Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Congratulations! You Are America's Next Top Birther!

If you or someone you know has ever given birth, then you have likely either heard, or even said, the following: "All that matters is a healthy baby. You don't win any awards for giving birth."

 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/CNMs had to be present for a birth in the birth center. There was nothing the other midwife could do. Maybe someone stronger would have said, "fuck you, get your ass over here and let's do a homebirth," but that wasn't me at the time. I was an hour from home (had gone to my parents during labor because they lived really close to the birth center) and I had not prepared for or entertained the thought of a homebirth. You know why I had to go to the hospital? Because the midwife I trusted and who knew how much a peaceful birth center birth meant to me (she had been my midwife for well women care for 8 years!) decided she wanted to go to a fancy fucking horse show the next day and didn't want her sleep disturbed. She figured I'd be up all night in labor since I was a first time mom and she just wanted to go watch fucking horsies (no disrespect to the fucking horsies). My other midwife, who is now one of my best friends and attended my homebirth this past summer, did EVERYTHING she could to keep the hospital staff away from me and make it as much like a birth center birth as possible. Still, I was distressed. I had to call my two friends, who I desperately wanted to be at my birth, and tell them they weren't allowed to call because of the hospital's two person rule. My midwife bent the rules a little so my dad could be there by claiming my mom as a doula (we were allowed two regular people and one labor support person). My mom had made a ton of food to bring to the birth center that now we couldn't take. We smuggled cheese-its, recharge and raisins. I stalled my labor. I broke down. I was so angry about my experience and so distressed I was there with lights on my vagina and a hospital nurse screaming, "pushpushpushpushpushpush" (I ended up "accidentally" kicking her) that I pushed too hard and ripped myself and ended up with a third degree. My midwife, who had been up for at least 36 hours (for office hours and delivering another baby before me) and was pregnant herself was bleary-eyed and exhausted and had a hard time stitching up my bitch of a tear. I was in so, so much pain from the tear because my vulva and perineum would not numb no matter how much lidocaine they used (and they used the maximum dosage). I felt every single fucking stitch. They called in an OB to come stitch me and she was a nasty bitch. She didn't even acknowledge my presence. She roughly rubbed at my vulva with DRY guaze pads. She put the needle to me and I screamed in pain and accidentally kicked her arm. She said, "She's out of control. I'm not touching her unless you take her to the OR and knock her out." She said that, with her hand on my vulva - talking about me in third person. A hospital staff midwife came in an was able to get me stitched quickly and as gently as possible. I tried to get up to pee and the pushpushpushpushpushpush labor nurse kept saying, in a panic, "are you going to faint? You look like you're going to faint. You are REALLY pale. Do you think you will faint?" So, guess what? I fainted on the toilet. Then I couldn't pee. So they pulled me to the bed and the nurse ripped off my beautiful bathrobe from home and put me in a hospital gown. The put in an IV and a urinary catheter. And the entire time I had to fight tooth and nail to get them to allow my husband to go down to the nursery with my son while they did his exam. The pushpushpushpushpushpush nurse tried to use all these scare tactics on me to get me to relinquish my son alone no matter how much I yelled NO. Finally, my dad spoke up and got nasty with her, telling her that he is a respiratory therapist who works in a level III NICU and he knows all the hospital bullshit and that she was lying out of her ass to me. My midwife HAD to leave eventually and I was wheeled to the maternity recovery ward where the hospital staff FORGOT I was there. No food for hours. No lactation consultant (which was fine, because my mom IS a lactation consultant and I'd been very educated on the subject my whole life). The food I did get was cold and was thrown at me because I had bitched about being forgotten and starving. They tried to take my son away from me again...saying his temp (which they took while he was naked and in air conditioning) was 97.5 and they'd have to take him to the nursery and feed him formula to warm him up. Yeah right. They wouldn't treat me for my PUPPS rash which had spread like wildfire after the birth (I asked for a mere benedryl). They lost my bloodwork and had to re-sitck me. It was a pretty crappy experience. I did end up with PPD, half due to the experience and half due to the prospect of going back to work (where one of my co-workers made it a point to laugh and make "Told you so" comments because I was such an ardent natural birth advocate). I kept quiet about my birth experience for years. I felt like I didn't have a right to complain because I DID end up with a midwife-attended natural birth and my boy was perfect. I felt like I had no room to complain in comparison to women who had highly managed births that ended in surgery. So I kept it in like a good girl as it ATE at me. It took me years to finally open up about it, with some trepidation. Obviously, it bothered me because what was supposed to be a single paragraph response has turned into a novel.

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.


Hannah Rose said...

I found your blog on Faces of Loss, Faces of Hope. I am very sorry for your loss. I too lost my baby, Lily Katherine, who was stillborn at fullterm on March 16, 2010. Although I wish nobody else had to know this pain, it's good to know I'm not alone and there are people who "get it." I'd love to have you follow along on my blog as well:

Blessings, Hannah Rose

Funky Little Earthchild said...

Thank you, Hannah Rose. I am so sorry for the loss of your sweet Lily Katherine. I agree, I wish no one else would have to know the pain. I will check out your blog. :-)

Jen said...

Thanks for that! My first labor (after three miscarriages) was pure hell. It was almost 11 years ago now and I remember the name of the barking nurse that I reaaallly wanted to deck. They gave me an epidural WITHOUT PERMISSION because "your cries of pain are disturbing the other mothers"..... um... 17 hours in with more pitocin than originally planned because you 'slipped' will do that bitch. Mind you, I wanted a natural birth but at the time was not the type to stand up for myself. I could go on for pages (cause it actually gets worse) but the point is that I have heard that "healthy baby" phrase SO MANY TIMES (especially since we have since lost twins who were still born at 30 weeks) and it infuriates me. As a matter of fact, I tell them, she could/should have been MUCH healthier!! FU very much. K Rant done. Point is... thanks for pointing out and sharing... we do not have to be ashamed because we're mad.

Stevi said...

I know I'm ready this late but it came at such a good time for me. My daughter is 3 weeks old. She was born in the hospital after I labored at home for over 2 days and became she became tachycardic. The midwife and I decided we would be safer at the hospital. She was born a few short hours later at a pretty laid-back hospital birth that most mommas would be proud of but I grieve my lost homebirth so much. All my family tells me I need to get over it because the hospital experience was pretty good and she was born very healthy but I can't help but be sad. I'm sad that a stranger's hands caught her, she heard unfamiliar voices as she came out instead of just ours, and many other things. This validates everything I've been feeling and I'm so thankful to have found it today!

Funky Little Earthchild said...

Jen and Stevi - thank you so much for sharing your stories. It's such a shame that women feel like this and society tells us to shut up. I'm so glad that you enjoyed what I wrote and that it validates your feelings. Much love to you!

Deb said...

I have 4 children, all born "naturally", but not all successful births, in my book. (My eldest will be 30 in a couple of this was before the days of beautiful birthing centers.)
Baby #1 was supposed to be homeborn, and I had a midwife with me over the first 3 days of labor (yes, DAYS!) She was a newbie, and did not insist that I eat or drink to keep up my strength, and, being in labor, I didn't have and desire to eat or drink, nor did I have the "smarts" to know that I should! After 3 full days, I went to the hospital, as the labor was slowing down, and I had had all the pain I ould possibly take. As soon as I arrived, my doc (Very natural-thinking and understanding, but still a resident, and obligated to do things as she was told...I loved her!)gave me a glucose IV, as I was quite dehydrated. My daughter was born 6 hours later, with no drugs, but I did push while laying on my back, and she had pretty bad shoulder dystocia, which they dealt with by using fundal pressure (egads! I'm glad I was ABLE to have more children after that!). We weren't surprised when we weighed her, and found that I had just pushed out an 11 lb baby! I felt like superwoman, yet was profoundly disappointed, mostly due to the IV and the episiotomy. (Done when she got so stuck. :()
Babies # 2 and 3 were both home born,with no complications, or even tears(that's tears as in rips, lol). (I hired a new, much better midwife!) #2 was delivered after 21 hours of labor, and she weighed 9 lbs, 2 oz. Baby #3 only took 11 hours of labor, and he weighed a whopping 12 lbs, 12 oz!! I delivered him squatting, and he slid right out, in spite of the fact that he was almost 2 lbs bigger that his sister, who got so stuck. Delivery position is everything!!
Baby # 4 was from my 2nd marriage, and my new hubby was very opposed to homebirth, so I agreed to deliver in the hospital, as long as I could hire my midwife to be my birth attendant. It was great having her there, because I labored 47 hours total, and over 40 of them were spent at home under her watchful eye. My last child, only 8lbs, 7 oz, and born at the exact stroke of midnight on the dawn of St Patrick's Day, was born in the hospital totally naturally, and, you know...I was OK with it. There were no surprises, and I knew what to expect. As I said before, I loved my doctor, who by this time, was no longer a resident, and had more "say" in how she allowed her moms to birth. I chose to go home as soon as possible, so I was not subjected to too much of what the hospital had to offer.
I am very proud, and yes, empowered (not a term we used at the time, but fitting, nonetheless!) by my births. I have now watched 6 of my grandchildren arrive, and I honestly don't know how I did it! All my girls have ended up choosing epidurals...even though a couple of them originally planned to go natural. The hospital is pretty good at peddling all their interventions! I don't fault my girls for the choices they was their pain, and totally their decision, but it sure made me feel even more like superwoman, to know that I had done it 4 times, with no drugs of any kind! I am woman, hear me roar!

Meg said...

It really seems less about an "experience" and more about women wanting to be treated as human beings in ways that are healthy for their bodies and spirits so they aren't destroyed needlessly while giving birth. (like your needless birth tear and additional, painful shabby treatment by "professionals")

The medical profession has a nasty history of treating women like cattle who provide babies. The lying on your back position was started by a French king (can't remember which) who had a fetish for watching women give birth in a type of bondage and laying in elevated beds because male priests (the only physicians after all the midwives were killed for sinning by alleviating supposedly God-given human suffering, no joke) didn't want the hassle of sitting in a chair or helping women birth in more natural positions. Basically it was "sexier" and more convenient to have women give birth in ways that made it harder, dangerous, and traumatizing for mother and child. The excuse for all the bad behavior (and much of it that they still do today) was we are made to give birth so if we die doing it then it was just gods will. Not exactly biblical nor compassionate, but hey they went with guilt and lies to get away with murder (often literally). From your story, it sounds like they still use the same tactics to pressure us into less than human healthcare.

I'm sorry you were treated with so little dignity and human kindness during your birth. We aren't just vessels. The mother is a human being with life too. Like you said, if they create all these unnecessary problems(PPD, PTSD, etc) how will the mother be fit to raise her own children that these same people who use guilt filled phrases usually say is her responsibility alone. They want to treat people as they please and then avoid seeing the problems from the bad treatment by shutting us up. If no-one can hear our pain, then in their minds our suffering must not have happened and they are innocent of all fault.

Time to start speaking mommas! This type of treatment shouldn't be normal and accepted. Science has supported natural birth as best for everyone for a long long time. Time to make birthing healthy and family friendly ;)

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