You know how being a mom to wee ones can sometimes feel so very lonely even though the amount of time you actually spend alone is nil? I am literally within arm's reach, if not physically attached to at least one other human being at all hours. Little people follow me enthusiastically into the bathroom whenever I gotta go hoping that I'll entertain them while I poop.
And so I went to one of those groups for new moms that the midwives who delivered baby Josephine hosted. And about 60 seconds after arriving I remembered why I avoided those groups. It was just a handful of shell-shocked women exhaustedly attending to their newborns while one Chatty Cathy talked about her birth experience and her sensitive nipples for an hour and a half without any small pauses in her stream-of-conscious narrative lest some other mom take advantage of her need to breathe between sentences to steal the floor from her as she had an awful lot to tell us about her birth experience and, of course, her very sensitive nipples. Why is there always one of those?
No real connections were made. Any camaraderie was just so very forced. And I left feeling even a little lonelier than before.
Not that it was such a big a deal as all that. I could easily just forget about the whole thing.
I can't shake off something that Chatty Cathy said. I just found it so very disturbing.
She had formulated herself a lovely birth plan but things don't always go as we plan and after a gruelling labour she was transferred by ambulance to a hospital for a C-section. She told us all about it. And she's had a difficult recovery and is still in a lot of pain even though her doctor says she shouldn't be. She told us all about it. And breastfeeding is going okay for her in the sense that her baby is thriving but not okay in the sense that it hurts so very badly every time her baby latches on that tears roll down her face and she flinches and whimpers and sobs.
She's been to the lactation specialist that all the midwives rave about and he said she's doing everything right but simply has ultra-sensitive nipples and so is part of a very small percentage of the population for whom breastfeeding is excruciatingly painful. That's not what I found disturbing though. Nor was it the turtleneck sweater with the Santa's reindeer print on it that she was wearing. While these things are disturbing to anyone with a shred of empathy or an iota of fashion sense, the part that really got me was the reason she gave for continuing to breastfeed.
She said, "Whatever, it hurts like holy hell and I am in so much pain but I'm going to keep doing it anyway. I mean, I screwed up the birth so badly I'll be damned if I'm going to screw up breastfeeding too."
Of all the pain this woman has experienced lately, and believe me, she supplied us with a lot of detail about a lot of pain, the lion's share of it is a sense of having personally failed at childbirth. And she is riddled with anxiety over failing at breastfeeding too. Meanwhile, in bizarre contrast to all this "failure" there is a chubby baby in a pink furry outfit with bunny ears bouncing on her knee.
I've written before about how normal I think it is for women to want to be good at all the fertility and childbirthy and breastfeedy type stuff that goes along with making babies and how effed it is that our culture lacks a vocabulary to even discuss this desire. I made up a word to describe a women's sense of sexual potency in this regard: Venusimo.
One thing I love about the natural childbirth community is the way it respects women's desire to be and feel sexually capable. It respects our Venusimo.
One thing I despise about the medical model of childbirthing is the way it pays no heed whatsoever to a woman's Venusimo. Doctors deliver babies in a timely manner as opposed to women bearing babies in whatever way is healthiest for them physically, emotionally, and spiritually. When women try to communicate to their doctor's a desire for, say, a VBAC, it is frightfully easy for the doctor to belittle her desire or to demonize it as perverse, dangerous, and unhealthy. And we just don't have a normalized vocabulary to defend ourselves.
Something is way wrong in the natural childbirthing community if the pressure women feel to "succeed" at childbirth and breastfeeding is so intense that it can overwhelm her experience completely. And honestly, where else would you hear a woman talking about how she "screwed up" her birth then in the natural childbirth community?
I've actually witnessed a midwife explaining to a woman why her difficult birth was her fault. It was in one of those new moms groups. Sigh.
I had my second baby at a centre that specialized in waterbirths. There was no anaesthesiologist or surgeons available there. Going into the program the midwives explained that about 1 in 10 women would have to be transferred out to an ob-gyn either before their labour (for something like high blood pressure) or during (because of a medical emergency.) We did a lot of group care in the program and so I got to know about a dozen other woman who were all due in the same couple of weeks. After our babies had arrived we had a follow-up session to talk about our births.
One woman had laboured intensely for over 24 hours at the birthing centre before she was transferred to a hospital by ambulance. It was her second child and she knew, she told us, that something was wrong and had been saying so all along. Her midwife was not, she insisted, taking her seriously. She described a very intense relief when she finally arrived at the hospital and the obstetrical team there told her that everything was going to be all right, that they were going to help her now, that she was in good hands and would be taken care of. The midwife didn't like this part of the women's story at all. She harumphed and shot the woman a nasty midwife look.
The woman concluded her story by saying that she knew this kind of thing happened and she had wondered if it would happen to her. She wondered how awful it would be. She'd imagined it would be pretty awful and it was.
"See?" said the midwife. "And in 100% of these cases the woman will say that her mind went there. That she was envisioning all this negative stuff happening to her. And then it does. It says a lot about the powers of our subconscious minds, doesn't it?"
I was shocked and disgusted that anybody, much less a professional midwife fereffingcrissakes, would accuse a mom, in the rawest state of post-natal recovery (her baby was less then a week old)! of basically "deserving it" because her mind had "gone there."
It was another Guh! moment.
I mean what sort of preggers lady hasn't mentally "gone there?" Of course we imagine every possible horrific scenario. I sure did. I also spent much of the later part of the 80's imagining that Corey Hart was madly in love with me and sending a helicopter to my junior high school to take me away from it all. It didn't make it so.
There is a sort of conundrum inherent in wanting to empower women with the sense that birth is something we do, not something that happens to us. But how do we give women full ownership of our birthing triumphs without insisting we are personally responsible for things going wrong?
I dunno. I think we just do.
I don't think we need to blame women who need help during childbirth. I don't think they have personally failed. I don't think they have sullied the natural childbirth movement. I don't think they should be dismissed or accused or ashamed. I don't think they should be shut-up. I don't think their stories should be swept under the carpet.
Do you think performance pressure is too intense within the natural childbirth community?
I know I feel I have to step lightly around friends of mine who have had very medical births. I think they feel I might try to belittle their births or suggest they are somehow inauthentic compared to my waterbirths and my homebirth. But, Honest 2 Betsy, that just ain't how I roll.
I am also disturbed by this trend I see towards unassisted births. I mean, I'm just not getting it. To me it just seems like there's a sort of arms-race going on towards the most "authentic" birth experience. i.e.. I birthed in a hospital with a midwife. Well I hypnobirthed in a centre with a midwife and a doula. Well I homebirthed with a midwife and a shaman. Well I had an unassisted lotus-birth in a yurt with Enya in an owl-sanctuary.
In case you haven't heard, a lotus birth is when you don't cut the cord. You keep your baby attached to the placenta and you co-sleep with your baby and your festering placenta. When they are old enough you put your baby and your placenta in an organic bamboo sling and take them to a folk fest.
Are there natural childbirth over-achievers out there? I think so. Do they make us all look like kooks? Totally. Is that their aim? Probably not.
What motivates a woman who made the healthiest possible choices and has a perfectly healthy baby to state that she "screwed up" childbirth. Is that particular woman just way too Type-A? Or is there birth performance pressure coming from elsewhere? Have you felt birth and birth-related performance anxiety?