So what DO you do?
As a woman who has actually uttered the words "You didn't need that c-section" (yes I am that tactless), I can honestly say that this is a very difficult one.
A few things that I try to remind my tactless self:
1) What you consider a good experience might not be what somebody else considers a good birth experience.
I remember telling the birth story of my first child to a woman who had a c-section for failure to progress. I had three nights of labor and had pushed for 4 hours- two hours longer than she had before they declared her unable to birth vaginally. Maybe I was thinking she would hear my story and say
"Ahh- you wonderful woman! Thank you for your wisdom! I now see that maybe, just maybe, I too am capable of vaginal birth. You have given me hope!"
This is NOT what she said. Instead she looked at me with a little bit of horror and said something about how she couldn't believe I would want to go through that. What was an empowering experience for ME just sounded exhausting and brutal to HER. She has scheduled her c-sections for her other babies, and I believe been quite happy with her births. I can only imagine that my most recent unassisted birth in my bed would have sounded equally awful to her.
So- to each his own. We don't all want the same thing from life or from birth.
2) If you are known for your alternative birthing choices- people who are interested will ASK.
Realistically, the vast majority of women birth in hospitals with epidurals and pitocin. If you DON'T do this you are very different. People will talk about it. Maybe not in front of you, but they will hear about you.
And when somebody feels like they are unsatisfied with the care that they are getting from their assembly line, five minutes, "who are you again?" OB, they just might take the time to ask you what you think.
You heard me right- they will come to YOU. You don't need to corner them at a bar-b-Que. You don't need to give them thirty books to read. You don't even need to roll your eyes about their birth choices.
This doesn't always happen in a "so I heard you had a natural birth, I want one too" kind of way. It just happens among FRIENDS when they TALK like regular people.
I also remember chatting with a friend while our kids played. She asked me about my births. I think I had two children at the time, one in hospital and one at a birth center. She had a typical but not upsetting hospital birth with an epidural an some other stuff thrown in. She did however feel like birth could be something more. When she got pregnant she asked about who would be a good natural friendly OB in town. Then when she was ready she asked who would be a good home birth midwife. She changed care providers and never looked back.
She RAVED about midwifery care. I got to be at the birth of her second child ... in her bedroom. Now she is a huge supporter of natural and home birth- and I never even told her what to do. I just answered her questions and shared my good experiences and she made her own choices. She already wanted to make them. She just needed somebody to say it was OK. Then she had a home birth before I did!
People will come to you when they see that you found joy in your experience.
3) Some people just are not interested until AFTER a bad experience.
This might be the hardest part. Especially if you see somebody taking the same path that you took and you know how much pain it caused you. We naturally want to "save" or "fix" or "help" somebody avoid pain.
You CAN talk about your good experience. You can gently offer information, links, books, and things like that. If you are really friends with somebody, you will know what is appropriate and what is offensive to offer to that person. But no matter what you do, some people just don't care- until things go wrong for them. Sadly, sometimes that is what it takes to question an entire culture of mechanical birth.
We may desperately want to save somebody else from what we perceive to be a bad choice for them- but it is still THEIR CHOICE, and a very personal one at that. Maybe you wish somebody had opened your eyes then to what you know now- if so, then offer in the way it would have worked for you. But remember that there is a possibility that you wouldn't have listened either. Remember that part of YOUR journey was pain. Maybe that is what makes you so passionate. Maybe that is part of your friend's journey too, no matter how hard it may be to step back and watch.
Be kind, be loving, be there, be a source of information, and then, be a good enough friend to let go and respect their choices. Remember that your different choices don't necessarily make you better either.
I want to close again with the quote at the beginning of the post.
The only thing I would add to that - is remember that nobody likes an "I told you so" after their bad experience. It might even be a great experience for them. Yes, even if you disagree with the choice, your idea of a good birth is not what everybody else's is! Assuming that our birth choices are the "best" across the board is a judgment in an of itself. We all get to make our own choices, and true friends are the ones who still love each other even when those choices are different. What I want in a true friend is somebody who loves me no matter what, even if we disagree.
The truth is you can't "let" anybody have any kind of birth. It was never up to you.