I see you. I see your hurt, your disappointment and your guilt. I see your shame and frustration with your body. You’ve heard the narrative that your body is built to give birth ‘naturally’ without the need for doctor’s intervention, that this is the best way to give birth and anything else is not good enough. Anything else is a failure and will hamper your ability to bond with your baby.
What I’m going to say next may be controversial, but it’s true. You did not fail! You are strong! You are a mother! You brought your gorgeous baby into the world!
Often women can be told a message that vaginal birth is the best at all costs, that your body is made for this purpose and that anything different is not good enough. Maybe those women who had caesareans, ventouse or forceps did not try hard enough. As a midwife I can tell you that unassisted vaginal birth is a wonderful and beautiful. It is usually the fastest mode of birth to recover from, it aids the baby’s immune system, triggers hormones that help early breastfeeding and bonding as well as having countless other benefits. But other delivery methods are just as beautiful. Yes we are seeing a global increase in the use of intervention during birth, and we as health professionals continue to need to work on not over intervening, but this does not mean that your experience was any less beautiful, any less significant.
Birth shame is nothing new. It’s been around for a long time! My parents were subjected to it when they attended parenting classes run by a well-known charity in the UK. As soon as they said that they were having a medically recommended planned caesarean section, they were given surprised looks and discussions re- focussed on the importance of ‘natural’ birth in a way that made them feel different and as though their birth experience would not be as ‘rich’. Occasional comments were also made by others which, probably inadvertently, gave the impression that they would not have the ‘full birth experience’ and that my mum was somehow inferior as she had not ‘done it all herself’. But let me tell you, my parent’s experience was no less significant and no less beautiful or special because of the way I was born. Instead my mum tells the tale joyfully as to how she got to walk down to my birth, remembers feeling her toes on the operating table and when she reported this to the surgeon was told, “Don’t worry, we’ve already started with the scalpal!”.
Let me tell you that I’m very grateful for intervention. I’m grateful that I was born in a time and a country that was able to facilitate my birth in a way that protected mine and my mother’s lives. I am grateful for intervention every time a baby’s heart rate drops during labour and becomes ‘pathological’ (medical speak for the baby struggling and getting to a point where the lack of Oxygen could have long term consequences) and when it means that a baby can be born safely when it would otherwise not make it due to emergencies or the position of the placenta. I am even more grateful for intervention when I live in a country where interventions are available but not necessarily affordable, leading to heartbreaking stories where otherwise healthy mother’s and babies have died or experience long term complications. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not downplaying unassisted vaginal birth, it is incredible, but I am saying that it is not necessarily the answer for every woman.
So mama, I see you. You did not fail! You gave birth to a gorgeous baby! You are strong and capable. Your birth was just as beautiful, just as significant, just as special. You are a warrior and your body nurtured and birthed your lovely child. Be proud of yourself, and what you achieved.
You are amazing!