, the Uses and the Thems, there are lots of postpartum women stuck somewhere in the middle--supporting the choice to have a natural birth or a homebirth, but having had some interventions in their own birth--not knowing why they feel like they've suddenly been kicked off the team.
The message that one kind of birth is better than another kind of birth is hurting women.
Many women are left feeling like they failed if their birth didn't match the "natural birth" ideal they were hoping for. This podcast episode from The Longest Shortest Time includes an interview on this very issue with the matriarch of the natural birth movement herself, Ina May Gaskin.
Ina says, "You're not alone if you experienced a lot of pain and you felt like you failed. I mean, there's so many women that feel that way. Maybe it was because of expectations that were on the unrealistic side...That it [a natural birth] would be possible because you did everything right, everything the book told you, and then you still had pain, and you feel like you weren't correctly advised, you know, you were misled somehow."
It impacts women's postpartum experience when they receive the message that if a certain outcome--like an induction, a homebirth transfer, cesarean, use of an epidural, a perineal tear, interventions for your baby, etc.--happens, then they have somehow failed at birth. Ina May herself admits that the messaging of the natural birth community may be contributing to this common feeling of failure. We hope this message shifts and opens up space for ALL women to celebrate their birth experience rather than judge it as a good/natural birth or a failed/medical birth.
No matter what happens during your pregnancy, labor, and postpartum period, here's the bottom line:
Birth is a process, something you move through, largely without control, not something you attain. Birth is not something that you can fail. Your birth was its own process, unique to you and your circumstances.
You were strong. You were amazing. You had reasons for making the decisions you did.
If you hoped for a birth free from all interventions but ended up with, say, an epidural and a cesarean birth, it's ok to feel conflicting emotions about that. It's ok to be disappointed, it's ok to ask questions and process your feelings about what happened. You may also feel relieved, overjoyed, and frankly just tired and glad it's over. All of it is ok and valid.
You were brave. You were beautiful. You were powerful.
You gave birth!