Over the last week, cord has received well over 4 million visitors. My birth photography website is nearing 100,000. We’ve received countless emails and comments about our c-section article. As we slowly try to digest each message or take a look at the beautiful images you send our way, we’re noticing a reoccurring emotion: shame. And as I see new comments pop up on some of the birth stories I’ve shared on my site (home births, hospital births, c-section births), I’m noticing a reoccurring tendency towards judgment.
“I think its ridiculous to put yourself and your child in that type of unnecessary danger...only because YOU feel like YOU know what’s going on.”
“You are the most selfish and uneducated person I have ever heard of.”
“You didn’t really give birth.”
“Why would you want to do something so stupid? Giving birth at home is equivalent to saying you want your baby to die.”
“You took the easy way out.”
These are only some of the MANY comments we've been filtering through. Comments made on vaginal births, on c-section births, on breech births, on epidural births, on unmedicated births.
To be honest, these comments have been eating away at my heart all day.
Why, sweet friends, do we feel like we can judge each other so strongly and swiftly? Why are we so quick to assume the worse about a mother? Because in all the birth work I’ve done, I’ve learned one thing about pregnant moms: they want what is BEST for their baby. And the second thing I’ve learned through birth work is this: there are very few instances of black and white, right and wrong. Mothers face so many areas of grey when they make decisions about how and when to give birth. It is presumptuous and dare I say wrong for a stranger or a friend or even a family member to hear one woman’s story and then say: you were selfish and you made the wrong choice. And yet this birth shame exists everywhere I look, and it can get particularly nasty online.
Labor and Delivery nurses, I love you. You work tirelessly and selflessly to help bring babies safely into this world. But please, unless you were in that particular birth room, don’t judge a woman’s story. You don’t know all the details of her case. You weren’t able to talk to the nurse or doctor caring for her. Yes, you have wisdom, and you’ve seen more than most of us have, but remember that each birth story shared is a real birth story, with a real mother and family behind it. Instead of offering harshness, sit back and consider what might have motivated the mother to make that choice. If you still disagree, keep that tucked away. Continue to do the good work that you do. Continue to help the women you come in contact with.
Crunchy birth mamas (I’m one of them!), I know we love the idea of an unmedicated natural birth. You’ve probably seen a few or had a few, and the feelings of ecstasy and strength haven’t left you yet. I know that you think unmedicated vaginal births are awesome, but please remember, they are awesome for YOU, and not necessarily every women you meet. Underlying health issues, a desire for a more controlled birthing experience, a medical emergency, or even family dynamics are only a few of the many reasons women decide to give birth with an epidural or via c-section. Giving birth is not a race with a first, second, or third place trophy. Giving birth is a deeply personal choice and experience. What works for you will not work for every woman. Time and time again, I’m reminded of how differently our bodies work. Some women give birth easily and quickly. Other women labor for days with little rest. When a woman shares her birth story, we should sit with open arms and wide smiles. We are being trusted with an intimate chapter of her story. There should be no space for birth shame.
For the mothers who give birth at hospitals and the mothers who give birth at home, please know that there isn’t one right place to have a baby. Throughout history, we’ve been giving birth inside, outside, alone, in community. We’ve had babies in snowstorms, in cars, in hospitals, in hallways, in bathtubs, in closets, on beds, while standing. The choice you made might be the right choice for you and your family, but it won’t necessarily be the right choice for the other women in your life. It’s okay to firmly believe in the validity of your choice without condemning the choices of others. It's okay to feel confident in your decision without participating in birth shame.
So, sweet friends, when we read a birth story or we see a birth image, can we withhold our judgment, and instead offer the birthing mother the one thing all of us crave and need: loving acceptance. Can we let go of our own bias and trust that most women want what is best for themselves and their babies? Can we choose to see the good in a birth story instead of the bad?
The postpartum period is a hard time, a fragile time, and when a woman shares her story only to be met with judgment and harshness, I want to wave my hands up in the air and shout, “Please stop!”
We are mothers, and any mother can tell you that this journey is not an easy one with clearly defined paths. We each do the best with what we have, and by loving each other we can help make our various journeys a bit easier and less lonely.
Will you join me? Will you commit to letting go of birth shame? Don't spread it and don't accept it. We are mothers; and we are each strong, beautiful, and brave.