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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.



I asked folks to “Toss Me a Birth-Related Word” on my Navelgazing Midwife Facebook Page and “Primal” was one of those words. Here, I’ll use the words as springboards from which to jump. 

Is birth primal? 

Some definitions of the word primal include:

  • having existed from the beginning
  • in an earliest or original stage or state
  • serving as an essential component
  • first, original
  • of first importance
  • fundamental

I know when I hear the word primal when used with the topic of birth, it brings up images of a woman squatting in the sand on a beach or holding onto a tree as she standingly squats to push her baby out. I see not-white women birthing… the video “Birth in the Squatting Position.” How racist can I get? By the definitions, primal does not mean primitive, which brings up its own set of considerations.

So, I’ll stick to primal birth. What would that look like?

Primal birth could be anything from unassisted birth to hands-off birth to birth in a locale that doesn’t have midwives. Hmmm… or does it have to be birth without midwives? From what I know, most cultures around the world for eons of time have had midwives or, at the least, a knowledgeable female helper at birth. I don’t know enough birth anthropology or archeology to know if there are remnants of midwives in fossils or cave paintings, but do know that more recently, we have been written about and drawn about in Egyptian pyramids and the Bible.

So, what would birth look like in its original state? Do we really know?

Let’s take the definition fundamental. Don’t we fundamentally want a safe birth? (Using the word again…) Isn’t a fundamentally safe birth kind of subjective? What of the mom who had a horrific hospital birth and is choosing a homebirth for the subsequent birth, having complete informed consent and accepting the risks of not being in the hospital? Isn’t her desire for a fundamentally safe birth? But, would that be considered a Primal Birth? Probably not necessarily.

I think I don’t have a good answer for this question. Anybody else have any ideas? I’m not doing such a good job.