One of the first questions friends, co-workers, even strangers at parties, have when you are pregnant is “are you going natural, scheduled C-section, or call in to have epidural ready to go as soon as you arrive?” It’s a weird obsession that has made the most personal, private, and vulnerable part of having a baby the business of the people.
There are judgments attached no matter what your answer is.
“Why would you go natural when you can have a relatively pain free experience?”
“Why would you take drugs when our ancestors have been doing this for thousands of years without them?”
“Why go through that at all when you can just schedule and have a nice little incision and poof - there’s your baby!”
As moms, we know that all of that is not only BS, but totally not helpful. We know that regardless of best-laid plans based on our individual body and belief structure, we do what we need to do to keep us and our baby safe - which is often not what we planned on! This pressure and judgment causes women unnecessary stress and shame.
I knew I wanted to have a natural birth. I wanted to be in the hospital in case things didn’t go as hoped, to know for myself that I could do it, and for my son to be born free of drugs. I knew NOTHING about what it would actually be like. No books, classes or conversations can fully prepare you.
After 38 grueling hours I made it through the hardest thing I’ve ever done and delivered my 9lb. 7oz. son naturally. After he was born, some people thought I was amazing and some thought I was literally insane.
Many moms justified to me why they tried natural and made the decision to switch due to medical or personal factors. I don’t know how many times I’ve said: "I’m not judging your birth. I wanted to do it for myself and my own reasons. If something went sideways, I would have taken whatever intervention I or the baby needed."
After all these conversations I’ve realized there are many things people don’t take into account when they judge themselves or others on birth method, especially natural birth, including:
Pain is relative. I’ve always had a high pain tolerance. I broke my ankle the day before I was supposed to fly to Park City and manage my first party at the Sundance Film Festival. I wasn’t positive it was broken, but it hurt like the dickens and was super swollen. But come on, miss Sundance?! I wrapped it up with some fabric bandage, took an Excedrin, and was on that plane! By the time the trip was done my ankle up to my knee was black. I know, this is not an inspirational story. When I got home the doctor couldn’t believe I’d been walking on a broken ankle for a week. Point being, I have a weirdly high pain tolerance. Not everyone does. You don’t know what birth or any other intense experience will feel like for YOU and your body and your individual discomfort tolerance. Some women are in extreme pain to have their pap smear done. It’s all relative. You can’t compare.
Mind over matter. I have studied meditation and mindfulness for over 10 years. I have practiced barre for over 6. They both involve discipline of your mind and pushing past those thoughts of can't or ouch. Some women are not ok with any discomfort and want it over. I have many friends who have the mindset of "why suffer at all when there is a way not to." I totally get it! If you are planning on going natural it would be very helpful to practice meditation, have mantras, or pick some of the millions of techniques out there to have your own tool kit of mental support for the experience.
Support system. I went to a birth class with my husband where they showed us a handful of contraction-helping positions, but I knew the second things got real it would fly out of our brains. At the hospital I heard sometimes you get a nurse familiar with natural birth techniques and sometimes not. So I hired a doula. Having the doula is shown to statistically reduce the need for intervention. It was great for me as she constantly helped me find new positions, massaged areas of my body that were screaming, and talked me through it. She also helped my husband help me. I couldn’t have done it without her. My nurse was actually very unhelpful. She kept asking my husband when I was going to take an epidural. I really recommend thinking through what experience you want, and who you need in the room to best support making that happen.
Emotions. I don’t know how I would feel if something went differently for me and I had an intervention of some kind. I’m sure part of me would feel let down or even shame. Even with my birth going the way I intended I had tons of emotional processing.
Giving birth is such a personal and vulnerable experience that we should be completely respected and honored for however it is we feel, and understand that it doesn’t have to be rational. Emotions are never rational. We need to respect each other’s privacy. If a new mom wants to share what happened, just listen and unconditionally support her.
After all the planning, the countdown runs out and the birth experience happens. Before you know it - it is suddenly over and you are in a room with a tiny little life totally dependent on you for survival. That’s when the real work starts! So let’s let go of the weird fascination, pressure and shame placed on new mothers for just the first blip on the screen of motherhood. Put away your judgments. Just show up and support.
How did you decide what kind of birth you wanted? Have you felt pressure or judgment? Love to hear your thoughts in the comments.