Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Birth Matters

I was raised to believe that the best way to give birth (in a perfectly normal pregnancy without complications) is outside of a hospital, with midwives, and without medication. Everybody's family has values - this was one of mine. I was blessed to witness my sisters' give birth, one in a birthing center and the other, due to complications, in a hospital. I grew up secure in the knowledge that when it was my turn to become a mother, I would do as they had done - I would give birth peacefully and confidently, surrounded by women and joy.

I didn't know that this was a controversial statement. 

As my friends got married and started having babies, I realized that this concept was not universal - and that the way women birth had become part of the 'mommy wars.' The way women give birth is now judged and picked apart, part of a national discussion about how we should mother. (Please note: there is no national conversation about how to father - because to father children just means to conceive them; we're generally happy if men create them and stick around, whatever their methods) 

Now there are many women trying to find a 'middle ground' - insisting that we not judge one another for the way that we brought our children into the world. Good! But in the process, some people have insisted that women not feel bad about however they gave birth - that they should just appreciate having a healthy baby. 

"Ring the bells that still can ring/ forget your perfect offering/there is a crack in everything/ that's how the light gets in (L. Cohen)" by Amanda Greavette - this piece has been often interpreted by viewers to portray an "over-medicalized" birth, or a mother who did not have her birth expectations met. 

I haven't given birth yet, but even I know this is wrong. To boil birth down to one outcome - healthy baby - is to minimize the life-changing experience we all know that it is it. It is not just about the outcome, but about the experience. Birth is a woman's journey into becoming a mother: there is a reason why it was considered so holy in ancient cultures. It is powerful. As soon as women are told how to birth or how to feel about their method of birthing, it is in some way taken from them as an experience they have claim to by right of being a woman. This is a right of passage that belongs to us. Even the Blessed Mother, archetype of holy womanhood, gave birth. This is important - how is a woman defined? Our Faith tells us it is not by her knowing a man, but by becoming a mother. Motherhood is the hallmark of being a woman, not sexual knowledge (which is why Mary is a model for both consecrated women and married women). 

True liberation of birth is realizing that we are allowed to have feelings about the birth itself. Even if a c-section was necessary, it doesn't mean that we're not allowed to mourn what we wanted - the ability to feel our body open for new life. To say otherwise is not only rude, it's foolish. For any woman who wants more than one child, a c-section can make her future child-bearing years full of difficult decisions and medical complications. And a woman who knows this may have feelings of sadness, disappointment or fear - and that's okay. 

If I end up in the hospital, I'll be bummed. If I end up with a c-section, I'll probably be devastated. But if I end up with someone telling me that I "got what mattered," I'll be disappointed - because I'm not just a baby machine, and I matter too. 

"All around me voices are ringing" by Amanda Greavette 

Prints of Amanda Greavette's art work from the "Birth Project" are available here and her website is here. Also see her facebook page here


  1. I definitely agree that the experience of birth matters, and not just for the experience, but birth sets the stage for early bonding and breastfeeding. I believe very strongly in natural childbirth and had my last baby at home, not so much because of the experience of it, but because I believe that epidurals and other interventions carry risk and can cause harm. Of course, sometimes the benefits of those things outweigh the risks and they are necessary, but in my mind, they should be only used if necessary.

    My last birth and first homebirth was by far my easiest and quickest labor and birth. I definitely think being at home played a huge role in that...being free to walk around and being in my own surroundings made things progress so much faster and easier than previous births that took place in the hospital (where my labor ALWAYS stalled as soon as we got in the car to drive there).

    I do believe that all babies have the best chance of a healthy start to life if they are born naturally and breastfed fully until able to eat solids. Of course, in some cases that isn't possible, but from my research I think it is highly possible that c-sections play a role in the high rates of allergies and asthma found amongst so many children today.

    I've also found that in the weeks and months following all my births, I've spent a huge amount of time thinking about each birth, processing it and desiring to talk about it with any person willing to listen. That is because it is such a huge experience and something every mother always remembers. My mom still remembers and talks about the births of her children which happened well over 30 years ago.

    1. I do think that health-wise, natural birth is better. The respiratory problems that develop in infants whose mothers were under the influence of drugs is just too strong for me to think otherwise...but I understand these drugs exist for a reason.

      It's funny you say you want to talk about your birth so much, because as my EDD draws closer, I am going so far within myself. I don't want to leave the house, I don't want to make plans or do things - I want to just be in this little cocoon!! So I am looking forward to seeing how I feel afterwards, see if I feel 'chattier.' Do people stop by to visit uninvited still? My mom said it happened to her all the time, but I'm not sure if there's a generational difference now...

    2. At the end of all my pregnancies, I always wanted to hibernate too, and didn't like making plans and wanted to just stay home. But, with all of mine, once the baby was born, I was SO EAGER to get out of the house and be around people. When my second child was born, we had just moved to NH 6 weeks prior and I didn't really know anyone and didn't make too much of an effort to meet people. But after she was born, when she was only 8 days old, I took her (and my oldest who was only 2 1/2) to my first meeting of the MOMS Club, because I was suddenly so desperate to meet people. I suddenly wanted to be super social.

      I think everyone is different, but I feel so much more energetic and social after my babies are born, then I do while still pregnant. And, the last weeks of pregnancy are especially hard.

      FWIW, I've never had anyone stop by uninvited after the baby was born. I don't think people really do that anymore.

  2. I just have to say, I absolutely love those prints! Wow! Each woman's situation is different. I loved your thoughts about the Blessed Mother and about birth being the journey into motherhood. Definitely points to ponder.

    1. I know, aren't these prints AMAZING?!? Amanda Greavette is just about one of my favorite artists. I would love to own even a print of her work, but my favorite isn't yet available (the last one of the ones I posted).

      I think that as motherhood has been devalued by society, we have lost the concept that motherhood is life-changing and valuable in and of itself. When women are expected to be back in shape at 3 months postpartum, back to work (and ready to resume sexual relations) at 6 weeks, and goodness knows what else, it really underscores that this woman is a new person. In many nonindustrialized nations, after a woman gives birth, she has a new title of respect and new standing in her community; she is treated differently and hailed as a life-giver. This tradition seems very much in keeping with our Faith, since Mary's greatest title is Mother of God!

      This stuff IS fun to think about, isn't it!?!

  3. Love this. Especially the last sentence. I have known women who have had extremely traumatic labors and c-sections and all their feelings were just invalidated when people tell them that they "got a healthy baby and that's what matters." That's not all that matters!

  4. "But in the process, some people have insisted that women not feel bad about however they gave birth - that they should just appreciate having a healthy baby."

    - You link to an article from the Guiding Star Project but I've read that article and from what I can see you are completely misquoting her point. If you read the entire post, she writes that mothers shouldn't be made to feel they need to justify their birth to other women, they shouldn't be made to feel like they need to apologize to others and that they shouldn't be made to feel guilty by those around them.... I don't see anywhere that she says they should "just appreciate having a healthy baby" as you state. What I read was an article of encouragement that whatever one experiences they shouldn't be MADE TO FEEL any certain way by anybody else.

    I think there is a great responsibility when presenting someone's work and not taking their entire point out of context. I'd encourage you to be more careful in the future before putting someone down who is actually agreeing with you.

    1. I really love the Guiding Star Project and I hope it didn't come across that I was putting down those women or even Mallory who wrote the article. I disagree with what I read her as saying; it's possible I'm wrong on what she meant to convey.

      I agree that she was supporting natural birth - her second to last paragraph makes that very clear! And I don't think she is trying to undermine the birth experience. At the same time, I think lines such as "The saddest thing for me, when walking into a hospital room to visit a beaming mother and her beautiful new baby, is to have her share how she feels defeated by not achieving natural childbirth, either through interventions or cesarean. She is not so much disappointed, but nevertheless compelled to justify why and how it happened that she let her gender down" - come across to me as wanting a woman to feel a certain way.

      I know she's coming from a good place. She writes "For those who desire a natural childbirth, but for whatever reason haven’t had one, I encourage you to put any feelings of defeat aside. No one should make a woman feel guilty for the outcome of her birth, nor be made to feel like her body is in some way inadequate." That second sentence is obviously true - but telling a woman to put feelings of defeat aside is, I think, unfair. Sometimes we feel defeated and that's okay; we need to work through those feelings. She then goes on to say "A child is a beautiful and perfect person, and the miracle motherhood rises far above any kind of delivery." I think this is another way of saying "you have a healthy baby, that's what's important."

      What I feel that she misses is that motherhood is a journey that beings with birth. And a difficult birth can sometimes give some woman a difficult start to her mothering journey - a lot of tough feelings to work through, that can't just be set aside.

      I stand by my interpretation of her article but wish her and the project no ill-will. I'm glad women are writing about these issues! The internet is a big place where ideas should be exchanged, and I think the author and I are both doing just that.


Comments make me feel like I'm not just talking to myself or the government (because I know the government secretly reads my blog). Help me feel less crazy - comment away!