Before I became a parent, I planned to do everything the "right" way and was determined to be a "perfect parent," starting with childbirth. When nothing went as planned, I ended up feeling like a failure. Now, I realize the inadequacy I felt about childbirth was largely due to unrealistic expectations and serious shaming from other moms. While everyone deserves to be safe and respected during childbirth, so many people focus on having an "amazing experience" over having a baby, which is kind of the point. People need to stop romanticizing childbirth. We are setting the bar too high, and are hurting people in the process.
I thought childbirth would be so beautiful. So many people told me about how they labored at home for hours or days, called their midwife, arrived at the hospital or had their midwife arrive at their home just in time to transition in a warm pool of water. They pushed their baby out in one push, immediately started breastfeeding, and a pure bond was formed with their baby through a beautiful, serene hour of snuggling skin-to-skin.
My childbirth experience was so different. I went five days overdue with my daughter. I didn't want an induction, mostly because all of my friends said it was the worst thing ever, but my blood pressure kept creeping up until my midwife said she had to induce me if I didn't go into labor on my own. Despite being dilated and feeling like I was holding a bowling ball between my legs, I literally walked five miles in an attempt to start labor. I also had my membranes swept three times that week (ouch). Nothing. When they admitted me for induction, I was seriously scared about what was going to happen and that I was screwing up motherhood already. Then my water broke all over the hospital bathroom floor. What followed was 20 hours of back labor, no sleep, me begging for an epidural (which was the best thing ever), pushing in bed (not in a pool or while squatting, like I had planned), and hemorrhaging. Childbirth was far from the experience I had hoped for, so I began my adventure in parenting thinking I had failed.
There are so many reasons we have to stop romanticizing childbirth, mainly because it's not healthy, it's ableist, it's dangerous, and it's seriously anti-feminist. We're also hurting women and other pregnant people, and that's just not OK.
Because It Gives Pregnant People Unrealistic Expectations
Every pregnancy and childbirth is different, because every pregnant person and their babies' needs are different. Despite what birth books and birthing classes may say, there is not one way to birth a baby that is universally "good," safe, and ideal for all pregnant people and their babies. Ideal childbirth results in a healthy baby and a healthy parent. Full stop. Remember, your experience matters, but not as much as realizing that you are doing fine, even if things don't go as planned, hoped for, or expected.
Because It Makes People Obsess About Perfection
I felt seriously let down when my labor and delivery did not go as planned. I was a perfectionist, and I thought I failed to achieve perfection, even when I held my undoubtedly perfect baby in my arms.
Because It Leads To People Making Dangerous Choices
My friends romanticized childbirth as "natural, beautiful, safe, and empowering," and that caused me to make some really unsafe choices. I was so scared to be induced, even though it was medically necessary, that I was willing to try anything to induce labor at home. Then I left the hospital with my baby as soon as they would let me go home, even though my midwife suggested I stay another day. I ended up having breastfeeding challenges, and my daughter ended up being re-admitted to the NICU. I still wonder if an extra day in the hospital would have made a difference.
Because It Can Make Childbirth More Dangerous For Pregnant People And Their Babies
It's hard to believe that, in 2017, babies and their parents still die in childbirth. I have friends who lost their babies to preventable home birth accidents, attended by negligent midwives, and yet other friends who have lost babies because they refused induction of labor against the advice of their medical provider. They felt so much pressure to have "the perfect birth." My heart breaks for them, and I know they will never get over those losses.
I would have likely died had I hemorrhaged at home or had I refused induction for preeclampsia, like many of my friends suggested.
Because It's Anti-feminist
Seriously. There's not one right way to be pregnant, give birth, or raise a family. You don't have to have an unmedicated birth, because society says that's the way you should give birth. Having bodily autonomy means you can choose to be induced, get an epidural, or even have a planned c-section. It's your body.
Also, if you end up not having the birth you wanted, it's OK to feel sad, angry, or confused, but please don't feel ashamed or like you failed. You are enough. Holding pregnant people (primarily women) up to a unrealistic, unattainable standard is anti-feminist and unnecessary.
Because It Invalidates People Who Don't Have Perfect Experiences
Because I idealized the perfect birth as "natural," meaning without pain meds, I felt like I was weak when I begged for an epidural, like I had failed to do the right thing. Later, several people even speculated about whether I got an epidural because my provider pressured me, I was not allowed to labor at home, or I didn't get to relax in a whirlpool. This subtle gaslighting convinced me that I had made the wrong choices that resulted in a less than ideal birth. That's seriously messed up.
Because It Minimizes Real Pain
I honestly think some of my friends lied about their birth experiences. Either that, or they didn't have back labor like I did, because it seriously hurt. I didn't have breaks between contractions, like they described. I just felt a ton of constant, stabbing pain in my lower back. I felt like my friends minimized the amount of pain I was in during labor, and even worse, judged me for caving and getting an epidural when it was just what I needed to birth my baby.
Because It Contributes To Postpartum Depression
Research shows that having a negative birth experience can lead to postpartum depression. That was definitely true for me. If we, as a society, want more new parents to feel supported and to stay healthy as they begin their journeys, we need to start being real about childbirth and diversity of childbirth experiences. We need to be honest with women and let them know they might have a beautiful, magical, or whatever they expect, childbirth.
Because It's Ableist
Our culture romanticizes a version of childbirth — going into labor on your own, and having an unmedicated and vaginal birth — that is literally not possible for all pregnant people or their babies. It is seriously ableist to expect people to achieve an ideal that they literally can't meet, but our society does this all the time.
Because It's Seriously Shaming
Our culture of parents shaming other parents needs to stop right now. We have a hard enough road ahead of us as parents, without thinking that something as trivial as not having the "ideal birth" is something to stress about. Besides, no one delivers cookies or trophies to the people who have "perfect births." Growing and birthing babies is not a competition and ideally we all get the same prize — a healthy baby.
Because Every Childbirth Is Awesome
I'll say it again for the people in the back: every single childbirth is awesome. Unmedicated births are awesome, but also the messy births (where you puke on your partner and poop on the table), the inductions, the births with epidurals, the births assisted by instruments, and the planned and emergency c-sections, are amazing. Every. Single. One.
Birth is badass, no matter how you do it, but it's not always beautiful or what what you expected or even close to resembling your birth plan. That doesn't mean you are doing it wrong, it just means you've experienced your first truths of parenthood: no one is perfect and nothing goes as planned.