We all know about the unofficial Mommy Olympics; the way we’re all pushed to compete and parent against one another. These games start early, too, and your labor and delivery plans are considered the opening ceremonies. Will you go the “easy” route and get an epidural? Or will you grit and bear the pain of a so-called “natural” birth? It’s unfortunate that folks have preconceived notions about why we make the choices we do. But in my case, I can assure you, I didn’t have an unmedicated birth to “get a medal.” My childbirth choices were made for a variety of reasons, and proving that I was somehow “better” than any other mom out there wasn't one of them.
Sure, every once in a while you will come across people who tarnish a "movement." No one is perfect, and sometimes people push their choices onto others in a way that's undeniably off-putting. And, to a certain extent, I can even understand why people would raise their eyebrows when folks say they’re planning to experience an unmedicated birth. Why would you choose to experience extreme pain when you don’t have to, right? Medications exist for a reason, so why not use them when they're at your disposal? Fair questions, to be sure. In fact, I used to feel the same way.
Here we are, in the year 2018, at a time when science has made it entirely possible to give birth without having to feel every ache and pain involved. We take medicine when we have headaches and broken bones and torn ligaments, so why wouldn’t we want to do the same for something that’s, as Lorelai Gilmore once put it, “akin to doing the splits on a crate of dynamite”?
And yes, there are folks who certainly come off as though they feel they deserve something for deciding to feel the pain of bringing a baby into the world. These people tend to belong to the so-called “natural birth” community. To newbies or outsiders, this community can often feel like a place where you’ll be judged for eating a non-organic meal or using formula or relying on pacifiers or purchasing a stroller. When I was pregnant with my son, I actually ended up in one of these groups, so I'm aware that the language can be volatile, the tone can be judgmental, and the "advice" can seem, well, ulterior.
As I struggled to maintain my mental health, and the fear of losing another child continued to mount, the thought of an intervention-free, doula-assisted home birth was sounding more and more appealing.
My pregnancy with my son was a high-risk one. I lost my first baby, my daughter Margaret, to preterm labor the previous year, so I was anything but calm, cool, and collected. In fact, I was a nervous wreck; terrified I would lose another baby to preterm labor again. I was under the care of an excellent OB-GYN and a group of perinatologists who all worked diligently to make sure this baby, my son, would not be born prematurely. But they overlooked one important aspect of the entire process: my mental health. During such a stressful time, my post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and anxiety were running rampant. As a result, I sought the help of a doula; a companion who might listen to my fears and guide me in a positive direction.
While no two doulas are exactly alike, and I don't want to paint an entire group of people within the birth community with a single brush, in my experience doulas tend to run in “natural birth” circles. In my experience, most doulas would rather work with midwives than OB-GYNs. And in my experience, many are well-versed in home birthing or in assisting at birth centers instead of hospitals. I had already been considering an unmedicated or intervention-free birth, after having read about the potential risk factors of epidurals and other interventions. So, as I struggled to maintain my mental health, and the fear of losing another child continued to mount, the thought of an intervention-free, doula-assisted home birth was sounding more and more appealing.
All we can do is make the best decisions for ourselves, and our babies, at the time we need to make them and with the information at hand.
So make no mistake, I wasn't looking for some medal or a proverbial pat on the back. I had an unmedicated birth first, and foremost, because I was terrified of losing another baby. I wanted to give my son the best shot at a safe and healthy birth. And when I hired my doula and started taking classes at the “natural birthing” center she worked for, I was assured, time and time again, that no medication could be deemed 100 percent safe. I was talked into leaving my OB-GYN to find a midwife who would agree to a home birth, too, and when preterm labor was no longer a risk. In my mind, having passed the threshold and feeling a tinge of relief, the next step was to make sure the birth of my son was as safe as possible.
In retrospect, this was all very ill advised. But at the time, it’s what I thought was right. It was never about feeling superior to anyone. I never once shamed any of my friends who opted for epidurals or other pain medications when they brought their babies into the world. I never looked down on all my friends who had or needed C-sections. To push the narrative that everyone who decides against a medicated labor and delivery is simply looking to win the Birthing Olympics or Mommy Olympics is, for lack of a better word, garbage. We all have our reasons for choosing how we birth, if we’re lucky enough to have a choice, and my reason was linked to a primal fear: the loss of my child. Even the hard-liners in the “natural birth” community don’t really base their choices solely on a superiority complex. They do it because they feel they’re doing what’s best for their baby and their families. And at the end of the day, as parents, isn't that what we're all trying to accomplish?
I had an unmedicated birth first, and foremost, because I was terrified of losing another baby.
I wasn't looking for bragging rights or a chance to feel, or act, superior to other women. And if I had to do it all over again, I'm not entirely sure that I would choose to have an unmedicated birth again. Because the truth is, there are risks and benefits to all forms of childbirth. Yes, doing so without pain medication can be less expensive, and might make the experience more memorable for some, but if there’s one thing I know, it’s that there are zero guarantees when it comes to childbirth. Anything can, and often does, happen. All we can do is make the best decisions for ourselves, and our babies, at the time we need to make them and with the information at hand.
So maybe, just maybe, instead of focusing on an on-going, unnecessary, and painful division among mothers and mothers-to-be, we should be lifting each other up, supporting one another, and striving to understand one another. At the end of the day, all any of us want is our babies in our arms, safe and sound.
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