I have been working with pregnant women for over 15 years and have heard HUNDREDS of birth stories that are on a continuum from Empowering to Traumatic and everything in between.
As a result, I have harnessed the ability to glean all sorts of information from my intake forms that are strategically created to help me help women have the most positive experiences possible.
And there is always one sentiment that makes me cringe. Not in the condescending “How could you?!” way but more like “I want to crawl under the covers and hide” way. It’s this one sentence (which I’m pulling directly from multiple intake forms over the years) that gets me every time:
“I will be having a natural birth at a birth center.”
Now hold on a second, let me explain. My own three births were medication-free and caught by midwives so let’s just clarify a few things. I have nothing against natural births OR birth centers. In fact, I fully support them both.
But what sends me quivering under the covers is a statement so sure-footed, so absolute, so rigid about one of the only events in our life that requires a complete surrender and an acceptance of an absolute loss of control…..childbirth.
We also have to define “natural birth.” Some people consider natural birth just having a vaginal delivery. And some consider it a vaginal and intervention-free birth without the use of pain medications, fetal monitoring and the like.
For the purposes of this conversation, I’ll use the latter definition. But this is a good time to point out that in our current culture, an unmedicated vaginal birth is held on a pedestal while women who choose pain medication or have Cesarean sections are sometimes made to feel “less than.”
And I couldn’t disagree more. Women who had C-sections are some of the bravest women I know. They are often prepped for surgery without the presence of a partner and silently need to make peace with the idea that this might be the best way for their child to be brought into the world even if it means surgery, scars, and letting go of a vision for birth that they may have been imagining for 9 months (or longer).
Here’s the follow up question I always ask in response to the statement “I will be having a natural birth at a birth center” and you need to ask yourself the exact same thing:
“What is more important to you, having a natural birth or having a positive birth?”
Let this question sink in, and give it the time it deserves. Because I have seen unmedicated vaginal births where the experience was extremely negative and unplanned C-sections where the experience was extremely positive.
I define a positive birth experience as one in which the laboring mom felt like an empowered part of the decision-making process that led to the birth of her baby.
You see, some people think a traumatic birth only occurs when the mother or baby’s life was at risk. I disagree.
After treating thousands of postpartum women and hearing their birth stories, it appears that a traumatic birth experience is any experience where the mom did NOT feel empowered to contribute to decisions, or the actual birth deviated significantly from the story she had written in her head.
In this way, a positive birth experience is not tied to an outcome, but rather tied to your feelings about the way the birth unfolded. Once again echoing the sentiment that it’s about the journey, not necessarily the destination.
So, what advice would I give to women preparing for birth to help them have the most positive experience possible? Here’s the 4 best pieces of advice I can offer.
My hope and prayer is that every woman who gives birth is able to look back on the events that brought her baby into the world and rest in the knowledge that her birth team rallied around her and allowed her to feel supported and empowered every step of the way, regardless of the outcome.