Q: I’m taking your HypnoBirthing course and I love it! I totally believe I can do it, and so does my husband. But my mom (who had three C-sections) doesn’t understand my desire for a natural birth at all. She says, “Who cares how you have the baby? All that matters is that you and the baby are healthy. Natural birth – so what?” She’s making me doubt myself.
A: Putting aside that how you give birth no one else’s business, what is so special about natural birth? Why is it held up as an ideal by so many women, while, at the same time, treated with an eye roll by others?
For the naysayers in your life, here’s my answer.
Of course it’s a big deal. Come on! When someone has run a marathon, do we call that a ‘so what’? When someone climbs a mountain, do we call that a ‘so what’? No! We cheer them! Why would we be so blasé about a similarly huge physical, mental, emotional and spiritual achievement that is more than taking on an endurance challenge; it is giving birth to new life through your body?
Thou dost protest too much, methinks. The ‘so what’ attitude is a pretense. Why do we pretend?
‘So what’ is a hedge. To try to protect the feelings of mothers didn’t have the natural birth they dreamed of, for whatever reason, we pretend birth is not a big deal at all. This may be true for your mom, whose C-sections where probably not planned.
Pretending something isn’t a big deal, however, does not actually make it not a big deal Telling someone they shouldn’t feel their feelings is not consoling, it’s crazy-making. Acknowledging a loss is what helps people to move on. It’s more helpful to say to women who wanted a natural birth but did not have one, “That stinks. I’m sorry. What do you want to tell me?”
You didn’t mention it, but are you working with a provider who values natural birth? I ask because you also find the “so what” perspective among obstetric care providers, like doctors and labor and delivery nurses.
‘So what’ represents the medical perspective, which is limited. The word obstetric literally defines its perspective. It’s formed from the Latin:
ob (opposite) + stare (to stand) = to stand opposite to.
Thus, obstetrics represents the perspective of the watcher of birth, not the perspective of the one giving birth.
The thing about watching labor, though, is that it doesn’t often look like much. The surges are happening, and – this may not be true for you, though it was true for me and for many of the women I’ve worked with over the years – the birthing mother finds that the best way to work with them is to breathe and relax very deeply. The drama is not visible.
For example, when I arrived at the hospital to give birth to my daughter, the obstetric care providers did not believe I was in labor. I convinced them to examine me anyway, and they found that I was 10 cm opened! These trained observers could not recognize an advanced labor.
So, observation can tell you something about birth but far from all there is to know.
‘So what’ serves the medical perspective. If a doctor tells you that it doesn’t matter how you give birth, it’s easier for them to do things to you. I don’t believe that doctors have malign intentions, but they are socialized to do something – to anticipate pathology, to intervene the second it shows up, to rescue the patient(s) from it.
When you’re really in trouble, such expertise is heroic. When you’re healthy, though, as most birthing mothers are, interventions are counterproductive.
So many women who’ve had dysfunctional, painful labors and distressed babies believe dysfunction, pain and distress are simply the nature of birth. It’s truer to say that medical interventions and the hospital environment create dysfunction, pain and distress more often than they cure it.
It would be like swearing off of love because you had a bad boyfriend once.
The “So what?” perspective doesn’t hold up. At the very least, it is not more valid than your perspective, which is that how you give birth does matter.
If it matters to you, it matters – and it needs to matter to your care provider, too. But doesn’t have to matter to your mom. (Just don’t invite her to be present when you give birth).
That it matters doesn’t mean that natural birth is superior to other kinds of birth. Natural birth was one of the peak experiences of my life and taught me so much. But peak experiences and life lessons are available to mothers in all kinds of ways.
In other words, I’m sure your mom is great. She just isn’t right about this.