Sunday, September 4, 2011

Letting People Hate Birth

(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---

Listen.

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.

13 comments:

Laura Paulescu said...

Wow, that was very enlightening for me. I have actually been getting very frustrated with other moms lately who feel like it's their place, or that it's funny, to give me (a first time preggers) or other new moms a "dose of reality" (i.e. actual comment on my FB status after posting about enjoying a day of reading & relaxing, feeling my baby's kicks for the first time: "Enjoy reading & relaxing now, it'll be the last chance you get for 18 years!!") But when I look at in a different light, I don't see a mom who is purposefully trying to crush my happiness, I see a young mom with two little boys at home that are pretty wild most of the time & that it is, like you said, probably therapy in a sort of way for her to say something like that. Very good, very important post! I needed to read this today. (Early this morning as I couldn't sleep & had to get something to eat yet AGAIN.... :) ) Love from a first time momma.

Amber Plyler said...

I liked this. Especially this -

"
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---

Listen.

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. "




Bravo.

MandaRoo said...

Thank you so much for sharing this!

earthmamadoula said...

I totally agree with you in that this is the reason women feel compelled to tell their awful birth stories. Well, depending on your definition of healing. For some, it is truly a process of trauma healing. For others, although this could still be classed as a form of healing, I think that it was such an exceptionally painful experience that, even though no trauma may have been carried forward (it is certainly possible to have the world's most painful experience and yet walk away non-traumatised but wanting to share with all), it is almost a rite of passage - when someone experiences something so insanely excruciating and wonderfully dramatic they just HAVE to be able to share it, it's a compulsion and certainly meant with no ill-intent towards the poor, unsuspecting recipient.

I hate to say that I used to be one of these people. My first birth I walked away from mildly traumatised and wanting to share with EVERYONE the agony I endured - for both of the above reasons (trauma healing and rite of passage). My second birth I walked away from after having been in so much pain I thought I would die, yet with hindsight feeling VERY positive and happy with the experience and not in the slightest bit traumatised, yet nevertheless wanting to tell-tell-tell (I even posted a massive blog entry on my old blog detailing every moment of the pain - oh how I cringe, now). I never thought about the impact it would have on others.

For me, all the listening in the world wouldn't have stopped me sharing when I could, it is only when I became educated about birth (training as a doula and a hypnobirthing teacher specifically) that I realised I needed to stop. Now, if anyone asks me about my births I describe the first as a learning curve and the second as a beautiful, natural water-birth, and omit the pain. So, I do think education and teaching still has a place and women do still need to learn about the effect terrible birth stories can have on mums-to-be. However they CERTAINLY need to be listened to, and to be able to channel that innate need to share in the right direction - birth debriefing sessions are great for just this! :-)

Petunia's mom said...

Thank you so much for this:

"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."

I'm not sure I realized how much I needed the acknowledgement that, yes, there is more to be desired from birth than just a healthy baby. And I'm not a bad mom/person for having wanted more out of birth and needing to mourn its loss.

In the days/weeks after my birth, which ended in a cesarian when I so very much wanted a natural birth, I was so sick of hearing "healthy mom/healthy baby" I could have screamed! And with the c/s recovery combined with a triggering of a flare of chronic illness I wanted to sarcastically bite back that "healthy mom" was debatable. But, not wanting to seem ungrateful for a healthy baby, I have swallowed it. Reading this post this morning was healing for me. Thank you.

theperfectbirth said...

Mama Birth, this was me, from all angles-- the bad birth story teller, and also the one who wished to empower. I really am glad you addressed this. One other reason women tell bad birth stories is to "save" others from going through what they did. This is sometimes misguided, and sometimes wise. I can tell you firsthand how much it hurts to feel like you are really giving someone a piece of your heart and soul by sharing your birth experience, hoping to save them, only to have them more or less say "why did you even tell me that?" It is painful. But, we do need to hear the positive, blissful, amazing birth stories, too! For sure.

None of us should stay silent, and ALL of our feelings are valid.

Alice and Mother said...

I would really like to showcase this piece on my website - with full credit to you of course!

could you please email me at zine@whole-woman.com

Dr. Travis Robertson said...

Your posts just keep getting better Sarah! Awesome job!

Terri said...

This post was a real education for me! I've had two amazing births - beautiful, fast, easy and the 2nd one was pain-free/water/hypnobirth with just one push to allow my baby out. So I'm one of those who could (and does) sing from the roof-tops about how amazing natural birth is and can be!

I didn't listen to any negative stories while pregnant (actually no-one even offered to share them to me! But now I hear a lot and yes I need to listen to the full scope of stories of birth as support, empowerment and processing to my fellow Mama sisters. It's sadly true that society values very little of what we do and we have to be of support to each other whenever we can.

Your Birth Coach Dr. Nancy said...

I completely agree that women need a forum to express the pain they experienced in their births. Women need to be able to grieve their traumatic birth even if they have a beautiful, healthy baby.

I wish we gave women a better venue than dumping their fear and trauma on an expecting mom. Expectant moms should be sheltered from everyone else's fears and be given words of encouragement. When someone plans to run a marathon strangers don't come up to them and tell them how horrible it is.

We need to change the value we place on women's experience of birth so we can honor the mom's perspective at the time of birth and in the days and weeks after. Allow her to heal at the beginning so she doesn't need to hold on to the hate and anger for so long.

Your Birth Coach Dr. Nancy said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Liz said...

I have such a hard time believing people who say that giving birth was the worst time of their life. Ok, yes, I didn't particularly enjoy labor (I'm definitely not happy about my birth experience) but OH MY GOSH, I got a baby out of it! And he is the light of my life. I sure don't want to repeat that particular experience, but there are ways to go about having a baby that can make it a little more bearable (and I don't necessarily mean an epidural!)

melynda81 said...

Your posts always seem to come up at the exact right time for me! I was feeling disheartened after reading a long thread on women who choose to schedule second cesareans instead of trying for VBACS (lots of women not wanting to "ruin another area of their body" and others who felt like they had experienced enough labor before their first emergency c-section) and I just felt myself getting more and more saddened by what I was reading. But then along comes Mama Birth and puts things in to perspective. I love you Mama. Thank you for setting me back on the right track mentally to do my job as a doula <3

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