10 Total Mindf*ck Double Standards Society Has About Unmedicated Births

by Sabrina Joy Stevens

I've said it before, and I'll say it again now and every other time I ever write about birth (both because it's true and because I'd like to pre-empt at least some judgmental trolling): everyone who gives birth can and should do what makes them most comfortable, and is safe for them and their children. For some people, that’s a medically necessary induction or surgery; for others it’s choosing an epidural; for others it's no drugs at all. I’m in the latter group, which means I've also heard the ridiculous double standards society has about unmedicated births, and if you couldn't tell by now, I'm pretty well over it.

Childbirth, like everything else about motherhood and womanhood more generally, falls squarely into "damned if you do and damned if you don’t" territory. No matter what you choose to do, somebody is going to judge you for it. No matter what, someone somewhere is going to make their own bogus assumptions about your reasoning, your motivations, or your level of understanding. No matter what, somebody is going to say you chose "wrong," or try to shame or pressure you into choosing something else for reasons that have nothing to do with your well-being and everything to do with their own issues and assumptions.

It's normal to feel a little annoyed or hurt by these kinds of judgments, because we're social beings who want to connect with people and because motherhood is a really vulnerable time. It can be especially hard to shrug off some comments if they come from people you actually know and care about, like close friends and family members. But just because you know and love someone, doesn't mean that they're immune to all the crappy information and sexist ideas society shares about women's bodies and what we choose to do with them.

So as with everything else, do your research and then you do you. Someone is always going to hate on your choices no matter what happens, because the thing they're really uncomfortable is the fact that you're a woman in a society that thinks women are inherently wrong. Seriously. You can't please everybody and you never will. When it comes to birthing without medication, seek to please yourself (yay, orgasmic birth pun!) because as the following double standards illustrate, you can't make everybody else happy anyway.

You Should Avoid All Unnecessary Chemicals/Drugs While Pregnant…

Moms are advised to avoid all but the most medically necessary medications and other substances during pregnancy due to the potential risk to their babies. We’re told to seek alternatives to pain meds, or swear off coffee, among a seemingly unending list of other things. While there’s no dispute that heavy drinking and binge drinking are harmful during pregnancy, there is some dispute over how much alcohol it takes to harm an unborn baby, with some recent studies showing that light or even moderate alcohol consumption may not pose a significant risk.

Still, many people are so adamant that pregnant women swear off alcohol completely that they even try to scare pregnant moms away from using mouthwash that has alcohol in it. Yes, mouthwash, that you spit out after using it, is believed by some people to pose too much of a risk to fetuses, and this is actually a thing people are discussing and fear-mongering (and, of course, mom-shaming) about.

...But When In Labor, Get All The Drugs

Yet the same people who would slap the red wine (or the mouthwash!) out of your hand and berate you for jeopardizing your baby’s health on the second to last day of your pregnancy — the same people who give you all manner of side eye when you enjoy some caffeine — suddenly become some of the biggest proponents of strong drugs going straight into your body and that same baby once you go into labor. I do not understand the reasoning that says a 40-week-old baby exposed to even a single glass of beer is going to be pickled beyond recognition, yet a 40-week-plus-one-day-old baby exposed to opioids and narcotics is going to be OK.

You Should Be Willing To Endure Anything For Your Baby…

People are very comfortable — perhaps a little too comfortable — with the idea of women suffering for their children. Motherhood is frequently discussed in terms of sacrifice. So if you say you don’t want pain meds or other drugs during birth because you think it will be better for your baby — even though there’s not a whole lot of evidence for that, especially where pain medication is concerned — no one questions it.

...But It’s Selfish To Make Your Birth Experience A Priority

However, if you dare to say that you don’t want drugs because you think it will improve your own experience of childbirth, people think you’re a selfish b*tch. (A surprising number of doctors are willing to voice that opinion publicly, which is a big reason I chose to birth with midwives.) All of a sudden, the very same act that was lauded when it was framed as a sacrifice becomes a horrible way to put your child at risk (cause babies need optional pain meds to be born, I guess?) if you slip up and discuss your own curiosity or confidence or pleasure when explaining your birth plan.

Do Whatever Makes You Comfortable…

Though there are a few hard-line birth hippies who think drugs during birth are universally awful, most of society is in agreement that birth drugs are a great idea. For many people, particularly who are having medical emergencies, there's truth to that. That's why folks are often willing to suspend their judgment around the "don't take anything that could harm your baby" stuff when it comes to labor; they think anything that can bring some comfort in labor is a good thing.

...Unless It’s An Idea That Makes The Rest Of Us Uncomfortable

But Beysus help you if your idea of comfort in labor is to labor in a tub ("Yuck!"), or to engage in sensual touch during labor ('cause the very same body part that needed sensual touch to lubricate and relax enough to let something into it, often benefits from the same kind of sensual touch to let something out of it). Describe women screaming in pain and breaking their partner's hands during labor, and folks are totally fine with it. Tell people you rubbed your clitoris so you could push without tearing, and they act like you just shot a unicorn in the face.

Be Proud Of Doing What Your Body Was Built To Do…

Women are shamed for not wanting to become moms at all because it's so widely accepted that women are "built" to become mothers. We're supposed to flaunt our whole "mother goddess" thing, and to consider the capacity to give life the most important and impressive thing about us.

...But Shut Up About Your Birth 'Cause It Makes The Rest Of Us Feel Bad

But if you actually do give birth without any medical intervention, just the mere fact of sharing the story of that experience is considered "shaming" by some people who have had (or want) a different experience. I have literally never seen (or written) a story about an unmedicated birth shared on a social media feed without somebody chiming in to tell the writer that what they're saying is somehow wrong, no matter how many disclaimers they include about how much they understand and respect other people's right (or need) to birth differently.

It’s Good To Do What’s "Natural…"

The word natural gets thrown around a lot when it comes to unmedicated births, and there's a general assumption in our society that "natural" is good. We admire people who are "a natural" at things, whether it's sports or academic pursuits or motherhood, as though it's better to be inherently gifted at something than to have to work hard at it (and despite the fact that said "naturals" are often working very, very hard at what they do).

...But Not *That* Natural, Cause Eww

Yet despite the general agreement that "natural" equals "better," people who don't have or support unmedicated births tend to think it's a gross idea, especially if you're talking about having an unmedicated birth outside of a hospital. Never mind the fact that regardless of what, if any, medications are involved, birth looks pretty much the same to an outside observer. Never mind the fact that no matter where you birth, your care professionals are going to clean up any bodily fluids involved, none of which are any more inherently "gross" than anything we encounter on a daily basis in our own bathrooms and elsewhere.

It's all so frustrating. I may not have needed any drugs to give birth, but when I stop and think of how much crap women hear from other people regardless of how we birth, I could definitely use a shot of something.