I cannot even begin to express how much I hate hearing that. There is so much judgment in that little phrase. Sure, it may be well-intentioned. It's just an incredibly dumb thing to say. It supposes that women only care about their own personal birth experience and couldn't give two shits about whether the little baby makes it.
This is simply not true.
I recently ran across a posting on The Feminist Breeder Facebook Fan Page. TFB posted a link to what is perhaps one of the most poorly-written articles I have ever seen. I'm not just saying that because I disagree with the author's points. It's just badly written. The article in question was an odd discombobulated stringing together of various ranty thoughts about birth. The author made the following statement:
"That’s worth trumpeting, at a time when the birth experience itself is more fetishized then ever, owing as much to demographics as to celebrity examples. Women are putting off childrearing for longer and having fewer kids, Cassidy points out. Some are treating the long-anticipated day of birth like prom-plus-wedding-squared.
It’s great to have control over the birth experience - that hasn’t always been the case - but there’s also a danger in over-thinking it all. For some women, a healthy child isn’t an adequate goal; the birth has to be “empowering,’’ too. And if it falls short of expectations, for reasons beyond anyone’s control, that can lead to unnecessary guilt or regret." - Joanna Weiss
I'm sorry, what? The birth experience is a fetish? No dear, wanting to lick some stranger's leather-clad feet is a fetish. Wanting to give birth with RESPECT and with as little medical and psychological bullshit to ensure that my baby is born safely and comfortably is not. It should be a basic human right. And "prom-plus-wedding-squared?" So we're equating the 9 month nourishment of a human life and the following birth of said human life - one of the biggest events in any person's life - to days when we play dress up with formal wear, make-up and flowers? And why the need for the quotation marks around the word empowerment? Is she seriously mocking the fact that many of us would like an empowered birth? Someone needs to clue her in to the fact that women are all about empowered birth because it leads to a better outcome for the baby. DUH.
Why are we so quick to brush off the experience of the mother as if it's something that is so unimportant? God forbid you actual have any sort of emotion that's not all sunshine and unicorn farts when a baby is born.
A commenter on TFB's post said the following:
"As a l&d nurse, I believe birth should be empowering, but so should everything else in life. Birth is an important thing, but a healthy baby/mom should honestly be more important than mode of delivery. If you don't enjoy your birth, enjoy your child. Women having babies for the experience is like women getting married for the wedding. Look at the long-term outcome. Just sayin."
Grrrrr. It's attitudes like those of the author and the commenter above that actually cause new mothers to have emotional issues after the birth. After all, if the L&D nurse who is entrusted to your care can't see past the fact that birth is a very emotional experience then who will? Here you are, in the throes of one of the most important moments of your life and you are being told by someone who should advocate FOR you that you need to suck it up like a big girl and not complain about a single goddamn thing. Really, you're just as annoying as those women who scream during the birth.
We've become so accepting of the attitude that we should be so detached from our bodies and our experiences. You are not a woman who is giving birth. You are merely the vessel for the uterus that's holding the baby - a baby who, despite being made up of your own cells, fed from your own blood and protected by your own body - has no emotional attachment or awareness of you whatsoever. Everyone knows babies are kinda dumb and don't know much of anything. They certainly aren't emotional creatures until they are much, much older. Birth does not matter. These attitudes hurt.
The fact is, women are affected by their births, whether it's in a positive manner or negative. Of course mothers are ultimately the most concerned about the well-being of their babies, but that doesn't negate the experiences and feelings that led up to that moment. You can't expect a woman who had planned for nine months to have something go a certain way, but was then laughed at, pressured, ignored and cut open to just brush it off. Yes, not everything goes as planned. To use the example of a wedding, let's say a bride planned her big day for nine months. All the dresses were picked out and ordered. The flowers were arranged. The cake was baked. The songs and verses were carefully selected. Then, she arrives at the church only to find out the groom has left her at the altar. The congregation wouldn't tell her to just shush now and don't speak of it. Would anyone say, "At least you still had fun trying on dresses. At least you still get to eat the cake?" No! Everyone would rally around the poor bride. They'd expect her to be sad and they would comfort her. Or what about prom. I'll tell you something - I was stood up for a prom. I was supposed to go to my boyfriend's prom in high school. The dress, shoes and accessories were bought. I had meticulously cut out pictures of hairstyles to bring to my stylist for the big day. The night before, I called him and he said he wasn't going. No explanation. I was so sad. Two days later, a friend called and said he had taken another girl to the prom. I was devastated. Looking back, it's small beans compared to kinks in pregnancy and birth. Yet, someone had the audacity to compare proms and weddings to childbirth. Bull.
Sending this message to women hurts more than it helps. Here she is, feeling down because her birth didn't go as she hoped. Perhaps it was a true emergency c-section and she feels her body failed her. Perhaps it was one too many interventions and she feels her birth team didn't advocate enough for her. Perhaps it was a home birth transfer and she feels like she failed herself. There are many reasons that women are dissatisfied with their birth experiences. Some have the very real trauma of fighting the birth team for the simple human right to make choices about her own body. Some have had medical personnel laugh directly in their faces when they discussed the birth plan. They have physical battle wounds to go along with the emotions. Yet, they get a message from society that is loud and clear - do not talk about your feelings lest you be seen as selfish. After all, at least you have a healthy baby. These mamas are 100% thankful for their healthy babies and they begin to feel guilty. The question themselves. How could I ever be so selfish as to worry about the birth. At least baby is healthy. Oh, I'm so stupid to get angry with my doctor for not listening to me. At least my baby is healthy. And so they push down their feelings out of guilt and embarrassment. They go about their new lives despite that small nagging voice in the back of their head. We all know what happens with repressed emotions. Eventually, that nagging voice gets louder and meaner. You wonder where the depression came from. You thought the baby blues would be quick and easy to get over, but it's staying. You can't think of anything wrong. Yeah, you still think back to the birth and how you were unhappy with certain events, but it's over now and you've got your baby. Besides, you'd be a terrible mother if you even worried about silly things right now. It's a viscous cycle.
People need to understand that we are not competing for an award in birth. Our decisions are based on research, experience and the hope that we can have the best outcome. I know that when I gave birth, I was not thinking, "Oh wow. This is totally going to earn me some crunchy hippie granola earth mama natural birth cred. I'm going to be a birth superstar for sure! I feel intellectually and morally superior to any other woman who has ever given birth." Nope, not at all. I was actually thinking, "holy fuck this is painful and I just might die." I chose a natural unmedicated birth because I didn't want any drugs getting into my babies' systems. Yes, there are times when those drugs are used safely and are needed. However, all medications have risks and I wanted to avoid risks as much as possible. I had healthy pregnancies and was low risk. There was no need for interventions, so natural birth was the best for me and my babies. There was nothing in my mind pointing to feeling superior to anyone else or wanting some sort of gold medal.
Please, please, please do not discount the feelings of postpartum women. They are not ashamed of their babies. The are not ungrateful for those babies. They are human. They have human emotions. They need other humans to understand them and show them compassion.
Let me share what I wrote on The Feminist Breeder's page:
"I am so sick and tired of that crap argument that the only thing that matters is a healthy baby. It implies that women who go against the grain are selfish and would sacrifice even their own babies to get the experience of their dreams. People need to look within themselves and try to understand why they would even entertain such a thought and fix it, because it's certainly not true.
Women DIE as a result of interventions and unnecessary c-sections. Yeah, you have a healthy baby, but that baby is now left without a mama. That kinda matters. Women end up with PPD and PTSD as a direct result of pretty bad birth experiences. The baby may be healthy, but he or she may have a mama who is unable to care for baby, who is detached, who doesn't want to hold or touch or nurse the baby. That's not ideal. Birth IS powerful. Humans are highly emotional creatures and something like bringing a life into the world via your own body is kinda important - and way more important than a prom or a wedding (seriously, WTF?). But, if you want to talk weddings, let's say you spent nine months planning for your wedding. You had your list of guests, you knew what you would where, you knew where it would be held - you had an ideal event planned our in your mind and you were expecting a great day. Then, your fiancé leaves you. Who wouldn't expect a bride to be upset? For Pete's sake, there is a whole reality industry fashioned around brides who don't get what they want. Hello, Bridezillas. And you expect a woman who nurtured a life, had a birth plan, had hopes for the birth and planned for the best outcome to just wave a white flag when things go wrong? Anyone thinking so must be off their rocker.
I gave birth to my first child in a hospital. It was a natural birth, attended by a midwife and I rocked it. What I rarely talk about is how much I hated it. I was walking out the door to go to the birth center when the midwife called and told me the birth center would be closed for a few days because the other midwife who owned it was not available. As per the law in their area/their policy, two RNs/
And you know what? I hate pain. I think birth is painful. I wanted to be the type who would smile and laugh her baby out, but that isn't me and never will be. I'm a wimp with pain. I HATE pushing. I say that after a mere 15 minutes of pushing with my homebirth. I hate it. It would be REALLY easy for me to just get some drugs to make myself comfortable. Really easy. However, I refrain because I feel it's not the best for MY children. I don't want to pump their bodies full of chemicals if I can help it. For me, giving birth naturally has nothing to do with getting myself a fucking gold star and EVERYTHING to do with providing the best experience possible for the little lives entrusted to my body and my care. If anyone wants to take issue with me and tell me that women need to get over it, or just enjoy their healthy baby and be glad I wasn't planning a wedding because that'd be so much more important, I would be happy to "accidentally" kick them, too.
And that's all I have to say about that."
As you can see, I was one of those women. I held my feelings down. I felt so ashamed for mourning my birth experience, especially since I did have a natural birth. Thankfully, the midwife who delivered my son talked to me about it years later and I finally felt validated. I no longer felt selfish and ashamed. My heart breaks for mothers who feel they must suffer in silence.
Mamas, don't feel ashamed. Don't feel guilty. There is nothing wrong with you for hurting over your birth experience. Those feelings don't make you a bad mother. Please, accept those emotions as natural and find a way to acknowledge them and share them with others so that you can heal yourself.
P.S. Now that you've read this, you may feel free to laugh hysterically at the graphic. I won't even tell you how long it took me to "craft" that in Paint.