Scars remind us where we've been. They don't have to dictate where we're going

Friday, March 18, 2011

Birth Matters

“All that matters is that you have a healthy baby.”

This statement, and its ramifications, have been discussed ad nauseum in the natural birthing community, so I’m not going to go too deep into it other than a brief commentary.  Of course a healthy baby matters, but so does a healthy, empowered mother.  A woman, upon becoming pregnant, does not simply become a vessel whose only purpose is to somehow expel this baby “safely” into the world—the mother is a being in and of herself whose perceptions of her pregnancy, through her labor and delivery, will forever impact her views on her body and its abilities.

I would, however, like to discuss an interesting phenomenon I’ve noticed since my own journey into motherhood.  Women love to talk about their births.  Hardly a day goes by when I don’t hear some woman reference something that happened to her or some way she felt during her birthing time.  And this isn’t just because I am so entrenched in the natural birth community.  These are ordinary, every day women, not associated with any of the communities I have become aligned with whose primary focus is birth. 

One instance in particular has stuck with me for many months.  My son and I were at open play at our local Gymboree.  There was a boy there with his mother having a great time.  An older woman approaches this mother and says to her “His head reminds me of my husband’s” to which the mother replied “Big?” and the older woman smiled and said, “Well, yes.”  I was shocked by the mother’s next reply: “Thank goodness he was a cesarean.”  This wasn’t a newborn boy, on whose birth you might expect a mother to be reflecting—this was a toddler, close to 24 months.  And you know what else I noticed?  The woman’s body language didn’t say, “thank goodness he was a cesarean.”  I saw her stiffen, as if she were expecting some comment or question from the older woman that implied (or said outright, as some people are so bold!), “surely, there is no way you could have birthed a baby with a head this size.”  And it is like she anticipated that question and headed it off with a casual dismissal and resignation to the fact that she had a cesarean.  I am so sad for her.

Even aside from anything negative, I often hear women sharing moments of triumph they experienced during birth, rising above themselves and expressing pride in what their bodies were able to accomplish.  And when one woman starts telling her birth story, I notice that other women are eager to chime in with “That happened to me too!” or “I remember how that felt,” and often anxiously await their turn to share the story of their own births.

I have read in many places that a woman will never forget how she was made to feel on the day she gave birth to her children, and I can believe it.  No matter how you do it, labor and delivery is an intensely personal, private and intimate thing.  It is truly the culmination of a woman’s sexual life, which starts at puberty with menses, continues through the experiences with her first lover(s), on through her pregnancy, and then finally, the climax—birth!  Many times, you can get a read on just how a woman felt on the day of her birth simply by her body language when you ask about it.  Some women will have immediate expressions of joy or triumph, others may become closed off or defensive.  Either way, very rarely will you ask a woman about her birth and be met with nonchalance.

So, yes, birth matters.  


  1. I always find it complex when a woman who has had an elective cesarean say, "I think natural childbirth advocates should be respectful of that choice." And then go on to say "all that matters is a healthy baby and mom." Kinda hypocritical. I've asked many of mom's, just as they are looking for respect for their choices in birth, we too would like respect that the 'all that matters' statement is hurtful and disrespectful and should not be said.

  2. I think what happens a lot of times is that the woman who would choose an elective cesarean feels attacked--whether overtly or more sublty--by natural birth advocates. Then, it becomes a defensive kind of thing where they feel like they have to justify their choices, and sometimes along the way, women who may not have made that same choice and don't view the cesarean experience in the same way get hurt by statements like this.

    I think there is a whole lot of misunderstanding on both sides of the issue. A lot of people don't understand how someone can see all the evidence and choose an elective cesarean--after all, statistically, that is not safest for mom and baby. But there are a variety of reasons a mother may choose an elective cesarean and not all of them are because of scare tactics on the part of the medical community or fear of normal birth. And I think it's important, if we want our feelings to be respected and validated, we must also respect and validate those of women who would not make the same choices with regards to childbirth.

  3. But, just so there is no confusion, I totally agree, Ruth. Never, ever say that to a woman.