The Problem With the Language of Birth
When you’re pregnant, people like to ask you questions. Or should I say, people like to tell you your business and their opinions. It just comes with the territory. And yes, “people” does include plenty o’ strangers. I’ve had many a nitty gritty Q&A in the checkout line at the grocery store. Not always by choice, but by lack of an escape route.
The epidural question comes up a lot. I’m happy to share my opinions because, as we’re all aware by now, I have them. But I don’t like to share them only to receive judgment, especially from randoms.
I don’t have a problem with wanting to have a baby au naturel, but why is it that bragging rights seem only to be associated with natural childbirth? Carrying a baby, birthing a baby (however you choose to do it), and recovering from a baby are worth bragging rights alone.
With my first, my birth plan was non-existent. It wasn’t that I hadn’t thought about it or didn’t have ideas about how I wanted it to go, I just didn’t know what exactly would happen. I knew the biological process, but not what my body would do. Did I want an epidural? Maybe. I wanted to see how labor felt first. Did I want an episiotomy? Not really, but if I felt it was my best option, I’d be fine with it. I read books, I heard horror stories and beautiful stories and read and researched some more. I read about the risks of home births, water births, hypno-births, hospital births, and even options that did not interest me.
Mainly, I came away feeling frustrated that the birthing process has become so divisive. The word “interventions” in reference to epidurals, pain relief, epistiomities etc., has become stigmatized. It feels like women are told that the beauty and empowerment of birth is only available to those who do it “naturally.” That mentality divides women. The process of conception and giving birth in and of itself is the essence of nature. My first birthing experience felt profound and empowering despite the use of “interventions.”
Also, the word natural is the binary to “unnatural,” a negatively charged word. When did birth become natural vs. unnatural? Why has it become us vs. them?
It does not make someone more or less of a woman depending on how she chooses to birth. Women are uniquely able to experience carrying and ushering life into this world. Personal birthing choices and circumstances do not negate that fact.
I will never forget the source of shame and embarrassment I felt at having to be induced with our first. My shame caused me to tell no one but our parents when we were having the baby. I felt my body had failed me and therefore, I had failed as a woman. Where did those feelings come from? I think they came from the language of birth that bombards women today. The ability to choose how one births is a magnificent right, but not when those choices are judged and cause women to feel they are unfulfilled, inferior, or irresponsible.
Birth is individual. It is hard for some and easy for others. I wish and hope that birth is ideal for every mother. But really, reality makes me wish more that birth is less competitive, less divisive, and less a source of judgement at grocery store check out lines everywhere.
“To epidural or not” should not matter to anyone else. If an at-home water birth is not for you, fine. It may be for someone else. And that has to be okay. I believe, in the array of birthing choices women make, most women have the health of their child in mind and that is what matters most. Not how one births.
Instead, we all need to quit the bickering. Quit the judging and the comparing. Whether you do it “naturally” or “unnaturally” the language of birth needs to be changed to not alienate the majority of women, or any women.
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