Birth Perfectionists

Disappointment in a birth experience comes in a variety of disguises….but today I’d like to talk about one of the most insidious types that, well – if I’m to be honest then I have to admit that I’m not sure what I can do about it! I would love suggestions, however….

Mainstream childbirth is scary – it is rooted in fear. We are raised on it, indoctrinated to it from family, friends, TV, movies, books….when the mainstream talks about birth, it’s horrible and scary and traumatic and everything bad.

For those out of the mainstream and who are wanting to empower women to their options and other ways, it’s often an uphill battle. To counteract all of the scary and negative things (the extremes of emergency situations) that mainstream has been force feeding us all of our lives, the natural childbirth advocates try and counter balance that – and the only way is to match their scary with equally blissful. Enter the fist-pumping of “you can do this!”…Orgasmic Birth (movie), Birth Without Fear (book), Hypnobirthing that promises that if you just do their method right you will feel no pain….images of women laughing, blissfully and effortlessly breathing their babies into being surrounded by dolphins and waves crashing and looking like it was so good for them that it’s more like birth-porn.

The problem is that while both extremes are possible…neither one is really rooted in reality. The reality is that when left alone, birth USUALLY occurs without medical incidents…and the reality is that birth will USUALLY be the most intense and physically demanding experience a woman will ever in her lifetime experience.

For those in mainstream birthing, this isn’t a problem! They go to the hospital, load up on ‘whatever’…and at the end of the birth they feel LUCKY to come away healthy and with a healthy baby. They so much EXPECTED it to be a horrible experience, that they feel fortunate for most any outcome in which they bring their baby home. They don’t feel responsible for the outcome, they don’t feel empowered, they feel like they are along for the ride. Doctors can sit back in their leather office chairs and wink knowingly at each other that they are deemed the “Heroes” when the reality is that most of the time things work just fine!

For those who are not mainstream, there is a problem I am seeing over and over again…and this is the problem I don’t have a solution to and would love to hear suggestions about! A woman begins to explore outside the mainstream – she takes a childbirth class, hires a doula, chooses a homebirth…..and she has a baby. From MY perspective, she had a great birth….she vocalized and moved and grunted and sweated and gave her all, and her healthy baby was welcomed into her arms….and all is good!! We clean up, she snuggles with her baby, we leave with plans to return the next day.

It’s not until the next day that the problem begins – I ask her how she’s feeling about how everything went, and her gaze shifts down and her face drops a little. It is here that I find out that she’s disappointed – not in us, not in the birth – but in herself. She vocalized and she sees that as somehow being less strong. She felt like giving up (like we ALL do!!) and is disappointed that she felt that way. At no time did she ever feel close to orgasmic as she thought she might…GAH! I see a strong woman who did whatever was necessary to birth her baby and this powerful mom is now holding this beautiful newborn babe in her arms….and she’s disappointed because she somehow didn’t live up to the expectations she’d built up in her mind. She didn’t birth “right”….

This makes me want to bang my head into a wall. A nice big red-brick wall. I mean REALLY!?! You’re disappointed in yourself?? What in the world did you do wrong?? Or even less than perfect!?

I attended a birth just 4 days ago with a really cool first time mother. I mean REALLY cool…she had me giggling several times through her labor. She spent most of the time in the birth pool with her husband forehead –to-forehead with her…she just vocalized through each one beautifully. When she was 9cm she declared to me that she was sorry she didn’t get a chance to make the coffee cake she’d wanted to for us…I rolled my eyes at this silly woman thinking about us and that on the cusp of becoming a mother. She pushed and pushed and pushed and finally birthed her 8+ pound baby into daddy’s hands while sitting on a birth stool next to her bed in their bedroom – I was super impressed by her strength and fortitude.

The next day she said to me, “And if you’d like, we don’t mind if you share your version of the birth story – as long as you don’t feel the need to sugar coat anything on our behalf! Tell it like it truly was for you!” I asked her what she meant by this – did she think that the only way she could have a ‘beautiful birth story’ was if it was sugar coated?? She was disappointed in her reactions to birth, it hadn’t gone the way she’d imagined….

Makes me want to cry. Rather than feeling her own triumph, her power and strength in overcoming the obstacles put in her way, she judged herself in what I feel is an unrealistic way and way way too harshly!

She had challenges, sure….baby’s shoulders needed a little help (very little), and she bled too much after the birth (that got my attention!! But it was resolved relatively quickly..) but she, the mother, was IN MY OPINION amazing!

Why are we so hard on ourselves? Why do we judge how we birth as “right” or “wrong”…good or bad…and how can we help change this? I can tell a woman all day long how fantastic I think she is, and she will shrug me off and act like, “I bet you say that to all the girls.” Well, yeah, I probably do say it to a lot of them – because it’s true!

How can we get mothers to be able to release expectations and allow themselves to just birth the way they need to birth? To realize that the person who laughs their baby out isn’t a “better birther” or “stronger woman” than the one who yells her baby out!!  It’s not a performance you are being judged on.

This message of ‘good birther’ is so sneaky that some may contribute to it and not realize it.  I’ve heard many doulas say things like, “She did such a good job!  She just relaxed and breathed through it!”  Umm, would she have been doing a less good job if she had been moaning? I think you did a good job if you do whatever it takes to birth your baby – end of story!  If we transport to the hospital – are you less “good” at birthing?  Absolutely are doing whatever you need to in order to birth your baby!

This is something I’m struggling with on a regular basis right now…how to get women to realize how really cool they are and to quit being birth perfectionists.

Any ideas?