“I really don’t understand why she’s trying to be a hero wanting a natural birth” Admit it, we’ve all heard mutterings like this, or similar, in reference to a pregnant woman’s labour choices and their outcomes. Whether you are preparing to birth your baby with or without pain medication, vaginally or by c-section, is nobody’s business but yours and your midwife’s or doctor’s. It’s your choice, your body, your baby, yet a lot of people feel it’s their business, especially other Mums. Why has giving birth become a competition? Why does our society think it’s ok to shame women for their birthing choices?
If there was ever a time when women needed to band together it’s during pregnancy; however, in some places, the complete opposite has become the norm, unfortunately. Women have come so far and the choices available to them are endless, yet suddenly we are often brutally judged on those choices from those we should expect the most support- other women. Judgment varies depending on the community you live in. It goes in waves, sometimes there is pressure for a low intervention birth, while others prefer to have an epidural as early into their labour as possible. Either way, women are discovering if their preferences differ from the group they are often left feeling inadequate and even ostracised. All from having simply a difference in opinion! Sadly the Internet makes it even worse than it already is. More opinions, more counter opinions, everyone will have a reason why what you are doing is “wrong” and why their way is the better way. The net brings out our inner bitchiness and empowers some women to speak without thinking about the impact their words have on other women. Instead of bringing us together sharing ideas and learning from one another’s different opinions, we are simply dismissing anything that’s not our way of thinking and because of that, we are not learning as much from one another as we could be. The Internet is not all bad of course, but unfortunately, too often it’s used more to bully or judge one another than it is to support and lift up each other regardless of our differences. And it doesn’t stop at labour and birth choices, the judgment continues into all other aspects of child rearing. From breast and formula feeding to weaning, sleep training and nappy choices it goes on and on.
Is it simply human nature to be competitive? Doesn’t challenging one another build new ideas? Yes if they are listened to. Most of us are so busy trying to be “Mother of the Year”, very few of us are listening to others share their thoughts. Historically women always had to fight to be counted. Whether it was back in the day when boys were preferred to girls, during women’s liberation or every day in the work world, women have been forced to be competitive. Perhaps in our quest for perfection, we’ve all missed the point of equality and have pushed it aside for superiority? Do we always have to be the best? Apparently, as a Mother you do. The pressures put on Mothers nowadays are endless. It’s not just enough to have a baby, but we’re judged on how you have them, how you feed them, all while expected to keep a career, a slim body and a happy home! The competition gets fierce and instead of acknowledging each other’s struggle, we’ve ended up judging it, simply to make ourselves feel better about our own decisions and situations.
First and foremost let’s all remember sometimes you don’t have a choice. Take birth plans for instance. You can plan a natural birth, but as we all know, even the best-laid plans often don’t work out. Mother nature doesn’t always go according to plans. Having a strict birth plan almost always leads to feelings of disappointment and failure because the birth did not go to “plan”. There should be no shame in saying, ‘I had an epidural’, ‘I had a c-section’, or ‘I had a straightforward unmedicated birth’. At the end of the day, a healthy baby and Muma are what is important, regardless of how it all came about. We should all put more emphasis on the Mother’s well-being and emotional state and support one another.
Here are my tips on how to stay focused on what’s important and not get caught up in the competition of it all-
Go offline- while the internet can be a great source of information, it can equally be an ugly place. Especially if people are bullying you or giving you a hard time for your choices. You are never going to change everyone’s mind, and many won’t be open to listening to another person’s opinion, so just shut them off. If other’s opinions are constantly flooding your mind it can be hard to hear your own voice. You know what’s right for you, stick to your beliefs regardless of the naysayers.
Focus on you and your baby rather than trends – every year new ideas about labour and childbirth come about. Babies are big business and the more “new” ideas out there, the more money there is to be made. Don’t be suckered into new fads (that were probably around 20 years ago and making another round). Just because elective c-sections by maternal request are in vogue, doesn’t mean it’s right for you and your baby. Equally, if the idea of having a home birth freaks you out, there is no point trying to convince yourself otherwise, just because a friend did it. Figure out your individual needs, even ask an unbiased professional if you’re not sure, make decisions based on those, and own them.
Set boundaries. Funnily enough, people tend to think that you are public domain as soon as you become pregnant. From strangers touching your stomach to questions like “c-section or vaginal?”! It’s ok to let them know you’re not comfortable with the overstepping of personal space or intrusive line of questioning. Body language also speaks volumes, so don’t be afraid to shy away or cover your stomach if someone goes to touch it. Set your boundaries to your comfort level and own them. People may be a bit taken back, but you’ll get your point across and they most likely won’t overstep again.
Push back. Next time someone asks you “natural birth or epidural?”, ask them an equally personal question back. If they overstep the limits of your personal comfort zone, give them a taste of their own medicine, most will be shocked, but you’ll get your point across- and they probably won’t go there again!
Put together your personal congress. Find a group of people that lift you up, support your ideas and generally make you feel good. They don’t all have to have the same opinions, but they will support yours and respect the differences you have. Having a support system is key during pregnancy and after. Find the right group and chances are they will be friends for life.
Educate yourself. We’re all guilty of judging others at some point in our lives. So be mindful of it. Educate yourself on other’s situations and plights before we judge. Everyone has their own unique story. You never know what someone has gone through or is going through, so you can’t make decisions for them, nor can you compare yours to theirs. There’s much to learn from listening to other’s opinions, especially if they differ from ours. Sit back, listen and remain neutral, you don’t have to agree with them, but they deserve to be heard.
If we continue to force women to attach themselves to a certain style of birth based on societal rules and trends it will constantly divide us. Being forced into a particular way of thinking during a time in your life when you are super vulnerable is destructive and damaging to women. There are many labour and birth paths women can end up taking. Sometimes out of choice, other times out of necessity. Perhaps it was the safest way to get the baby out for both Mother and child? We just don’t know what other’s are going through and should therefore not judge. Let’s all try to support one another in our choices and paths we take. Let’s put the sisterhood back into motherhood and start celebrating each other for our differences, not condemning each other for them.
If you’ve read this blog to the end, you may also be interested in reading about birth plans, the myths and truths of a medically induced labour and what a natural birth really means.
Photo lovingly shared with thanks to Krista Evans Photography.
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