Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Birth, parenting and an open mind


I had a rather disappointing encounter with a stranger the other day.  In noticing I was pregnant, she struck up a conversation with me asking if I was excited and if it was my first. The usual questions.  I told her it was my second and that, yes, I was really excited.  She then proceeded to tell me that she accompanied her best friend during her first birth last year and it was her first birth experience. Her friend received an epidural and she couldn’t “believe why anyone wouldn’t get one of those!” and that she “doesn’t know anyone you wouldn’t dare get one!” and that “they are amazing!”. I calmly replied, “Um, me.” And went about my business.  I received blank stares and “OMG’s!” and all kinds of weird looks. She asked, “we’ll wasn’t it so painful?” and “are you going to do THAT again?” in a way that made me believe that she thought I would be crazy for putting myself through that seemingly hellish torture again.  I calmly replied that yes, it was painful, but that it was a good pain. I wasn’t suffering and that at the end of my experience I knew I would be getting the best gift – a baby! and so it was all worth it. I only received a big blank stare and “WOW” in response, but I really hope it was enough to open her eyes and mind a little and plant that little seed that birth can be natural and normal and GASP! not traumatic.

I really struggle with these situations.  It is terribly sad to know and encounter young women who have no idea how birth is intended.  All they know is what they see on TV which is a terrible depiction of a normal birth or what they hear through friends who have had traumatic birth experiences for whatever reason or perhaps stories from their mothers when things could have been A LOT different (trust me or read my Mom’s birth stories).  Normal birth is sadly not normal these days.  It makes me want to take on a huge awareness campaign.  It’s just frustrating that I actually had this conversation; that young women my age know so very little about birth.

I am not expert by any means but I have done my fair share on reading up on birth and have educated myself on the topic so that I am comfortable and excited to give birth. Yes, excited! I am one of those crazy birth junkies who believes that birth is amazing and beautiful. I love birth.  In saying that, I try to stay away from the million facts I could rhyme off. I try not to be judgemental or defensive. I try to be calm and cool and answer questions ever so matter-of-factly.  Throwing out stats won’t help me in these situations.  Responding as if natural birth is completely normal, hopefully will.

I also try to remember that I was once a childless women who was uneducated on birth and other parenting topics. What would my pre-baby self ask or say in response? 

Maybe I came into parenting at an advantage? My mother had natural births and breastfed. I grew up on a farm and birth happened regularly. Running to the barn to see a cow give birth was thrilling, not scary.  Watching new kittens nurse was so very cool.  I grew up around nature so as an adult I didn’t have reason to think that these things were anything but natural. I never really doubted that natural birth was for me.

Becoming a mother has opened my eyes A LOT and looking back I realize that I used to be very closed-minded on certain topics too.  Some of these very stereotypical sayings came out of my mouth.

Co-sleeping and bed sharing? My childless self thought that it was too risky and would foster too much dependence in baby. As a new mother, I soon found out that co-sleeping was one of the best ideas out there, that breastfeeding while lying down in bed just to get even a few more minutes of shut-eye was nothing but heaven-sent and that baby of mine just wanted to be close to me – why would I deny him that?

Breastfeeding? I never understood the benefits of extended breastfeeding until after I weaned my son at 16 months. When I was childless I didn’t understand those who breastfed after GASP! the child could ask for it.  How many times do we hear women say that a child is too old to breastfeed if they can ask for it? The truth is, your child has been “asking for it” since they day they were born through cries, grunts, etc.  The only difference now is that they can communicate their wants in words, cute little sayings or baby sign language. Tandem nursing was always an unknown to me. Now? I think it is freaking awesome.

It’s amazing how far a little education can go.  It’s a beautiful thing when all those trials and errors work and you find what works best for you and your family despite what others may recommend or condemn. And an open mind? It is one of life’s most powerful tools.


  1. I do have to say that I find your writing very opinionated... I myself am a Mother of two, both of which were all natural child births and I breastfed my first son for 13 plus months exclusively, my second is two months old and I have also been breastfeeding him exclusively and intend to do so at least until the one year mark. Do I feel the need to discriminate against those Mothers who have had unfortunately more complicated birth or breastfeeding experiences? Do I feel I deserve a medal for my own experiences and choices? Of course not. Pregnancy, Childbirth and Mothering choices are all very personal and each Mother is entitled to their own decisions. I truely wish you another positive birthing experience the second time around, but what if something goes wrong and you require medical intervention? I think the open-mindedness you preach about should also include the open-mindedness that comes with understanding natural childbirth as well as breastfeeding are priviledges. Not all Mothers may be able to experience one or both of these. I just find it so sad and frustrating that women have to choose sides this way... why can't we support one another in whatever works for us? Sometimes being a Mother is difficult enough without having to deal with narrow minded, opinionated and judgemental women, and this works both ways.

  2. Robin, I contemplated getting into the “what if’s”, but this is exactly why I didn’t. I am not trying to form an argument here against birth interventions and women who have had complicated births.

    I am hoping for another natural birth and will do everything in my power to make it so. Thank you for your well wishes. Will I be completely heartbroken if it doesn’t? No. Believe me, I know life isn’t always fair. Am I stubborn? Yes. I stand by my belief and “opinion” that birth is normal and natural. Do interventions happen? Yes. Are they needed? Sometimes, yes. Can some be avoided? Hell, yes. Unfortunately many women don’t know that natural birth is a possibility or perhaps don’t believe in themselves because of all the negativity out there. In sharing my story, I hope that it will encourage more women to believe in themselves, educate themselves and keep an open mind to the possibility.

    I know many women who refer to natural birth and breastfeeding as a “privilege”, but I am sorry I cannot agree with this. I was able to experience both – does that make me better or more privileged than my peers that didn’t? No. In saying “privileged” it’s like putting that person on a pedestal and I disagree with this. In this post I am only trying to explain my belief that natural birth and breastfeeding are natural and normal, nothing above and beyond. This saying alone makes women feel judged. There are no sides here.

    In keeping an open mind I try to support mothers in their choice. Is it the choice that I would make? Maybe not. I only encourage informed choices.

  3. I think I see your point about natural childbirth - I had an epidural the first time around because I was really afraid of natural childbirth, and everything I heard seemed to say that there was no good reason to not have an epidural. I think with a little education and reassurance, I wouldn't have made that choice. I was surprised at how hard the epidural was - I thought it would make everything an effortless breeze, and although there was less pain there were other side effects. I was nauseous and sick afterwards, and I couldn't get out of bed for hours; my labour slowed down because I couldn't stand or walk, so I had to have drugs to help it along; in the end, the baby went into distress and I had to have an episiotomy and forceps, and he had to spend the first two days in an incubator in the nursery so I couldn't hold him or see him or have him in my room. Days later, my legs were swollen so much from the IV meds that I could barely walk.

    I definitely support any woman who has one, I had one too and I completely get why. But I think it needs to be presented as a more balanced choice - it's not a simple, easy way out, but rather, its own version of hard. In general there just needs to be more information given to pregnant ladies so they can make a more informed choice about what is right for them.

    I guess I should have made this its own blog post!

  4. Lynn, thanks for sharing your story. Remember my Mom's epidural from her 3rd birth I wrote about? That's why I knew I didn't want one. It wasn't what it was all cracked up to be. Many women believe that an epidural is a sure-safe resort to the pain but sometimes it doesn't take or makes things worse. I also support friends who have had an epidural. I support my friends who have had c-sections. I don't doubt that interventions are needed in some cases.

  5. I think that what this all boils down to is educating yourself. That way you are able to make the best choice for you.
    I don't think that there is anything wrong with how a woman chooses to deliver her child nor how she intends to feed them. What I do think is important is that we support them instead of belittleing them for a choice that they made.
    I'm glad that you did your research and had a good experience. I think it eases fears tremendously.

  6. I totally agree with both Lynn and Kimberly. I guess I just find your writing very opinionated and I don't associate being opinionated very directly with being open minded...

    Also, to clarify, I did not mean for a privilege to be in any way associated with being put on a pedestal. But rather privilege in the sense that it is not something every woman can do (for whatever her reason may be) and that it is important to support women in whatever their choices are.... Yes, natural childbirth is considered normal (of course it is!) but in the event a woman cannot deliver naturally, it may not necessarily be traumatic with regards to her particular situation.

    Bottom line: EACH pregnancy, person, experience etc. is different... and it's essential we keep this in mind before belittleing anyone for their choices.

  7. Alicia, I was pretty ignorant about the birthing experience before having my daughter. I did want to go the natural birth route and hired a doula to help me. My labour was a great experience I would never change. I'm glad I had a natural birth because my recovery was so quick and my ability to bond with my daughter and get her to latch right away wasn't impeded.

    My husband thought I was nuts to want a natural birth but eventually he came to understand why I wanted to at least try it.

    But I know where you're coming from. And while some may feel you sound opinionated - what I think you're trying to express is that a lot of people do think a woman is nuts to even want to "attempt" a natural birth.

    Yes, educating yourself is the best way to make the decision that's right for you. At the same time, making outrageous comments (ignorant at times too) about my labour decision is going to get my back up. So I see your viewpoint.

    Each pregnancy is different for sure. Interventions are sometimes needed - no question. But when it becomes the de facto (as in booking the c-section rather than attempting a natural birth..and a women I know did this even though there was no medical reason to do so)...hrm...something's wrong with that kind of view point. I feel that is the stigma you were trying to address with this post.

  8. Thanks Mel. I think you helped me explain better than I did for myself. It really just bothers me that saying I am planning a natural birth is shocking to so many women and having a medicated birth is expected. How did birth become so backwards? Also, I would never belittle anyone for making an alternate choice during birth.

  9. Great! Let's all be friends :) I think I just read your post and interpreted it differently. I too totally agree medicated births should not be 'expected' but in the event where there isn't a choice then of course it should be understood/supported. Which is (after 8 posts / further clarifications) I think what you are saying as well... take care and best of luck with your second experience (for me it was A LOT more difficult/intense and challenging) but happy again in the end it was drug free and natural...

  10. I love this post! I'm dealing with the same thing... only most of it is from my own mother. Who insisted I couldn't birth my first baby without an epidural... (but i proved her wrong and it was incredible)... and now who I argue daily with over why I'm still breast feeding him at 6 months of age. Ugh. Seriously! My husband and I had an "oops" and are now pregnant again! So I'm 6 month postpartum, and one month pregnant! It's so exciting but so hard! I've decided to nurse through the pregnancy until my milk dries up because 6 months is too early to my mind. Ahh, I'm getting so much crap for it! This was refreshing. I had the SAME exact experience when I was pregnant with my first while I was at the register @ bed bath & beyond. This woman was so loud and convinced that natural birth was insane and how painful labor was... I didn't even bother to tell her I was doing it natural but it REALLY put fear into me for a few weeks. I love natural birthing... I love (although sometimes hate) breastfeeding... and I love your blog!