The other day I was scrolling through my Facebook feed and saw a meme that, in no uncertain terms, set me off. It read: "I gave birth naturally, I bet you can't share." I probably should have scrolled on by, but I couldn't resist commenting. "My births weren't natural, they were supernatural." As you can imagine, my comment led to a heated debate and a slew of moms shaming epidurals and the women who choose them. And that's when I realized I had reached my limit.
Yes, the mom who shared that particular meme has a right to be proud of her birth story, which didn't involve medications or medical interventions. But by implying her unmedicated birth was something special and unique, to the point that most people couldn't relate or be just as proud, she was shaming and demeaning the births that involved epidurals or other interventions. As a mom who has been on the receiving end of judgment and shame for how I birthed my babies, I couldn't just keep scrolling and allow that type of thinking to go unquestioned. Moms deserve better.
So after a seemingly never-ending back-and-forth, I decided to unfollow the mom and erase that negativity from my life entirely. Enough in enough, and by drawing a line in the proverbial sand I was letting other moms know that I will support them and celebrate them, regardless of how they gave birth.
I'm ashamed to admit that I used to buy into that kind of thinking and rhetoric. I thought there was a "right" way to give birth. And, of course, the "right" way didn't involve any medications or pain medications. I wanted to experience birth like a goddess, welcoming my daughter like my ancestors did. If I went back and browsed my pre-baby Facebook feed I would've unfollowed myself
These Facebook posts and comments about so-called natural births aren't just about pride. They are about superiority.
Then I had a baby, and I wasn't able to have the birth I had always envisioned. It wasn't for lack of trying, either. And after I held my baby in my arms I felt ashamed, like I had caved or failed to birth the "right" way. Every time I told my birth story I included the number of horrific hours I endured back labor, just to make sure people knew that I had tried. I needed people to know that I wasn't "those" kinds of moms, I was just a natural birth mom who couldn't have the birth she wanted.
But then I started to realize that my shame wasn't warranted, and I didn't need to give people an explanation or a reason why an epidural was the right decision for me. In fact, it was because of my epidural that I was able to have a vaginal birth, and bring my baby safely into the world. It allowed me to feel empowered and in control of my body, so that I could do what felt impossible just moments before.
So after harboring all that shame and guilt, I realized I needed to change the way I felt about my birth, and that started with the language I used when discussing childbirth. For example, the term "natural birth" is deeply problematic, and automatically labels any other birth that isn't an unmedicated, vaginal birth as "unnatural." In 2017, the Royal College of Midwives, who oversee a majority of births in the UK, actually had a "campaign for normal birth," according to The Times, to encourage women to not choose pain medications during labor and delivery. This language not only changed the way women viewed birth interventions, like epidurals, but implied that person who needed or wanted an epidural during labor was doing something harmful or bad. And as Broadly reports, this stigma around epidurals has become so widespread that women are being denied pain medication during labor.
Motherhood is not a competition, and birthing babies is not an Olympic sport.
These Facebook posts and comments about so-called natural births aren't just about pride. They are about superiority. They are about establishing a "natural" type of birth, as if any other birth is somehow wrong or against nature. They have created a culture where women and other pregnant people plan their baby's births based on a set of ideals and not what's best for their unique circumstances.
The first question someone asks a new mom when she has a baby shouldn’t be, “Did you end up getting an epidural?” And if a mom shares her birth story, and it includes an epidural, the words "fail" or "you can try again next time" shouldn't be uttered.
I just wish that other people felt the same way. I wish other moms could realize that their experiences, while valid, do not and should not dictate the experiences of others. I wish people, like my friend, didn't feel the need to share natural birth awards and memes, automatically shaming those of us who didn't go through labor and delivery exactly the way they did.
Am I happy when people have the birth experience they hoped for? Of course. I want all birthing people to be proud of themselves no matter what kind of birth they had. Which is why I couldn't let that meme, or my friend's blind judgement, go unchecked. We shouldn't be sharing statuses and posting pictures that urge us to compete against each other. Motherhood is not a competition, and birthing babies is not an Olympic sport. So if you see yourself in some kind of race to the "natural childbirth" finish line, know that I'm going to unfollow you and go my own way. A way that's best for me, my body, and my baby.