There’s a discussion going on over at the Motherload blog about whether or not there is an ideal way to give birth. Lisa Belkin seems to think an ideal birth is a fiction, and all that matters is a healthy baby and mother. I disagree that there isn’t an ideal, because I think there’s enough evidence that a particular method of birth (vaginal with the least amount of intervention as possible) is more likely to lead to a healthy baby and mother, thus making it the ideal method of birth.
In the comments, a lot of women mentioned how their birth experience was transformative and empowering, and another commenter, “Blue,” challenge them to explain why. I took on the task, and Lisa highlighted my comment as one that is among the most interesting and thoughtful responses, so I thought I would share it with you:
Here’s attempt to answer Blue’s (#59) question:
If you felt that it was positive and transformative, and worth the pain, why? Can you pinpoint it for the rest of us? (Leaving aside any health benefits and the accomplishment of withstanding the pain itself)
I had a drug-free vaginal birth with a midwife and a doula at a hospital birth center. I labored at home until transition (on purpose), rode 40 minutes to the hospital in transition and then trying not to push (not fun), arrived at the hospital fully dilated & just in time for my water to break, and 30 minutes later had a beautiful baby girl. Over all, I think the hardest part about the birth was trying not to have a baby in my friend’s Escalde. It didn’t really hurt in the way you would think of pain hurting – it was more like ebbs and flows, not constant, on-going pain – and I was able to relax in between contractions so labor wasn’t really an issue for me until transition. What hurt was them massaging (punching!) my uterus afterward and getting stitches for a minor tear with no local anesthesia. Also, my butt felt sore for a few days (3?), but I didn’t take anything for that either. That is the shortened version of was my birth experience – mine, not my daughter’s, because I did all the work. So, to answer your question, Blue, it was totally worth the pain – because for me it wasn’t really that painful. I was able to work with my body and understand that contractions were telling me something, rather than fight them. I also was able to focus on the fact that each contraction was going to end within 1-2 minutes. The discomfort that I did feel was worth it, because it was very important to me as a part of the experience as a whole. I wanted to live each and every moment of the birth, and if someone else was telling me I was having a contraction because the epidural had numbed me to all sensation, I wouldn’t have been 100% present in the experience.I think a big reason why it felt transformative and was so positive, was how it helped to shape my identity and my confidence in my own abilities to succeed.
First and foremost, I set a goal and met that goal. It’s no different from the great sense of achievement someone gets from succeeding at running a marathon for the first time or climbing a mountain. I faced a challenge and I beat it. I was told over and over during my pregnancy that I should get the epidural; that birth is incredibly painful; that I should be prepared for not being able birth naturally; that once I actually feel it, I’ll change my mind. Even my own mother kept telling me that I should probably get an epidural – that’s not a vote of confidence. And every time someone told me I couldn’t do it drug-free, I wanted to do it drug-free more. The fact that I was able to do something so many women told me I couldn’t do, that I was able to take control of the pain instead of letting it control me, was an incredible confidence booster. Now, when I’m faced with a challenge, I actually think to myself, “Is this harder than giving birth?” Because if I could do that, then I can do anything.
Secondly, I feel like I’ve fulfilled some really important thing that I’m supposed to do. I’m young and until I had my daughter, I never really felt comfortable defining myself as a woman – as opposed to a girl – but now that I’m a mother and there’s no question in my mind…I AM WOMAN. I’m sure there’s some primal, evolutionary reason for this feeling, and maybe I would feel this way no matter how Nora had been born, but as I think about it, I can only connect it to the natural birth experience. We are animals, we have the biological ability (some might even say the design) to survive birth (in most, but not all cases) without intervention; the fact that I did so has made me more aware of my “purpose,” if you will.
I’ve thought a little bit about whether or not the birth would be as empowering if I lived in a culture where this sort of birth experience was the norm. And I think, probably, it would not be. Part of why this experience is so amazing for me is because I am in the minority here. It would probably feel like much less of an accomplishment and more of just a normal thing if all along people had told me I could do it, if I grew up seeing examples of natural birth, and if natural birth was the only option. I think living in America, where natural birth is far from the norm and pain is the common descriptor of the birthing experience, having a baby drug-free becomes a challenge which can be met head-on (with either success or failure) or which can be so overwhelming that women don’t even try. Having faced and overcome something that is insurmountable to many of my peers is a big part of the empowerment feeling.
So that was my comment. I’d love to know what you think about birth experiences. Is there an ideal experience? If you’ve had a baby, how do you feel about your experience? If you haven’t, how do you view birth? Guys, feel free to chime in, too – does the birth experience matter to you or is it just another thing women find important that guys could care less about?