Giving birth is something I’m very involved with as a midwife and yet even after twenty years I still find each individual birth a miraculous and powerful experience. Women go through an insane physical, emotional and mental transformation throughout pregnancy but giving birth is by far the most intense and surreal time of all. Entering a room as one person but leaving with two (or more!) is a remarkable feat. No wonder women want to discuss this life changing moment with their friends or peers. But all this labour talk can have a dark side – especially if you enjoyed giving birth, because like it or not, Birth Shaming exists. And it’s not pretty. In this article I’m particularly talking about Enjoyable Birth Shaming.
Positive = Negative
Dissecting birth stories is something many of us have a morbid fascination with. From the first signs of labour to coping through contractions to the finale of pushing, women love to revisit their labour experiences to reflect upon one of the most significant events in their life. Within your life as a mother you’re bound to recount your birth story numerous times, until it becomes the stuff of legend. But dare to say that you actually enjoyed labour and giving birth, or dare to describe the experience as ‘magical’, ‘lovely’ or even ‘painless’ and women are at risk of being shamed for enjoying their birth experience. They’re too often seen as smug, unreal and sometimes even viewed as liars. Their experience is by many seen as a privilege that’s been unfairly awarded to them. I see and hear this kind of bitter response everywhere from Instagram to forums to delivery wards at hospitals – and it really rubs me up the wrong way!
While sometimes responses to a birth experience that’s been described as ‘lovely’, ‘beautiful’ or ‘enjoyable’ are genuinely positive, it’s not always the case, and my question is why women still make other women feel uncomfortable about birth stories that are not theirs to tell.
No two births are the same. Each experience is fundamentally personal and every woman is entitled to own and share her birth stories. Discrediting or belittling them only serves to make a competition out of giving birth, where women subconsciously compete for best or worst birth, longest labour, quickest labour, most stressful moment and so on.
Why can’t we get to a point where birth is seen as an intimate personal experience that can’t be compared with other people’s experiences? I truly believe that it’s only by talking about the breadth of birth experiences that we can truly understand how complex and individual giving birth actually is. Enjoyable birth, traumatic birth, medicated birth or home birth, they’re all part of a bigger story about women’s bodies and new lives just beginning. For me, I think it’s just as important to share enjoyable, lovely, complication-free births as it is to talk about births that have been problematic and/or harrowing. After all, the story of when and how we met our children for the first time is significant and has worth, value and power, no matter how it happened. The important thing is that it happened – and you’re here to tell the tale.
I’d love to see us evolve to this level, where birth stories are shared not as a way to compare and compete, but as an opportunity to celebrate their diversity and power. Let’s bring sisterhood back into motherhood.
Image: BabyRose Photography