Birth is never how it’s depicted in the movies; and it’s always how it’s depicted in the movies. My theory is that watching a birth will never feel quite right because each of our experiences are so different, singular in their pace, feel, setting, and mood. My pain is different from your pain, our emotions are experienced in vastly different ways, rooted in vastly different histories. My birth can’t ever really be just like yours precisely because it is mine.
Even my own two birthing experiences were worlds apart. Eleanor was delivered via urgent cesarean after weeks of moxibustion and inversions failed to result in her leaving the frank breech position she had been in for weeks and Oliver came after 24 hours of labor – induced (and then arrested a number of times because his heart rate decelerated and didn’t recover fast enough)- 2 hours of pushing, and vacuum extraction which resulted in 4th degree tearing. Was this how, through lessons in my “natural is best and really the only way you can or should deliver a child” birth class, I imaged my births would progress? Absolutely not.
I have another friend who labored for 24 hours with a baby who was posterior and had the most excruciating back pain imaginable. Another had her water break, labored at home for a while and delivered 12-14 hours later in the hospital with no pain medication whatsoever and one who was able to labor at home for most of the day and spent just one of her 8 hour (total) labor in the birth center. Yet another, on her 4th child, had a home birth attended by just her and her husband.
I understand why, in birth classes everywhere, they have you imagine the birth that you want. It’s important to go through this process – to try, as best as a first time parent can, to put yourself in the birthing situation, to have some idea of what you might (might) expect. Birth classes are also important for helping you learn about questions you could ask, information you could seek, for which you might not otherwise know to seek out. I get it. I support it. I just wish, that once all that was done and you imagined you birth exactly as you want it to be, instructors everywhere would say to you this: “Now, forget all of that and remember this one thing, because it is the most important thing you can take away from this class: in the end it does not matter how your baby gets here – through a completely natural birth or with an epidural, standing delivery or laying down, midwife or OB/GYN, pitocin or not, vaginal or cesarean – what matters is that you (mom) and baby are healthy. And alive. That is the ultimate goal.”
Birth class instructors (if there are any reading this blog) are probably thinking “Well, of course that’s the goal. And we do tell couples that. We tend to focus on all that other stuff because we women to feel empowered to have the birth experience they want and not one that a doctor decides they are going to have because it suits their schedule best.” And I believe that this is true. But in my own experience (and I hear this when talking with friends who are pregnant as well), the message that deviating from your plan is acceptable, even necessary at times, it often lost. It doesn’t make you less of a woman, or mean that your baby will suffer the consequences.
Medical interventions are often overused, especially in our country, but medical interventions during birth are not always a bad thing- in fact they save lives. Many of them. an OB/GYN friend of mine told me a story about time she spent in rural Africa, repairing obstetric fistulas for women who had been shunned by their families – left leaking bodily waste after prolonged labors with no medical interventions. In many cases their children did not survive birth. It is not lost on me that I could have been one of these women. Twice.
So for all of you out there, about to give birth, know that there is no right or wrong childbirth experience, there is only your own. And it is a beautiful thing, regardless of how it happens.