(Image courtesy of Breathtaking Photography)
If you are any kind of birth junkie you have probably had the experience of sitting at a baby shower and biting your tongue until it bled when somebody goes on about their horrifying and painful birth experience. My friend Donna even has a blog devoted to this topic.
I remember once in particular sitting at a baby shower for a first time mother. One of the moms started talking about how much she hated birth. She related her story, which ended in a c-section for CPD. Then she went on to describe how much she hated breastfeeding and talked about how awful that was for a while.
I just wanted to jump up and cover that pregnant mama's ears! Oh my gosh, I just wanted her to hear some good things about birth and not just fear! I am sure many of you have been in the same situation.
Those experiences used to irritate me. I would wonder why these mom's with the bad experience had to always share it with an unsuspecting, expecting mom to be. (Though, certainly people have wanted to shut me up on occasion when I start going on about the JOYS of birth, so I guess it is a two way street.)
These moments when another woman expresses her distaste with birth or breastfeeding no longer bother me so much. The reason is because I heard a wise doula once talk about why women sometimes share these horrifying experiences relating to birth.
She said that women were simply processing what for them was disturbing experience in the only way that they acceptably could. Maybe they didn't want a natural birth, most people don't, but still, an unexpected cesarean or a miserable breastfeeding experience, or simply a disrespected birth experience is something that sticks with a woman, no matter what she planned.
Women who talk about or share their birth experiences, even when they start with the words, "Giving birth was the worst experience of my life," just might be women trying to deal with their own pain.
Sadly, for them, this is not a society in which anybody really cares. The phrase, "At least the baby is healthy" is a common one. And even if nobody says that, we all know that we should be grateful for a healthy baby. It is a blessing beyond belief. And if her baby wasn't healthy, well, nobody wants to hear about that either- it is any mother's worst nightmare.
So what is a mama to do? She has an upsetting, disempowering birth experience, or maybe even something worse. First of all, nobody cares. Second, she shouldn't care either. We don't really value the birth experience in our culture as much more than a means to an end. Her feelings, experience, everything - are pushed aside as nothing, even by her own mind, family, friends, and care providers.
Ahh- but there is an outlet in our culture for this experience. We are given the OK to talk about how awful birth is! In fact, this is almost expected! Women who talk about the joys of birth, or heaven forbid, orgasmic birth, are looked at as though they have three heads or are perverted, or both.
Thus we see all around us, but more often when women gather to celebrate life, the common practice of telling birth story horrors.
Rather than being irritated, upset, or interjecting our own thoughts on how birth can be so great or what they should have done differently, maybe we should just do something revolutionary---
Yes, maybe it is time, that women started just listening to each others experiences and recognizing that when we let a woman share her anger, fear, disappointment, and even her love for the epidural/c-section/ bottle or WHATEVER we dislike, we are letting her heal. When we tell them they were wrong or that they made bad choices or that we did XYZ because we were educated, we continue the process of disempowering them.
That is not something, I think, that any natural birth mama would ever want to do to another mother because this (empowerment) is one of the things we love most about natural birth.
So my challenge to you (and myself) is that next time you hear a woman talk about birth in a way that makes you want to tear your hair out, instead of interjecting, arguing, or teaching her, just LISTEN. This may do more to let her heal and find her own peace than anything else you could ever do.
This doesn't just happen at baby showers anymore though, does it? We live in a virtual world now. Women often share their pain online with strangers, and sometimes they even take the form of those nasty trolls, haunting Facebook pages trying to start a fire. Let them. Respect them enough to let them work through their pain in whatever way they need, even when it comes out ugly.
So what is a girl to do who loves birth? Share it! REALLY! I am not saying to stay silent, good experiences matter too and desperately need to be heard. Sometimes somebody hearing your good birth story is all they need to realize that there is more to birth than what they see on reality TV. Letting other women share doesn't mean you must be silent just because your experience was different.
We are all just women trying to navigate our way through life and motherhood in a culture that values little of our natural abilities and gifts. Sometimes all we have is each other.