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Sunday
Apr072013

Judging Birth Stories

I asked this on my Navelgazing Midwife Facebook Page "When you tell your birth story, do you feel judged?" and while I knew the answer, it was still enlightening to hear what women had to say.

TJ: I sometimes feel judged as a midwife because my birth experiences weren't 'midwifery enough', but fortunately many women I care for don't ask.

MS: I don’t tell my story because nobody cares to listen to other peoples stories.

NgM: I don’t find that true at all. People love hearing others’ birth stories.

HS: Always. And crazily enough, it depends on who I'm telling it to what ~type~ of judgment I feel.

EB: It hasn't occurred to me to care.

AF: I love to share my stories.

The first one is a thriller full of tension and drama, and honestly, Hallmark movies don't get nearly the ratings of The Walking Dead.

The second one is pretty boring with the exception of the kid peeing on the OB as he was held up for me to see. That's about the only part I share often. Humor sells too.

Do I tell them often? Nope. I don't get asked much now, and I didn't get asked much when they were young either. The average person is not interested.

The people who think birth is supposed to be this amazing transformational experience don't think much of my stories because they aren't about magic moments and soft focus pictures. I'm not interested in rewriting my experience to fit their favorite narrative.

CF: You know what's funny? I actually had a pain-free, intervention-free birth (thanks Hypnobabies) and was too embarrassed to share my story for awhile. The moms I knew seemed to enjoy sharing their stories, which they were overwhelmingly not happy with, but they didn't seem receptive to hear about enjoying my pregnancy and having fun while giving birth. I almost ended up feeling like I was apologizing for having the kind of birth I did. It took my best friend helping me to understand that women wouldn't know this kind of birth was even possible unless it women shared those experiences. I was so scared of women feeling like I was saying their experience was less than mine if I shared, but that wasn't ever what I was trying to get across. So I've found myself carefully framing my story to make sure they still feel validated and heard and that they know I truly believe that each story is unique and worth celebrating.

SBN: Yep. With both - the epidural-first-time-mom-not-quite-my-own-advocate and my non-meds one that was serene and minimal. You can't win.

HS: Seeing an interesting trend on this thread.....It appears a lot of moms who've had positive experiences (whether natural, augmented, or surgical) feel reluctant to share their stories. So many women love to share their horror stories of birth, either their own or someone else's, that hearing a happy one is almost taken in offense.

CK: It's a rock and a hard place when you want to vbac. Especially when you want to vbac with no epidural. Have you ever been on magnesium sulfate? That is some nasty stuff, and a huge game changer when your plan for pain management includes lots of movement and a tub.

EC: No, however I don't share much in mixed company because so many people have negative stories. Mine are both mainly positive and I think that can annoy people. Same thing when I share about my breastfeeding success. So I guess it is a kind of judgment, or maybe they are afraid that they are being judged by me (they're not!)?

HMD: Certainly. People think, "how boring..."

LSA: It depends on who it is I'm telling it to.

SSC: My first pregnancy was really enjoyable but the birth was awful and my second pregnancy was not as enjoyable but the birth was wonderful. I find that you just can't win. I frame telling stories about both based on the audience.

HMD: Mine was neither happy and exciting, nor terrifying and dangerous. But it was anti-climatical to the pregnancy. I should write that up, with pictures.

AF: You should go with the narrative: "My pregnancy nearly killed us, the c-section saved our lives.".

I think that's fairly accurate.

CK: Yes. My first had heart issues, so he was born via c-section. My second was a vbac attempt +preeclampsia +OP +failed induction. I feel like I’m being judged when I talk about it, but I know a lot of it comes from my own negative feelings about both births.

DH: I always feel bad for mothers with pre-e that really puts them between a rock and a hard place.

AF: Pre-e puts you into a high risk pregnancy which can usually be managed effectively by an experienced HCP. I don't see the "rock and hard place" unless a woman has a problem with managing a serious condition properly.

AS: No. The only people I tell my story to are friends, family, and coworkers, and none of them are judgmental

MF: Yes - but it never matters - for it hurts more not to tell people about Finley (her baby that died). And with Toni-joi's I am the one that judges the choices I made.

APH: No, but it's not something that comes up these days. My baby is 17!

SM: Often. I don't care much. I still share.

DRS: I had a c-section because of breech position with my daughter, and felt judged before I (had the) birth, with all the advice on how to flip her, being 4'10", it was unlikely. With my son I fought hard for a VBAC and had a hospital delivery, went into labor naturally, but had an epidural, he aspirated meconium so was in the NICU for 5 days. After that experience I could care less about judgment since I fought hard to do my bet for him and he is now EBF and healthy!

EEC: Well, I had C-Sections, so yes.

SWM: It depends who I tell it to....

MM: Every time.

EG: No, but I try to frame the stories for the audiences. I've had an induction-epidural hospital birth, a narcotic hospital birth and then two homebirths. I can relate to almost everyone!

JB: I no longer tell my story, bits and pieces yes, but not the whole thing. I no longer share it because my trauma has grown into love for myself and my journey. Am I still pissed about parts of it? Sometimes. When I did share my story a lot I felt my own self judgment the most. When I hear other birth stories, as I have learned to love my own, I have learned to love and accept their stories. Before I processed my journey, I judged others as harshly as I judged myself.

GS: Yes.

LSL: After my first Hypnobabies birth I wanted to tell everyone how awesome and comfortable it was. I was laughed at and made fun of by main stream mom friends and got the attitude from my natural birthing friends that I wasn't one of them since it wasn't a painful experience. I had another pain-free hands-off  Hypnobabies birth a few years later and I still don't share that story unless I know someone well.

SB: Yes and no. Those people who hate homebirth or are anti-midwife judge me for having di/di full term twins at home. Everyone else thinks it is great, including me and my family.

NgM: Here I am talking about not judging and my first thought about your birth, SB, is “No way!” I don’t hate home births nor am I anti-midwife, yet I still question your smarts in birthing di/di twins at home. I wonder if you’ll change that viewpoint over the years as I did my UC birth. How much judgment was in that comment? Bad, Barb… but being honest.

TR: Yes all the time. I had an emergency c-section and our baby had to be resuscitated. Since then I've had 4 more sections. I just don't offer that info anymore.

KS: I've come to peace with my first birth that led to a c section, the other 2 I feel went exactly as they were meant to, and the interventions that happened were needed - I managed the timing of them and never felt out of control. I don't feel judged at all when telling my stories.

AB: A lot of people think that I'm insane for homebirthing.

LA: Knee jerk: uh, no. Thoughtful answer: it depends on who I am talking to. I never feel judged about my hospital birth, my unassisted home births (some planned, some not) tend to leave jaw drops from most, and inspire horror from most medical professionals.

KDK: No. But I generally don't share in a judgmental atmosphere and I'm confident and unapologetic about all my births from my C-section to my storybook VBAC. Usually I get FAR more judgment surrounding the number of births I've had vs. the kind of births I've had.

RAJ: Yep.

AN: I find that the only people who really ask are the types that want to judge. I had an uneventful unmedicated hospital birth so it usually passes without judgment from either the NCB camp or the mainstream camp.

EWC: Yes frequently, especially my first.

SC: I only tell if people ask. The only people who ask are the ones who either really love me or really love births, or both, so no, no judgment. I do sometimes mention to others (especially mamas expecting their first) that I had a really easy, short labor and delivery... I leave it at that unless they ask, but I think it's nice to hear positive, non-scary stories, since people mostly hear the bad stuff.

MH: I don't share my birth stories mostly. Very few know them.

KS: Yup.

MM: Not in real life, but on the Internet in most birth related groups I often feel like I need to add a disclaimer about why my inductions were 'necessary'. The judgment doesn't bother me (it's people on the Internet for goodness sake) but I do hate that I find myself trying to justify irrelevant aspects of the events that gave me my three beautiful sons.

HH: There is nothing better to start the conversation with "I've had 5 sections." to be judged.

DH: At times, yes, (depending on who I tell it to) - like I was stupid for taking such risks (VBAC and attempted VBAC that ended rather dramatically - but safely - in a cesarean). One person, a dad, actually, asked me, "So, you had an emergency c-section?" I told him, "That depends on who you ask." I'm not sure he knew what to think.

LW: Yes, in the best way possible! Judged as a WINNER!

AMJ: Yep. Homebirthers seem to think I shouldn't have transferred (for prolonged first stage/swelling cervix/length of time since waters breaking), and non-homebirthers seem to think I should have just been in hospital all along….

TP: I think you showed courage and common sense.

MC: I'm judged more as an activist because I was a failed induction c/s... like the attitude is "who are you to be on a soap box when you did this"

ST: Yep.

BR: Always.

KW: Nope and I'm especially proud of my unassisted birth.

MB: I couldn't care less if someone else wants to judge me!

ALB: Yep.

NgM: I remember the first time I felt judged. It was by my future Bradley class (a group of us were in an exercise class together) and I had just told my hospital birth story, showing the pics and everything. It wasn’t right away, but when I realized these were natural birthing women, I asked how they could stay quiet about my birth and they said they knew I would eventually figure out the error of my ways if I hung out long enough. I was so embarrassed. I’m angry that I felt that way now; one should never be ashamed of one’s birth story.

I was totally judged for my Unassisted Birth (no more than by myself nowadays), thought I was crazy for doing what I did. (I concur.) The third birth (a car birth) was always told with such humor, no one could possibly judge any part of it, even though I wasn’t home birthing (membranes ruptured seven days before labor started… oh, is there judgment there!?). I also didn’t care what anyone thought, so wouldn’t have noticed judgment if there was any.

What can we do about judgments with birth stories? Is there a way to change the culture from one of “How could you do that?” to one of “How great that you did that!” – no matter what kind of birth it was.

Notice how many women said they judged themselves. What kind of culture exists that causes a woman to second-guess her birth? Why can’t the birth stand alone, without a comparison or contrast? Is there a way each of us can phrase comments that don’t make it sound like we are judging? Can we just state: “from here on out, there will be no judging and the assumption is there is no judging” so we can just go on, women feeling safe to tell their stories? That’s what I’d like to see.

And then there’s the compulsion to judge women’s births. We need to nip that urge, too, before it smears its ugly self all over a woman’s story. How do we re-program ourselves to not think, “She shouldn’t have x, y, z, but should have a, b, c instead.” Is it human nature to judge? I’d love to ask a sociologist! But, even if it is inborn, there are ways to de-program those thoughts so we don’t hurt those we’re talking and listening to.

Can we just listen with an open heart? Hearing the woman’s story for what it is? This is what I propose. That we suspend our thoughts and judgments so we are able to listen, really hear, what the person is saying as she tells her story. So many of us know what it feels like to be judged, imagine what it would be like if we all took the time to be in the moment with the story, not second-guessing or re-creating it with our own prejudices. Wouldn’t that be awesome? I say we all start doing this now and encourage those around you to do the same. Judgments suck, all the way around. So let’s eliminate them and allow women and their births to just Be. As they are. Beautiful and powerful and awe-inspiring, no matter how they unfolded. Or difficult and painful and achingly sad… if that is how the birth went. Allow the experience to be what it is, no matter what. What kind of world might we create if we were all able to let go of our judgmental selves? I believe a rather nice one.

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Reader Comments (5)

"Listen with an open heart," yes! My birth story is of the early/high risk/excessive bleeding/doctor cursing/OR bedlam variety, so I rarely share it. I respect that it's freaky and scary and not what most women want to think about. But it is a beautiful story to me. That moment when they said "you have a daughter," and I asked "is she alive" and they said yes, it was the best moment of my life. When I think about my daughter's birth, I imagine carrying her away from the wreckage of a burning plane.

It's too bad we can't share our stories without all the baggage, but it's also normal that we hear and tell stories through our own lens that may make them incomprehensible even to other women who have also birthed.

I blogged my own ode to the scary birth story here: http://chronicladybug.blogspot.com/2012/06/telling-scary-stories-about-childbirth.html

April 8, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterMary

With my first pregnancy I went into it with the idea that I would attempt to do a natural birth but if things got too bad I'd ask for pain relief. I faced some judgement from some people I told who all told me that "I'd be begging for my epidural by the time I got to the hospital." He was very late and I made a plan with my doctor to induce once we reached 42 weeks. Labor started literally 6 hours before I was to check into the hospital for induction. He was a medication free natural birth in a hospital. My next two babies were natural births as well. I wasn't judged that I know of for my choices in birthing.

The truth is that I was the judgmental one. I had no problem with people who had necessary c-sections but I did wonder a LOT about all the interventions that everyone around me had. I judged them...not them judging me. The more I learned the more I judged until I started realizing that I was wrong for judging. Then my fourth pregnancy rolled around. I was found to be carrying twins at 12 weeks and my life became much more complex.

Instead of just rocking along through my pregnancy I was always at the doctor's office for checkups, ultrasounds and later the hospital for NSTs biweekly. I had never been so monitored. My doctor was very willing to assist me in a vaginal delivery. When 37 weeks rolled around there was talk about induction...I was ok with inducing at 40 weeks. At 38 weeks there was more pressure to induce but my doctor was still ok with how me and the babies were doing. At 38 weeks and 6 days I went for a regular NST and baby B's heartbeat couldn't be found. THe nurse did an ultrasound and STILL couldn't find it. The long story made short is that my doctor finally did find it but he was no longer happy with our situation. He was getting very nervous about baby B who was also taking a LOOOOONG time to pass NSTs. I was 6 cm dilated and my OB wanted me to stay in the hospital that night and induce by rupture of membranes in the morning. I consented.

My decision was not with out fear of judgement though. I worried what my 'natural birth' friends would think of my decision ESPECIALLY because I'd been so judgmental of others in the past. Then in labor I had to decide if I'd get an epidural "for emergencies". I actually had decided to get one but again discussing with my husband that I was actually afraid my sisters would be disappointed in me. I never did get one though because I was pushing only about 20 minutes after my contractions started. Then in delivery Baby B turned transverse. My doctor attempted to turn him several times. On the last time the baby's heart rate dropped from the 150's to the upper 80's to the low 90's and didn't come back up. I was put to sleep and a c-section was performed. His apgar was 5 at one minute of age.

The truth is that I haven't faced any judgement at least not to my face about my choices for the twins. BUT I do feel the need to explain why I chose to induce. I guess trying to explain why I thought it necessary so people won't judge. Truthfully I didn't want to lose baby B. Perhaps I could have made it to 40 weeks and both babies have been fine. Maybe If my doctor wouldn't have tried so hard to turn B and instead let me change positions B would have flipped on his own without crashing and needing a section....Who knows? What I do know is that while I am a very strong supported of natural birth I have learned to judge less. I am not there when women make their choices. I don't have to know why. I don't have to agree. I am happy with my choices and I only wish other women could feel the same way about their choices.

April 8, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterStephanie Mushonga

I don't understand the dig about the di/di twins at home. I mean, other than if you're just anti-twins-at-home in general - which is entirely possible. But the way you said it makes it sound like di/di twins are especially dangerous, when my impression was that it was mono/mono twins that were so risky? Am I mistaken there?

April 8, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterKaren

I dont tell anyone my story. I am a midwife & had antenatal depression with my pregnancy. I culminated when I had a breakdown at work when I was about 28 weeks pregnant as I was dressing a stillborn baby ready for it's trip to the morgue. I left work & don't remember who I got home. Later that week I saw my OB & I went to a psychiatric hospital where I was treated. I felt better very quickly. My colleagues were not supportive so I had an elective section under a GA so that I didn't have to be vulnerable in front of them. I stil see the meanest ones each day at work.

April 23, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterliz

I am getting better about shrugging it off. With my son I was induced because the amniotic fluid was almost completely gone and he wasn't moving much. When I have told the story, a few people said, Oh, another of those "low amniotic fluid" stories. No, there really was almost no amniotic fluid, and the induction was necessary. Possibly I could have avoided the problem by staying hydrated better throughout the pregnancy, but I don't doubt that it was time for him to be born, and it's kind of irritating when people seem to be implying that my excellent hospital midwives made up an excuse for induction.

May 6, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterMGT

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