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Birth Shame

Tucked into the comments section to my “Suddenly…” post, was this one that deserved its own place as a blog post. I’ve removed the personal thoughts to me, but the meat is here for everyone to see. “Suddenly…” was my realization that I no longer fit into the Natural Birth Community (NBC) the way I have for almost three decades. Having gone from an induced, narcotic-sedated labor to an Unassisted Birth to a planned homebirth-turned car birth, I’d thought I’d already had all the wide pendulum swings I was going to have. Apparently not. 

After Tristan’s birth, my first, I found myself in a group of Natural Birth Advocates, including an amazing Bradley instructor I adored, and several homebirthing women I envied. I was gradually embarrassed about his birth and, eventually, ashamed. It was this shame, that, I admit, was my own creation, but with a huge shove from the Bradley crowd, moved me to UC Meghann despite some glaring contraindications to do so. 

The mom who wrote this important comment had a similar experience. 

My daughter was delivered by c-section and I endured some armchair quarterbacking from the NCB crowd.  While on maternity leave I learned that I'd done it all wrong.  I'd seen an OB, given birth in a hospital and had - gasp - an epidural.  Even though at the time, I was relieved when the OB told me I needed a c-section, I began to second guess myself.  I told myself that my next child would be a VBAC baby.  I'd do it the "right" way next time around.  I'd have an "empowering" birth.  I'd choose an CNM and no epi.  I'd have one of those births like you see on Youtube.” 

Oh, how I know this feeling. 

She continues: 

“It's almost 2 years later and I've realized that there probably won't be a next baby.  I can't get pregnant again and we're not willing to do IVF.  Most women grieve the idea that we won't have another child but in addition to that, I grieved the lack of a 'do-over.'” 

My do-over nearly killed my daughter; they aren’t always such a great thing. And separate from this post, how can there even be a do-over of a birth that’s already brought a human into the world? “Do-over,” in the birth world, is an oxymoron. 

“But that's crazy.  Why do I want a do-over?  My daughter's birth wasn't traumatic even though I've been told that it should have traumatized me.  I have a beautiful, healthy toddler.” 

I’ve come to feel the same way about Tristan’s birth. I am no longer embarrassed, much less ashamed, of his birth. While I would do it differently today (it would probably have included an epidural during a do-over), I wouldn’t have expended the years of energy on feeling badly about his birth. Or rather, trying to feel badly about his birth. Embarrassment and shame are very different emotions than sadness and regret. Try as I might, I couldn’t conjure the intense anger and sadness I was  told I should be feeling. In fact, when I got to writing about birth trauma and birth abuse, I tried really hard to use that filter when looking at Tristan’s birth. I’ve said, “I think I was birthraped,” but I never really believed it. And now, with much clarity, I know I was not. I may have had the Standard American Birth, but it was, by far, not birthrape. 

Our new mom-friend continues: 

At the root of this lie my insecurities as a mother.  The more fear I have as a mother the crunchier I want to be.  I work full time.  I feel guilty for being away from my daughter during the day and even more guilty for liking the work that I do while I'm away from my daughter.  So I respond to this by buying my daughter a Waldorf doll and only giving her organic milk. 

She profoundly continues: 

But the ironic thing here is that I want my daughter to have a life like mine instead of the mommybloggers I envy.*  I want her to have a good education and a career.  I want her to be financially independent of a man.  I want her to choose motherhood instead of having motherhood forced upon her. 

Online NCB rhetoric can really do a number on a new mom.  A few weeks ago you were in an office doing adult work with other grown ups.  Now you're up all night long with a newborn so you're chronically sleep deprived.  Let's not forget that sleep deprivation is a form of torture!  You're stressing about breastfeeding and whether such and such toy contains toxins. You're isolated and stuck in the house all day by yourself while your husband and friends are at work doing adult meaningful things while you are doing mountains of laundry.  It's a real shame that the online quarterbacks prey on that insecurity. 

Those last two paragraphs bring tears to my eyes every. single. time. I read them. And she is absolutely correct. 

She finishes by saying: 

The only real solution to this problem is to do what you've done here, tell real stories about birth, even those that don't fit the "truth birth" narrative. 

These words, and the sentiment along with them, that come from around the NetWorld, are what keep me writing, even when it seems to isolate me. Just when I feel the most isolated, I get amazing prose like this. And suddenly, I remember I am far from alone and have a responsibility to speak out for more than just me, but also for those that haven’t yet learned the language. 

I pray no mom is ever shamed about her birth again. 

*You guys know the mommybloggers I'm talking about.  Every meal served is nutritious and visually appealing.  Made with local produce from the Farmers Market.  Their children play only with beautiful wooden toys from Germany and produce beautiful works of art in their Waldorf inspired art corners.  No television for those kids who are dressed in sweaters handknit by Mama.”

My new granddaughter, Gabriella Grace, 11 days old.

References (1)

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Reader Comments (32)

Hmmm... not sure how I feel about this. When a woman chooses to have an elective c-section so her "vagina won't get ruined" 3 weeks before her due date and her baby ends up in the NICU and she ends up with an emergency hysterectomy... frankly, I think she should BE ashamed. Not so much about the birth, but about the foolish choices she made.

That said, I'm not so such what the NBC has to do with stay-at-home moms. I'm a homebirthing career woman. I only nursed for a few months and my (youngest) kid is in daycare. I'm a strong advocate of out-of-hospital birth, but it has nothing to do with being a stay-at-home mom. I just happen to believe that a hospital is the most dangerous place to have a baby for 90% of the population.

I think it's an unfair generalization to lump stay-at-home-moms (when did they stop being house wives??) in with home birthing moms. I know plenty of SAHMs that have had elective c-sections and formula fed.

Just my two cents...


September 17, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJen C.

Spot on, as always Barb : ) I spent a number of my final Midwifery years trying to give women the space to own and appreciate their births however,wherever and with whomever they had happened as unique, once-in-a-lifetime, unrepeatable and therefore sacred events that brought a new human person earthside. I did written battle with the NCB crowd I had come to view as largely pernicious and harmful to the psyches of the women who were coming to me for care as so often, they set women up for unreasonable and, I'll just say it, sometimes ridiculous expectations about birth and parenting. The "honey" coated versions of early motherhood, breastfeeding, toddlerhood and early childhood drove me nuts given that I was at least 15 years older than most of these women with teenage and almost grown up children and I knew that real life with kids is simply never, as you say, a Waldorf Classroom : ) Real life, real relationships, are messy. Pregnancy, birth and parenting are messy, which doesn't mean that they aren't fulfilling, but the pleasure and joy of parenting comes through acceptance of the ups and downs of daily life within a family; the good day and the really bad come full circle by the time the kids are grown...you know, then, that you have been "a parent".
All birth is beautiful and sacred. There is nothing anyone need do to make a birth more "spiritual" and home birth isn't more "special" and women who birth at home aren't inherently better mothers and that goes for women who breastfeed instead of bottle feed; a good mother is one who loves and enjoys her child, takes care of herself and her family to the best of her ability within the environmental, emotional, relational and socioeconomic context in which she finds herself and the rest is just "ribbon trim" and marketing.
The "mommy wars" have been fueled by those who profit from women's births be they OB's, Midwives, Doulas or Childbirth Educators; if someone's position on birth can be marketed to capture a paying audience, it will be, and women's self esteem and trust in their ability to mother in their own, unique ways is not only compromised, but sometimes, eroded to the point of serious depression and anxiety.
I was a home birth Midwife for quite a long time; now I'm a therapist in training and a Spiritual Director and many of the women who come to me for help, are suffering from the pressure to "birth" and "parent" perfectly according to someone elses yardstick. They need solid reality and good information, yes, but mostly, they need to know that another woman, another mother, trusts them, really, truly trusts them to know how to mother their children.

September 17, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMichelle

I think this is one part of it all that bothers me the most in the whole spectrum of motherhood. Instead of respecting the decisions that a mother's made to bring her child into this world, we find fault and tell them how they did it wrong. Instead of respecting that for some mothers staying at home and nurturing the family is the most satisfying thing in the world. Other mothers find their satisfaction in having a job and doing things.

We simply lack the ability to respect choices.

Instead of medical providers giving a mother the whole picture and letting her make the decisions, we have the ones that say things like, "If you don't let me do X, I can't guarantee a healthy baby." Since when can a provider guarantee the outcome of a birth ever? Things happens.

We have the same problem in the NCB community.

We should be supporting the decisions that mothers make, regardless of whether we would make them for ourselves. That, to me, is the true definition of feminism. Women get to make the choice to seek their own fulfillment without judgment from their peers.

This is why I refrain from making comments about other women's birth experiences. I might offer up stories or research while they are still pregnant, but after birth, isn't the point moot anyway?

September 17, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterTori

I made the mistake of once posting about the (amazing, empowering, FANTASTIC!) birth of my first child on a natural childbirth board I was active on at the time. I got reamed up one side and down the other because it involved interventions, told I shouldn't have posted it, told I should have put trigger warnings on it, and so on.

After a huge kerfuffle they created a spin-off birth trauma board so the situation wouldn't come up again. The fact that my particular birth was actually far from traumatic was beside the point. It was made very clear that I was *supposed* to feel ashamed and traumatized by my experience.

Come to think of it, I haven't ever written or shared narratives of the birth of my other two children- including one Perfect!Homebirth(tm)- because I was so taken aback by all that nonsense.

September 17, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterthyrsophoros

I'm getting a little tired of the negativity and lumping together of the "NCB crowd". I think that most women who try to educate others about their birth options only want what's best for the mother and the baby. I'm finding that there is a lot of generalization going on in these posts recently, and I think I'm going to stick to reading blogs by people who are more positive.

September 17, 2011 | Unregistered Commentersara r.

When I first began to work in L&D [1967], the only method of analgesia in labor was IV medication: a cocktail of Demerol, Phenergan [which made the effect of the Demerol stronger], and scopolamine [ostensibly an amnesiac, but which often made the recipient go berserk so that she had to be restrained]. Babies often had to be resuscitated, after forceps or vacuum births [mother was completely uncooperative under the influence, as well as having been given general anesthesia for the actual moment of delivery], with Narcan and even occasionally intubation.

ALL "natural childbirth" meant, back then, was unmedicated birth, and Lamaze method consisted entirely of breathing exercises to try and give the mother some relief. Babies were born with high Apgars instead of being limp and blue. But it took one tough lady to get through labor without any help at all.

The first caudals -- a variety of epidural -- were introduced by doctors who had learned to do them in Vietnam. Spinals could be used for C/Ss, but they had side effects and the woman was deprived of movement. [BTW, there weren't any fetal monitors or ultrasound back then]

Since then, NCB has come to mean something entirely different, and I think, in the main, retrograde. Forward to the Bad Old Days when each birth meant that a woman faced either her own death or that of her baby [or both]. Hemorrhage, infection, obstructed labors -- does anyone really want to risk those when they can be avoided? There isn't any physiologic reason a woman should feel any pain in labor, it is just that there isn't a 100% safe method of analgesia [even breathing exercises, done to excess, have the side effect of hyperventilation; I've seen women nearly pass out] even today.

It is worth remembering, I think, that today's "crunchy granola crowd" of mothers were almost entirely born to women who took medication in labor gladly, fed their children Gerber foods [before they took out all the salt and flavor] and formula, and who reveled in the new disposable diapers coming into vogue. And somehow, the children -- today's moms -- all turned out OK.

Nowadays I have become somewhat philosophical about it all, having seen so many fads and gimmicks come and go [and some come round a second time]. Dr. Spock has been debunked, new theories are in place -- but he still resonates for me: his main theory being "use common sense" and don't go to extremes.

September 17, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterAntigonos

Yes, this. I recall feeling bad about different aspects of my births. But having trust in my provider this last time, true trust, I looked at it and realized my feelings were foolish. I had not made a mistake going to a hospital to have my babies, I made a choice. It is not a war to fight every time I birth a baby, it's a dance. I have choices, I have decisions, and sometimes, especially in the moment, I make choices I wouldn't on a blog. I allow water to be broken or decide it's okay to be in bed for a while. I take that IV fluid. Now, these are small things, but they can be big things when you wanted it to go "perfectly." I do think we should do two things, make our choices wisely, and then when we do make them, give ourselves a big fat break. I admit to being suggestable in labor. If I am having strong and on top of one another back contractions (which may I add includes pain in the abdomen and very much in the vaginal/rectal area too), and you suggest breaking the water, I may think the pain will be over faster and do it. If you suggest I push REALLY hard, I might just do it. I might regret the rectocile, but or the intervention, but I do not regret the baby that had great apgars after having long decels in the 60's ten minutes before her vaginal birth. I celebrate the triumph of my healthy baby because it's a miracle. Not because I made a bad choice in letting the water be broken, but because all birth is unpredictable. Some things are within our control, and some things are not. If an intervention I choose does result in something abnormal happening, that just means it happened to me and I have to deal with it. It doesn't always happen to every woman every time, and I had to go with what was working at that moment. We cannot predict the future, we do not know the next moment. Our choices may be the cause of a problem, but those choices usually are just fine...so if there is a problem, it's actually likely not just the choice but the choice AND something else. If breaking the water caused the decel, it was also because of cord compression...and you know what, my OP baby with an asynclitic head and a very tight cord was handed to me stunned and healthy. A little off color, but on my chest. That was wonderful. Would I have changed anything, maybe going back, but I now know feeling guilty about the choices I made is wrong when I was just living in that moment and doing my best.

I do know when abuse has happened to me in birth. That time I did not make bad choices, I was coerced. I was bullied, and belittled, and because the OB was a great guy who knew his stuff and a few other RN's came in before baby was pushed out, I was rescued from more intervention. Now that regret was that I didn't fire the nurse. That I allowed all those VE's, that I didn't do something different. But, it was my in labor (which is, let's face it, a cave of unknowing...you get information and you aren't sure if it is a true picture of the future or not), and I again went with what I had to do. I just followed and then froze, it was my fight or flight reaction. I couldn't help it that day in that hour. I am stronger now because of that day, and I changed what I wanted to in that day. I also followed up and complained about the nurse to the hospital. I will say at my next birth I was assured I'd not get that nurse again, she had been let go and was not on that floor anymore. Maybe it was my complaint, maybe it was something a superior noticed in her. At any rate, I made choices after birth too. Looking back, I am a better woman for even the abusive birth. Because I used it. Again though, I had a healthy baby. If my baby had been harmed because of the interventions OR if I had a c-section that was not needed (how would I figure that out for sure?), I might have some anger still. But it wouldn't be because of my choices. I went with the information I had and trusted when I thought it was necessary.

September 18, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterDawn

Jen, I respectfully disagree. Neither shame nor guilt are particularly helpful emotions when dealing with sub-optimal situations like the one you describe. Wat purpose could they possibly serve in this woman coming to grips with the consequences of her choices? For one, such decisions are rarely made in a social vacuum, and nobody (besides herself) knows what others may have told her for her to come to the conclusions she came to.

As someone who suffered from self-imposed guilt over the consequences of my choices in my first child's birth, in which I tried to do everything 'right' but still ended up being served a shit sandwich that I then had the 'choice' to eat open-faced or in one piece, I know that such guilt served no good purpose in helping me heal, although it was a stage I guess I needed to get through on the journey. If someone else had tried to lay guilt or shame on me, I certainly would have shut down and not been receptive to anything they were trying to tell me, no matter how helpful it would have been in the end. It's simply not a great pedagogical tool.

I also think that the "mommy wars" are a huge smokescreen to cover up the actual social structures and processes that really influence people's choices. Access to care, (scientific) literacy, gender stereotypes, the Capitalist system, what have you. By making it seem like all individuals have access to (and a preference for) the same 'choices', and thus making those choices appear to be simply a matter of individual responsibility, we're just perpetuating the myth that we function in isolation -the very myth that makes contemporary motherhood so difficult to live (in my opinion anyway).

September 18, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterVW

JenC: Not sure if that's a real case or not, but even if the mom made the choice for a c/s before labor, the rest is not all her fault: Her OB 1. was responsible for giving her the information of the risk of delivering at 37 weeks 2. to check the baby's lungs for maturity 3. have the meds ready for a possible hemorrhage. If she had a hysterectomy after the hemorrhage, the doctor saved her life and while she will surely mourn the loss of her fertility, she will also be very thankful she lived. That the baby was in NICU was part her responsibility and part the doctor's.

And even IF all that happened as you say (which is very hard to believe, btw... that's a lot of what-if's to come to fruition), you have ZERO place to judge what her reasons were.

1. Perhaps she had a previous macrosomic baby that required her to have 3 vaginal repair surgeries in the last year and she needs to preserve her pelvic integrity instead of having another vaginal birth.

2. Perhaps she TOLD you she wanted to preserve her vaginal prettiness, but REALLY has a history of sexual abuse that she fears will be triggered by a vaginal birth.

And that's just two off the top of my head. Should a woman who chose a scheduled c/s for those reasons and had all those complications feel shame? Hell no!

And those are just off the top of my head scenarios. There are an infinite variation of reasons a women might choose the scheduled c/s at 37 weeks.

I encourage you, Jen, to keep your judgement to yourself.

September 18, 2011 | Registered CommenterNavelgazing Midwife

There are judgmental a-holes in any group/ constituency, but I think we are also socialized as girls and women to be too willing to take on criticism and shame for perfectly reasonable choices. I think there is a fair amount of shaming that goes on in both directions - from those who say natural/home birthers care more about the experience than their child and from those who think hospitals are evil. It reminds me of the sexual shaming that women often experience in adolescence. I think if we got more support for making our own decisions (different though they may be) for how we choose to use and experience our bodies sexually as young women (and compassion rather than shame and blame for the occasional mistakes that are inevitable) the birth dynamic would be much improved.

And by mistake I mean a decision that turned out not to be what the individual wanted/hoped/thought it would be. Basically, a regret.

September 18, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterEmily

Oh yes, this hits a nerve. I gave birth for the first time nearly 8 years ago and it was the "standard american birth". It wasn't nice and it was disappointing and frankly, the only thing that saved me from a cesarean was the fact that I progressed really fast. But other than that, it was the exact opposite of what I had hoped for. And rather than focus on the joy of being a mom, I spent a year mourning my experience and planning to "Do it right" next time.

When I was able to have a natural experience with my younger daughter 2.5 years after my first it was nice, but also a let down. There were no angles singing. It was a lot of work. And this time I spent months feeling guilty for doing it "Right" with my younger daughter but not with my older one.

Now I know that how I give birth does not, in any way, define me as a mother. And I tell this to *every* mom who I work with. That they deserve to feel joy regardless of how their baby emerges from their body. And that they have the right to define their experience- good or bad. But that every birth is a birth and they should allow themselves to immerse their minds and bodies in the joy of their child's birth.

September 18, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterVanessa

@Michelle love your response!!

"The "honey" coated versions of early motherhood, breastfeeding, toddlerhood and early childhood drove me nuts given that I was at least 15 years older than most of these women with teenage and almost grown up children and I knew that real life with kids is simply never, as you say, a Waldorf Classroom : ) Real life, real relationships, are messy. Pregnancy, birth and parenting are messy, which doesn't mean that they aren't fulfilling, but the pleasure and joy of parenting comes through acceptance of the ups and downs of daily life within a family; the good day and the really bad come full circle by the time the kids are grown...you know, then, that you have been "a parent".


September 18, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterTracey

And why, for that matter, is it such a shameful thing to want to keep from tearing? It really bugs me to see women derided as pretty princesses who want to keep porn-star nice for their husbands.

I care about being able to enjoy sex without pain, for both my own pleasure and for the health of my marriage. I care about preserving my pelvic integrity and continence, for my own dignity.I've seen relatives and friends experience the consequences of bad vaginal tears, and I decided I'd rather take my chances with CS complications.

A "bad" vaginal birth can be worse than a CS, especially when the CS is scheduled rather than emergent. If future placenta accreta is a legitimate reason to avoid CS, why isn't vaginal tearing a legitimate reason to want to avoid vaginal birth?

September 18, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterEmma B

Thank you

September 18, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterAndrea

Jen: Shame has no place in conversations about birth; I think that's the point that Barb, and I, are trying to make. Both of us have worked in the "birth world" for a very long time; we've seen what happens to women and families when women are coerced and shamed for their choices--and much of that happens in the NCB community. I have given birth to 6 children, two died in infancy due to a genetic neuromuscular disorder, I also have a child with spina bifida and three, young adult healthy kids. I had home births, and two c sections with my sick babies. I have breastfed for years, and chose not to at all with my last child because he was too sick, had a very poor suck and it was too exhausting for him, and for me. Women's birth choices have to represent what is best for that woman, during this birth, at this time in her life; we don't give birth or parent in a vacuum. There are many reasons for making choices and as far as I'm concerned, whatever choice a woman makes, for whatever reason, about how to birth and parent, is just fine by me. I have worked with women who wanted to schedule a c section because they had only a few weeks off of work and a maternity leave that had to start, and end, on a given set of dates---to wait around for 2 weeks for labor to start when they would have to return to work 4 weeks later, for some women, is a poor tradeoff; they've wanted to maximize time to be with their babies. Some women choose not to nurse because...they just don't want to and you know what, that's the end of that conversation as far as I'm concerned; she doesn't owe me, or anyone else, an explanation. I think it's just fine for women to do whatever they want to do and I know that they've thought about what they want, and why, and frankly, it's none of my business and to comment on it, or judge it, is simply inappropriate. We have to stop evaluating other women based upon their birth and parenting choices. We need to ask different, far more nuanced questions of each other in order to be in relationship. I care only that the mother is fulfilled and happy with her choices and in her role as a mother; how she got there, and how she lives it out day by day doesn't matter to me one bit.

September 18, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMichelle

I don't even know who these super-crunchy-mothers ARE! You go to these types of forums or groups and it SEEMS like everyone is in a no-TV, wooden-toy-only, all-organic household....

What I've found is, people tend to share what they DO that is crunchy. They don't share what they DON'T DO. In quite a few places, I;ve stumbled across a "Confessions" thread. And found out that the mother who cooks EVERYTHING from scratch, makes her own preserves and doesn't buy ANYTHING from Nestle circ'd her first child, or vaccinated her children, or spanks them occasioanlly, or more likely, all three! The mother who is bringing her kids up bi-lingual and aims for a chemical free household still buys Golden grahams because her husband adores them.... The mother who is still breastfeeding her five year old has only ever used disposables.

I really have NO IDEA who this "NBC" crowd that you are referring to IS. I reckon it's a group made up of PERSONAS, not PEOPLE. ?? Some forums actively censor anyone who says "actually I didn't do.... " or "acually I prefer..." which just goes to perpetuate this illusion that there is a number of women out there completely barefoot, completely crunchy, knitting all her own jam and shunning bras, ready-meals and Big Pharma, always perfectly well mannered, never loses her temper with her children and only ever uses her time for wholesome hibbie and blogging about how faqing perfect she is. THESE WOMEN DON'T EXIST except on the screen and in peoples heads!

Open your eyes, women - or womyn, or whatever.... Before you let yourself feel embarrassed before all this "perfection", take a second look. What is really REAL?!

September 18, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterSam

All I can say is people need to respect the decisions of others. Not all birth plans work for all people and they shouldn't ... they are supposed to be individualized and fit the needs of the individual woman. But alas, women who are THE most judgmental and the least forgiving seem to have this notion that the way they did it is the only way to do it. Get over yourselves people.

It is the year 2012, where women are free at least in this country today and they can make choices that work for them. If you decide to have a c-section so you don't pee when you cough or sneeze, it is your choice. If you want to birth at home, more power to you and if you decide that a hospital birth is best, that also is fine. Praise women for having families and for being able to have a voice and decide what is best. Quit trying to force your personal ideals onto others and stop trying to make them feel bad for not doing what you do.

There is nothing unnatural about birth ... regardless if you have a section, a hospital birth with epidural, a home birth or deliver in a cab on the way ... they are all natural.

September 18, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterhape2bamom

Sam, I get what you mean here. The stereotyping is largely unhelpful (from both 'sides') but do you not see the problem that this sort of stuff was on a 'confessions' thread? That there is still some sort of 'ideal' that we are 'meant' to achieve with our parenting that is frankly impossible? It shouldn't be a 'confession' it should just be another choice that someone is making; realistic and pragmatic choices that work for their families.

September 19, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterKaren

Firstly, Barb, congratulations on your stunningly cute new grand-daughter!!
Secondly, thank you for this discussion which I am finding very powerful. I have been struggling for some time now to find anything sacred or beautiful in the 2 planned C-sections, which followed the death shortly after birth of my first child. The only thing that one could say in defence of the 2 C's is that no-one died. Everything that could go wrong did [from failed epidural to incorrect needle count] and many suboptimal clinical decisions were made [no trial dose of bupivicaine to detect adverse cardio reaction, general anaesthesia using a drug which had been superseded 5 years earlier etc etc etc].
The one thing I had requested was to see my baby as soon as possible after the operation and they even stuffed this up. At the first C, she was apparently shown to me but I have no memory of it (scopolamine causes retrograde amnesia). At the second, the epidural block was so dense, I thought I'd been permanently paralysed and was too preoccupied with terror to focus on my baby. I have given birth 3 times but I've never seen a newborn baby - this kills me. I don't blame myself but I just can't shake a desperate sadness and emptiness whenever I'm reminded of what should have been the most wonderful days of my life.
I would be grateful for any advice that you - or anyone else on here - can give. Thank you.

September 19, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterLee

I started reading this and similar blogs in response to a good friend being pregnant and involved in these discussions. After reading several and the comments people make, I can solidly say I am thankful I was not aware of this debate when I was having children a couple years ago. It would have been one more needless thing for me to stress about and feel guilty over. I was literally depressed when I was only able to breastfeed my daughter for 9 months...I prob couldn't have dealt with the stress and guilt some people on these blogs are handing out. My first daughter was induced and I had an epidural. My twins were delivered by c-section because "twin A" turned breech weeks before they were to be born. now I have 3 amazingly smart, funny and beautiful girls. They are all healthy, proportionate, active and happy. Their deliveries were joyous occasions I shared with my husband and mother. Apparently I was endangering their lives by trusting the advice of an amazingly helpful doctor who had years of both education and experience AND had three healthy children of her own.

I am thankful to all the bloggers and commentors who realize and vocalize that birth decisions are personal and no mother should be judged for making the decision she feels is the best decision with the information she has available to her at the time. I do not judge women who chose home births or anything else...even though I did not make the same decision. I think it is amazing they have the strength and courage to do that. I just don't understand why so many people are judging those who chose a different path.

And for the first commentor, who said that hospitals are dangerous places for 90% of women delivering is simply uneducated. I'm sorry...that was judgemental, but I'll stand by that one.

September 19, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMJ Williamson

Hmmm... Maybe I can manage a short comment if I mostly plagiarize?

I think there have already been some excellent responses to Jen, whose comment honestly offended me-- a person who is planning a HB.

I just need to cosign these two comments, from VW and Emily:

I also think that the "mommy wars" are a huge smokescreen to cover up the actual social structures and processes that really influence people's choices. Access to care, (scientific) literacy, gender stereotypes, the Capitalist system, what have you. By making it seem like all individuals have access to (and a preference for) the same 'choices', and thus making those choices appear to be simply a matter of individual responsibility, we're just perpetuating the myth that we function in isolation -the very myth that makes contemporary motherhood so difficult to live (in my opinion anyway).

There are judgmental a-holes in any group/ constituency, but I think we are also socialized as girls and women to be too willing to take on criticism and shame for perfectly reasonable choices. I think there is a fair amount of shaming that goes on in both directions - from those who say natural/home birthers care more about the experience than their child and from those who think hospitals are evil.

Amen and amen.

I don't really get the point of comments like these, though:

There is nothing unnatural about birth ... regardless if you have a section, a hospital birth with epidural, a home birth or deliver in a cab on the way ... they are all natural.

I'm happy to have my eyes opened if there's something I'm not seeing, but I don't get it. I've heard this before, including from medical professionals.

The onetime English major in me is happy to deconstruct the meaning of the word "natural" and discuss its subjectivity. But what I think is really going on here is defensiveness and the implication that "natural" is being used by someone as code for "superior" or even just "good." I know a small number of people do feel that way; personally, I strongly disagree. For the most part, I think the word/idea is value-neutral-- in addition to being vague and ill-defined and the subject of debate. But if it has any sort of meaning relating to something being more or less human-engineered, then either not all of those ways of birth are natural, or they are on a spectrum of "natural." Maybe a spectrum in which the order of shades is debatable-- but a spectrum nonetheless.

The only other argument that would make sense to me would be if everything that happens on earth or in the known universe is natural-- and only supernatural, fantastical things, like fire-breathing dragons, are not natural.

But what is more likely going on IMO is that people resent the implication that natural = better (something I certainly think is BS). But instead of saying, hey, that's BS-- more or less "natural" does not necessarily mean better, and further, it's hard to define "natural"-- they just say that everything is natural. But by saying that, they just reinforce the whole sort of red herring of "natural is best" (like "breast is best") which is all about divide and conquer, really, and not about supporting anything that may actually be best for anyone. And which is mostly reinforced by those who are invested in the status quo (what is "normal," if not "best.")

If that makes sense.

Oh, look, another long-azz comment!

September 19, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterDreamy

NGM - thank you for this insightful essay. I really admire your ability to reflect on a lifetime of experience and come to such mature conclusions.

And congrats on that stunningly beautiful grandchild - what a blessing!

September 21, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterSue

Thanks for another great post on a very great blog. It is hard to disagree with anything you have written. I am the mother of four grown children, and was a homebirth midwife for almost twenty years. I was determined to be the crunchiest mother on the block, but in real life it didn't work out quite so well. I recall that at a childbirth educator workshop, the question-of-the-day was "What do you do when your child wants a hot dog?" We discussed alternatives, while in the back of my mind I could envision my son at home, shoving an Oscar Meyer into his cherubic face.

I had determined that my children were not going to play with toy guns. But you know, they ended up turning L-shaped sticks into rifles and building pistols out of Legos. Chocolate? Nooo...not for my wholesome children! So I melted carob into a bunny-shaped lollipop. My son threw it into his potty and went for a bag of (yes!) NESTLE chocolate chips.

In the end, I simply did the best I could. And those four children have turned into magnificent adults. None of them has made a lifelong diet of hot dogs. No one has shot up a Walmart, and (to the best of my knowledge anyway), none of them eats chocolate chips as a steady diet.

I wonder if I am the only one who remembers "Junk Food Junkie." It is a great song by Larry Groce. So much of it could be applied to the NCB folks, as well as the granola-ier than thou group:

You know I love that organic cooking
I always ask for more
And they call me Mr Natural
On down to the health food store
I only eat good sea salt
White sugar don't touch my lips
And my friends is always begging me
To take them on macrobiotic trips
Yes, they are

Oh, but at night I stake out my strong box
That I keep under lock and key
And I take it off to my closet
Where nobody else can see
I open that door so slowly
Take a peek up north and south
Then I pull out a Hostess Twinkie
And I pop it in my mouth

Yeah, in the daytime I'm Mr Natural
Just as healthy as I can be
But at night I'm a junk food junkie
Good lord have pity on me

Well, at lunchtime you can always find me
At the Whole Earth Vitamin Bar
Just sucking on my plain white yogurt
From my hand thrown pottery jar
And sippin' a little hand pressed cider
With a carrot stick for dessert
And wiping my face in a natural way
On the sleeve of my peasant shirt
Oh, yeah

Ah, but when that clock strikes midnight
And I'm all by myself
I work that combination on my secret hideaway shelf
And I pull out some Fritos corn chips
Dr Pepper and an ole Moon Pie
Then I sit back in glorious expectation
Of a genuine junk food high

Oh yeah, in the daytime I'm Mr Natural
Just as healthy as I can be
Oh, but at night I'm a junk food junkie
Good lord have pity on me

My friends down at the commune
They think I'm pretty neat
Oh, I don't know nothing about arts and crafts
But I give 'em all something to eat
I'm a friend to old Euell Gibbons
And I only eat home grown spice
I got a John Keats autographed Grecian urn
Filled up with my brown rice
Yes, I do

Oh, folks but lately I hae been spotted
With a Big Mac on my breath
Stumbling into a Colonel Sanders
With a face as white as death
I'm aftraid someday they'll find me
Just stretched out on my bed
With a handful of Pringles potato chips
And a Ding Dong by my head

In the daytime I'm Mr Natural
Just as healthy as I can be
But at night I'm a junk food junkie
Good lord have pity on me

September 22, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterValerie Runes, Esq., RN


I have to make that a post.

*running off to do so*

September 22, 2011 | Registered CommenterNavelgazing Midwife

Thank you for this post, but especially for responding to Jen C's horrible comment. She couldn't have illustrated your point more clearly if she tried!

To Jen C:

You do know that many women need hysterectomies because of VBs, right? And that babies go to NICU after VBs too?

I wonder if you would be so nasty to a woman who had a difficult postdates VB that resulted in a hysterectomy and NICU admission.

Stop this hypocrisy around what other women choose to do with their bodies, babies, and families. It's none of your business. You don't have a monopoly on information or the moral authority to determine what is right or wrong for anyone else. Pious busybodies like yourself are the ones who should be ashamed.

September 23, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJane

Simply excellent post, and some really fantastic comments.

I feel sort of "ruined" for these types of discussions. My oldest child is almost seven, and I spent years, literally, fighting online about these types of issues... I feel badly for not contributing my two cents but I am honestly just exhausted! I still appreciate discussions such as this one a great deal, however.

Sam, your comment was simply excellent... and it's what I have come to find.

I was at a recent leadership meeting for a holistic parenting group and I was floored when the crunchiest mom I have ever met (whose home we were in), said, "Do you guys mind if we move this into the living room? It would be so much easier for me to host if my son were able to watch TV during the meeting." I wanted to give her a big hug and say, "Welcome to the Dark Side!"

September 23, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterAnastasia

I'm afraid that we have lost sight of what we are in this 'business' for.

I am in the business of empowering women. This means empowering them in ALL situations... even the 'disempowering' ones, ESPECIALLY in the disempowering ones.

My CV states:

"I believe that childbirth is a natural and normal event. Variations in birth occur rarely, but current medical practices treat birth as a risky event in which variations occur commonly. I believe that it is not always birth that is risky, but often what we do to it that introduces risk.

I am an advocate of natural childbirth, but, more than that, work to empower women to make their own educated decisions regarding labor and birth. I advocate and support women who choose a variety of birth options, and who labor in a variety of birth settings.

My main goal is to help you to understand your options so that you can make the best choices for your family’s needs. The best outcomes can be achieved through balancing ancient wisdom and practices with current research and technology. As the saying goes, “If you don’t know your options, you have none.” I will work diligently to minimize risk in your birth by providing options and education prenatally and during your birthing time, as a personal birth guide."

I truly believe this. If I am placing my birth choices on another woman's birth experience, I am taking away the one thing I am hoping so much for her - to help her feel confident in HER choices.

Since when did working to give women choices mean limiting those that we ourselves would not choose? I believe that a woman has the right to birth wherever, with whomever, and however she so chooses.. My job is to help give her the knowledge and support to minimize the risks associated with her choices in order to try and assure the best chance possible of achieving the birth that she hopes for.

We can't always avoid those risks. And hoping to allow a woman to own her birth experience and grow into a happy and healthy mother but then shaking your head at her and 'tsking' her story is not going to accomplish anything but hurt, seclusion, and anger.

As I like to say, "how can we hope to teach women how to become mothers when we treat them like children?"....

'the evil ob' tsks a woman for having a home birth and endangering her baby, shaming her choices - which, in turn, limits her options. And now, so have many in the NCB camp sat 'tsking' a woman for having chosen a hospital birth with medication, endangering her baby and shaming her choices - which, in turn, limits her options.

My birth empowerment quotes are not the same as many NCBers... one of my favorites is: "Courage allows the successful woman to fail - and to learn powerful lessons from the failure - so that in the end, she didn't fail at all." - Maya Angelou

You are not a failure as a mw/doula grandma with a daughter who had a cesarean. Your daughter is not a failure for having a hospital birth with intervention and a cesarean.. why? Because I know YOU from your blog here, and, if your daughter is anything like YOU, I know HER.

And, knowing both of you, it doesn't matter the process, as long as healing and perspective can accomplish the deeper work - growth. Growth as a professional, a mother, a grandmother, a birth worker, a daughter, a midwife...

September 26, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterCole

Cole: I really appreciate your sharing your thoughts and they feel great, so thank you.

After all those wonderful words, it feels kind of funny to pick one out and talk about it, but I would be remiss if I didn't.

Regarding the word "empower," I am of the firm belief that NO ONE can empower a woman; she empowers herself/her Self. We can offer information and our experiences, but only she is able to *take* that information and find empowerment.

I used to say, "I empower women" as well and other, more experienced, midwives and birth activists pointed this out to me, that when I said that, the POWER went to *me*, not the woman.

I am sure, just like me, you didn't mean that AT ALL; I know exactly what you mean saying it, but it is, in my opinion, one of those words that we *should* (har) pay attention to and allow women the control.

And even if we disagree with her choices, it is our responsibility as birth workers to SEE her as empowered. That in and of itself, removes the aura of shame too many told birth stories contain.

September 26, 2011 | Registered CommenterNavelgazing Midwife

so, perhaps we should change it from 'my job is to empower' to 'my job is to give her the space to become empowered'. :)

October 4, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterCole

The only situation I see Jen's scenario fitting is a known placenta previa being delivered at 36-37 weeks without an amnio to document lung maturity and the patients hemorrhages due to the previa or worse accreta and she fails post partum hemorrhage maneuvers and requires a hyst. This would hardly be a patient for an attempted homebirth. Having said that, I have been in practice for 19 years, in Chicago hospitals and rurals hospitals, and this luckily has never happened to me. Just for the record then this is a rare event and shouldn't be blogged about by NCBers as if this is a daily occurrence. ACOG allows elective inductions after 39 weeks with a favorable cervix. Most patients want this. They don't want to be racing into the hospital 30 minutes at 2 am trying to find someone to watch their kids. Schedule it, get baby sitters, start labor in the hospital, AROM early if head engaged with AMOL. lights are down, music is on, can eat lightly in labor, use the labor ball if desires, if the head is engaged (if SROM) so the cord won't slip past ambulated around if she wants, use an epidural if you want, or nubbin, or breathing, or doula, or even an acupuncturist a couple of times. When pushing there is no yelling, sometimes we don't even count. She can push lying down, pulling a towel, use the birthing squat bar or whatever else is feasible. I deliver the baby, sometimes if the woman wants I let her pull the baby the rest of the way out after I deliver the shoulders. The baby can go on the woman's chest if the baby is stable and the husband can cut the cord. We have 24 hour baby rooming in yet a lot of moms opt to have the nurses watch their baby over night so they can rest. And all the while if some disaster like HR bradycardia, hemmorhage, cervical or anal sphincter lacerations, inverted uterus, need for manual placenta extraction or whatever occurs I can handle it. I won't need to transfer or call for help!
I read these posts and appreciate there are good docs and bad ones, good midwives and bad ones. Even Mosny recently presided over a delivery in which the baby died. As has Lisa Barrett at least five times, and even Ina Gaskin. That author of a book on how to have a perfect delivery tried to deliver her own twins and one died. Women, families want healthy children. They didn't get pregnant to have a vaginal birth (home birth or awesome birth experience), but to have a healthy baby, a baby born alive. Doctors and midwives should never belittle patients. I worked at Masonic in Chicago with midwives and they would transfer out at least a third of their patients from the alternative birthing center to L&D because the patient wanted an epidural. Many of the times the midwife would then chastise the woman for breaking the no epidural contract. Really? Is that necessary? Goal- healthy baby. I personal do like epidurals for my patients. I don't talk them into it but they are in control. Not writhing around in pain. They are a better witness to their own birth, watching as they push. These are the woman who arethe ones who usually are able to pull their own baby out after I start the delivery. To many times the patient believes once the baby is out the worst is over. You still have to deliver the placenta, hope you don't need a manual extraction. Any lacerions need repair? With an spousal you don't need to be stuck with the lidocaine needle multiple times to get that area numb. Fundal massage to limit post partum bleeding hurts less with an epidural. If a patient wants an epidural why do NCBers get so upset? I will never advocate a home birth though. Reading these NCB homebirth stories are lawsuits in the real world. Babies that would otherwise be alive. Now I guess depending on where you live and whether you have insurance may dictate that trying a homebirth may be apparently safer than your closest hospital or cheaper, but really this is about the life of your child. If you had cancer you may travel far to get the best treatment available. You probably drive a nice car, have a nice cell phone with an expensive data plan, but you are going to argue that rather thanpaying for a safe hospital or traveling to a safe hospital, you would rather save some money and deliver at home because a snakeoil salesman tells you it's safe? All these NCB advocates presided over dead babies. Either I am the exeption with a great safety record or someone (NCBers) is stretching the truth so that they can keep some clients to pay them so they can keep their job.

November 9, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterCaptainObvious66

I'm going to make your comment a post on its own, with some minor editing to make paragraphs and correct spelling errors. Your beliefs are very familiar to me, but most docs I know wouldn't say things quite so... arrogantly? Probably too strong a word, but sort of strong like that.

I look forward to the comments to your thoughts.

November 9, 2011 | Registered CommenterNavelgazing Midwife

C-sections are a major contributor to secondary infertility. Perhaps her chance to have another was stolen by an unnecessary first C-section.

December 7, 2012 | Unregistered Commentermimi

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