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Saturday
Sep172011

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.