There was a time when I thought that the less you feared birth the better.
I’m not so sure anymore.
I used to think that women feared birth just because of the media and ugly stories they heard at baby showers and from their friends about inductions gone wrong and things that could have been prevented with a doula or a chiropractor.
I’m not so sure about that anymore either.
I used to think that an undisturbed birth was the best way to go and that the intrusion of the other or the expert would throw a kink in the works and make the entire experience go awry.
Yup, you guessed it- I’m not too sure about that anymore either.
Now when I think of being afraid of birth, I think women probably ALWAYS had some fear- always have and always will. In fact, being afraid of birth might be just as natural as leaving your son intact.
Think about it…
I know we want to believe that if you do everything “right” birth will be blissful and fab and simply amazing and has the capacity to be “orgasmic”.
I love birth. It is one of my favorite things and probably my life’s passion. But if I am honest, I have to admit that birth…it hurts. In fact giving birth hurts a LOT. The pain of birth is virtually universal and timeless. It has always been there and it will always be there. In fact, I think even medications don’t really make the pain of birth disappear, they just force it to come a little later.
And while we might enjoy bandying about the catch phrase, “Birth is as safe as life gets” the truth is that there is an element of danger in regards to birth. This was true when your grandmother gave birth and it will be true when our daughters give birth. Some women and some babies will not survive the birth process. I truly believe we can minimize those deaths with knowledge and skill and medicine and even respect, but I doubt very much that we can totally eliminate the innate underlying danger of giving birth.
If you combine the pain and the danger of birth and add in the inevitable unpredictable beauty of this natural process we come away realizing that fear and pain in birth are not new inventions spewed by “A Baby Story” or the underlying ugliness of modern medicine, but rather a constant that has always been and always will be.
We do women a disservice when we act as though creating a few catchphrases about trust and fearlessness and empowerment will make the power of birth something they can control or even comprehend. We do women whose births DO go awry a disservice too, because we make it sound as though it somehow was their fault if their body didn’t work in a seamless, mother-circle fashion. In fact we do those well prepared and fearless moms a disservice when they actually GO into labor and discover that it hurts like hell.
Women don’t need a bumper sticker phrase to prepare them for birth. They aren’t empowered by lies and half-truths about rainbows and ponies. We owe women the truth about birth. Yes, it often hurts. Yes, there is an element of danger. No, you can’t control everything about birth. But let’s not forget too to tell them that despite (and maybe because of all of these things) birth is amazing. Birth is transcendent. Birth is beautiful and it is empowering.
It is true that the modern media and the induction and Cesarean epidemic have changed the face of birth in a negative way. It is true that things are going very wrong in many hospitals. But it is UNTRUE that birth was ever this perfect, rosy, “let’s stand in a circle and hold hands so the pain goes away” blissful piece of fantasy. That idea- that birth was ever perfect and was just ruined by the invention of the OB- that is a lie. Women didn’t just embrace hospital and twilight birth because they were tricked by clever marketing- they were afraid. Afraid of the pain and afraid of the death that they knew was a part of birth.
What we need to do now is not lie to women and pretend that if we just think the right thoughts every birth, everywhere will be OK. They won’t.
I have seen enough well prepared (and yes, sometimes fearless) women who end up with very difficult and even surgical births to know that having your head in the right place simply isn’t always enough.
Birth is big and it is wonderful and it will probably bring you to you knees.
Don’t go into with a head full of fairy dust. Be prepared. Be real. Learn everything you can. Educate yourself about normality and nutrition and hospital protocol. Carefully choose your care provider. Prepare your body and your mind for birth. Accept that some pain and some unpredictability is part of this biological process.
Be afraid enough of birth to prepare well for it. Respect birth enough to recognize the awe inspiring power that it yields. Love birth enough to embrace the process while at the same time letting go of some of the power we think we have over this.
There is no shame in a little bit of birth fear. There is no shame in a birth that hurts. There is no shame in admitting that giving birth was the hardest thing you ever did and that you wanted to give up.
Embrace birth for all of it’s many facets- the good and the bad, the beautiful and the ugly, the painful and the euphoric.
Birth is a ride you will never forget. And despite it’s imperfections,birth is a privilege to experience. There is no shame in being honest about birth.
A healthy dose of birth fear is nothing to be afraid of.
Sarah Clark is a mother of four and a wife in Northern California. She teaches natural birth classes in Sonoma County, serves on the board for Birth Boot Camp (online natural birth classes) and travels around the country to train new natural birth teachers. She also does a lot of laundry and keeps an imperfect house.