As a young girl and an adolescent, I distinctly remember moments where I realized that my body was less than “ideal.” American culture does an effective job at perpetuating a standard of beauty that has very narrow parameters.
Your size, the color and age of your skin, the length of your hair, the proportion of your breasts to your waist…the list goes on and on.
I imagine that all of us, at some point, felt woefully inadequate.
But I hope that as we grew older and we saw more of the world, we realized that this “ideal woman” simply doesn’t exist. As I came into myself, I met women and men of all different shapes and sizes and realized that beauty was much bigger than what I had been subconsciously taught to believe.
The concept of an “ideal woman” is laughable in most circles that I run in now. And for that, I’m happy. I love when I see women embrace their bodies and refuse to let the world tell them that they are any “less” because of some elusive standard that NO ONE can live up to.
However, I’ve been disheartened over the last few months because I’ve seen something equally damaging rise up in the field that I’m so passionately involved in.
The Dangerous Myth of an Ideal Birth.
I have seen many women create an impossible standard for birth. I’m not going to perpetuate that standard any further by describing it…but I’m sure that many of you already know what it is. What is heartbreaking is that women are using words like this to describe women’s birth stories:
“Less than ideal”
“A good try”
I’ve had people tell me that unless I share images that show women giving birth completely unassisted, I’m perpetuating the myth that women “need help.” Because according to some, an image with a midwife or doctor’s hand is “less than ideal.”
A baby with a hat on is “a good try” at skin-to-skin.
A woman who gives birth on her back with her feet in the stirrups is “somewhat there.”
Are you kidding me?
This is just as damaging to women as the myth of the “ideal female body.” It can cause women to second-guess their own perceptions. It can cause women to feel the cold hand of judgement. It can leave new mothers feeling isolated, disappointed, and confused.
Friends, there is no right way to give birth. Let me say that again: there is NO RIGHT WAY TO GIVE BIRTH.
Every women should feel the freedom to celebrate her own birth story. Every woman should feel encouraged to be proud of the work that her body has done.
And just like none of our bodies can live up to that elusive standard of the “ideal woman,” none of our birth stories will ever be perfect.
I’ve seen women give birth unassisted and then suffer a postpartum hemorrhage or fall under the heavy veil of postpartum depression. I’ve seen women plan for a home birth and end up induced at 37 weeks due to preeclampsia. I’ve seen babies come months early, or just one day too late. I’ve witnessed beautiful family-centered cesareans, and I’ve seen women rushed in for an emergency c-section. Babies are born with lusty cries, and sometimes they’re born limp and blue. No matter how hard you plan, or how much you wish, there are certain aspects of birth that are simply out-of-our control.
Just like our bodies, our birth stories are HUMAN. They are real. They are full of complications, of disappointment, of surprises, of beauty in unexpected places. Not one of them will ever be “ideal” because not one of us is “ideal.” We need to stop shaming women when their birth stories look differently than the standard we have created in our heads.
I will continue to share my birth images with you, and I will continue to celebrate the beauty and the realness of birth.
Beauty and realness can be found in births without medication.
Beauty and realness can be found in births with medication.
Beauty and realness can be found when a doctor delivers your baby, or when a midwife catches your baby, or when you reach down and pull your own baby up to your chest.
Beauty and realness can be found when you give birth at 40 weeks, or 27 weeks, or 43 weeks.
Beauty and realness can be found when you hold your screaming baby to your chest, pink and full of life.
Beauty and realness can be found when you birth your baby despite unimaginable grief, knowing you’ll only hold him for a few hours.
Beauty and realness can be found if it takes hours or even days before all the wires are gone and you can hold your baby against your beating heart.
Beauty and realness can be found in the water, on a bed, on an operating table, on a toilet, in your kitchen, in the halls of a hospital.
Let’s stop shaming women when their birth story doesn’t live up to an impossibility. Let’s choose instead to celebrate the stories women want to share. And let’s choose to listen to a woman’s birth story….and allow her to process what she felt in those moments. Let’s choose to hold back judgement and to embrace the complicated, messy, and diverse beauty of birth.
Our bodies and our stories deserve more.
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