“Nobody’s going to give you a medal for natural childbirth, Karla. The woman who gives birth without drugs is going to have to take her baby home same as the woman who gets relief for the pain.”
These are words an acquaintance spoke to me when I was a first-time expectant mom, hoping to have a natural, unmedicated delivery.
And here is the message I “heard” in addition to the words she actually said:
Karla, you’re spinning your wheels for nothing with this whole natural childbirth thing. What you’re hoping to do isn’t going to amount to a hill of beans when it comes to what really matters: parenting.
Did she really think my approach to childbirth was about proving myself? If it were about that, surely there would be some other opportunity with lower-stakes to accomplish that? But I smiled, nodded, and held my tongue.
I heard variations of this comment from several women during my pregnancies, including close women in my circle from whom encouragement would have gone a long way:
You want to do what? Why on earth would you want to go without pain relief when you don’t have to? Not me…just give me the drugs!
It’s not worth it…too many things can go wrong. Let me tell you about my sister-in-law who… (insert horror story here.)
You’re a tougher woman than I…well, good luck with that!
I had two natural birth experiences. One in a hospital, one at home.
Looking back, I am so grateful that I did my research and listened to my instincts instead of listening to voices of fear, naysayers, and those who thought I was kooky for pursuing the birth I wanted.
My acquaintance suggested that my triumphant birth experience would offer me no advantage when it came to my life post-partum. It wouldn’t make me a better mom. (Better than who? Better how? It’s not a contest.) But my births shaped me as a mother. Here’s how.
- I learned that I am not remarkable. Natural, unmedicated childbirth may be the less conventional approach to childbirth in this country, but worldwide it’s more of the norm. If there ever were a silly project to hand out medals for natural, unmedicated births…I’d have tons of company. More women would receive medals than not. I love that I’ve done this sacred and fascinating yet ordinary and unremarkable rite of passage.
- I learned that taking a less conventional path can bring unique blessings. Birth was the first “big” time I did what felt right to me, even if it was against the grain. This has given me courage to make other choices that felt best for my unique family.
- Midwifery gave me a glimpse of what women could be for each other during important times. My midwives spoke potential into my life. They prepared me, helped me rise to my challenge. If at any point my health or the health of my baby appeared to be in jeopardy, I trusted we’d cross that bridge together. I’ve had the joy of encouraging a few friends who, like me, wanted a natural birth. I’m a wanna-be midwife in this way. They did it, and I love seeing what that has done for them. Sometimes women try and don’t end up with the birth they hoped for. But they try, and their courage matters. I worry about a world in which women no longer try. If that happened, we would lose something valuable.
- I learned that pain and joy go together. During the hardest part of my long first birth, I hit a low. I questioned whether I had the strength to finish. I told my doula I had never felt so miserable in my life. But I kept on, and I did finish. My memory of the elation I felt when I met my beautiful girl will forever be in relief to the memory of my dark hour. I can’t separate my joy from that darkness. I wouldn’t want to. They go together, by design.
- I scaled the wall. There was a quote In the documentary The Business of Being Born that I will paraphrase. When a woman comes to the highest wall she’s ever faced, and scales it…there is a deep sense of accomplishment in her soul. Meeting my daughters for the first time were top life moments. But I’m going to confess something. A portion of that memorable elation belonged to me, because I overcame those challenges. That portion of my joy is valuable to me. Mothering is hard. I have not scaled every wall I’ve attempted. But a sense of accomplishment from my births lingers with me, and from that I draw strength. It’s better than a medal. (Not that I ever wanted one.)
- Labor taught me to do hard things. Sometimes in life, there is no way out but to pass through. By design, childbirth teaches a woman to reach deep and find reserves she didn’t know existed, take it a breath at a time, and continue on until she can rest. There have been times in my life–when my husband deployed, when I lost my mom, when everyone under our roof is sick–that echo labor. And although it is painful, I have a memory of what to do. Breathe, put one foot in front of the other. Joy is around the corner.