A couple of weeks ago, I wrote an article about c-section moms that went more viral than anything we've ever published here before. Within hours, we received hundreds of emails and comments. Women shared their stories, their scars, and their hearts with us. We read about planned c-sections, emergency c-sections, family-centered c-sections, and traumatic c-sections. We realized that so many women simply want to have their voices and their stories heard.
But along with these stories came an oft-repeated phrase: A healthy baby and a healthy mom is all that matters.
Well-meaning commenters would decry the birth shame I had mentioned. "Why does it matter how you give birth? A healthy baby and a healthy mom is all that matters."
Women would recount the words their obstetrician shared with them before surgery "We need to do a c-section. I know it's now what you want, but a healthy baby and a healthy mom is all that matters."
Again and again I heard this phrase, and it unsettled me. It unsettled me even more when I heard it being used during the births of some of my recent clients.
Because, sweet friends, a healthy baby and a healthy mom is NOT all that matters. Is it the most important, the most pressing goal? Absolutely. But there is so much else in birth that does matter, and we do women a disservice by pretending otherwise. Today, I'll be talking about a few other things that matter in birth.
1. Women need to feel informed.
Before and during birth there are so many choices. There are the big ones: where to give birth, who to use as a care-provider. And then there are the hundreds of small choices: the tests, the classes, the medications, the birth plans, the positions, the support teams. The list could go on and on.
Even as a birth worker, I find all those decisions to be overwhelming and often confusing (and I'm surrounded by birth constantly). And so I believe that one of the most important things we can offer birthing moms is information. Care-providers should do more than deliver a baby; he or she should provide a mother with evidence-based information so that she can move forward in her decisions with confidence. And this evidence-based information should not just happen in the doctor's office; it should also happen in the birth room. If a mother is in a non-emergent situation (and most of the time, moms are not needing to be rushed down to the OR), her doctor or nurse or doula should do the best he or she can to provide thorough, evidence-based information. Because information leads to empowerment. And empowerment matters in birth.
2. Women need to feel empowered.
Any birth worker will tell you that birth is surprising. Our best laid plans can easily be swept aside in the beautiful whirlwind that is birth. So if you have a concrete vision of what your birth will look like...there's a good chance you'll be surprised.
And when those surprises happen, when birth plans suddenly begin to crumble, the best thing we can do for mothers is not to remind them that "a healthy baby and a healthy mom is all that matters," but instead to give them information that empowers them to make the best choice for their family. Unless there is a truly emergent situation, women should be reminded that the choices ahead of them are choices that they, themselves, can make. Armed with evidence-based information, women will feel more confident in moving forward with an intervention. They will feel less manipulated, confused, and disappointed.
3. Women need permission to grieve.
Yes, the ultimate goal is "a healthy mom and a healthy baby," but that is not the end-all. Birth can be an incredibly moving experience, an incredibly beautiful experience. From the moment we hold those positive pregnancy tests in our hands, we begin imagining the moment when we'll hold our son and daughter in our arms. Some of us devote hours reading books and attending classes in hopes of a natural childbirth. Some of us imagine our birth space as peaceful and joyful, with little pain and an abundance of love. We come to our births with visions and dreams, with hopes and prayers. For some of us, those visions become reality, and we want to shout out our birth story to whoever will listen. But for many of us, reality falls short.
And sweet friends, it is more than okay to grieve the loss of your dream.
The last thing a postpartum mom needs to hear is "all that matters is a healthy baby and a healthy mom," because what that phrase does is cause women to stuff down hurt and grief. Birth is a deeply intimate experience; for many it is a spiritual experience. Birth is the beginning of parenthood, and it can be deeply distressing when your birth goes from peaceful to frightening and traumatic. It can unsettle you in ways that last far longer than the physical recovery of childbirth. And so I'll say it again, it is more than okay to grieve the loss of your dream. It's okay if you feel other feelings than joy, happiness, or thankfulness.
Because a healthy baby and a healthy mom is NOT all that matters.
Instead, I wish more care providers would sit at the edge of their clients' beds, hold their hands, and say this instead: "I'm so sorry that this isn't going the way you planned. It's okay to feel hurt and upset and scared. But please know, we're doing the best thing for your baby right now. We've talked about your options, and I've given you all the information that I can. I know this is a hard decision for you to make, but I'm proud of your strength, and I know your son or daughter will be too."
We need to stop belittling the experience of birth. We need to allow women to grieve. And we need to add a few other conditions to our list of what matters in birth: information, empowerment, and the ability to feel a variety of emotions.