Of home births and hero worship.

Recently, it’s really struck me how we all (or at least those of us who spend too much time googling shit and carry around an abundance of middle class guilt) aspire to a certain kind of birth. Pain-relief free, in a birthing-pool and, ideally, at home. The natural way.

(Incidentally, this line of thinking partly started because of the whole Helen-home-birth storyline on the Archers, which has since paled into insignificance).

Before I go any further I should say – if you did give birth at home, then props to you. I ain’t no hater.

But I do feel like women who manage to do it all ‘naturally’ receive a particular, celebrated status. They are sometimes talked about in a way that I rarely hear women who had assisted births being described. “Such a hero”, “amaaazing” etc.  And I don’t think that status serves anyone. Because, for one thing, it dictates how you should feel about your labour. At home with no pain-relief? You should feel good! In hospital with an epidural and some ‘assistance’. Bad. Obvs.

This is the picture on the NHS’s “first stages of labour” page. No joke of a lie.

Did you know, women are perfectly capable of deciding how they feel about their own bodies? We don’t generally get much of a chance to, what with all the ‘thigh-gap’ fitness routines and face cream adverts that are shoved down are throats from age 8, but we can. Just sayin’.

And it’s also perfectly possible for emotional reactions to labour to be the other way round. Just because you delivered in you living room to a soundtrack of ambient ‘world music’ doesn’t mean you can’t end up feeling what-the-fuck-just-happened levels of trauma. Equally, if you had an emergency caesarian you could still feel positive about your experience. We feel how we feel, don’t we?

I had Bubs in hospital, because I chose to, but also because I had to be induced. He was well late, but I can’t complain, he gets his shoddy punctuality from me. It wasn’t great, and I don’t like going into detail, but there was an operating theatre and forceps involved. Bleurgh. It was NOT how I imagined it. At all. With all my pregnancy yoga moves and my birthing pool pain-relief plan, I had pretty much convinced myself that I would be good at the whole giving birth lark. Foolish girl.

 

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The double-chinned, wire laden reality!

About eight weeks after Bubs made his dramatic entrance I was at an undisclosed social occasion with a woman who had a baby about a month older than Bubs and another woman who was pregnant at the time. I overheard Woman A telling Woman B about her labour, her amazing midwives who ‘kept rubbing her with olive oil’ (*gag*) and how ‘you can do it, if you do the right things’ or something. The basic message being that there was a way to achieve a pain-relief free labour. I tried to zone out and ignore the guilt-churning summersaults my stomach was performing. But it made me feel bad, or at least less good than Woman A.

For a while I felt as if I hadn’t ‘done it’. Similarly to breast-feeding, I hadn’t been able to do the most basic of motherly tasks: push the baby out! I know a lot of women, especially those who had caesarians, also feel this way. We look at those who had a birthing pool ‘experience’ or gave birth at home with a wistful gaze – they have achieved the pinnacle of childbearing. If only we could have done it right like them…

That is of course, bullshit.

With a bit of perspective now, I’m pretty sure you can’t be good at giving birth. It’s not a thing. Of course there’s stuff you can do to help yourself – move around, breathe deep etc – but a lot of it is just luck, isn’t it? Because otherwise the flip side is that some of us are bad at it, and that’s why our children’s births don’t go ‘according to plan’.

I was rolling around on my Swiss ball for frickin’ hours, kept moving and breathing through contractions and all that good shit, but when it came down to it Bubs was in the wrong position. His head was also massive. We’re talking 99th percentile. Ouch.

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Told ya. Dat head be big!

 

There’s been a lot of very good research and writing over the past few decades about the ‘over-medicalisation’ of childbirth. Pregnancy and labour can be treated more like an illness than a incredibly natural thing that has been bringing new life into this world for-literally-ever. And we all know that if you can avoid taking diamorphine (however much of sweet, pain-numbing nectar of the gods it may be), having pain relief administered to you spine or undergoing major surgery then that’s a good thing. But sometimes I think all this makes us miss the point, or at least a point.

As I have written before ‘natural’ doesn’t always mean ‘best’. Because, mate, nature is fucking brutal. Anyone who has ever watched a David Attenborough documentary can tell you that. And while the balance may have swung too heavily in the medicalisation direction for a while, we are nonetheless incredibly lucky to have the medical option available at all. In any other time and in many other places still, that would simply not be the case.

Complaining that you didn’t get to have you ‘perfect’ natural birth is the very definition of a #FirstWorldProblem. In fact, not even the whole ‘first world ‘ gets to complain about this problem. When the doctors asked me if I wanted to go into theatre or keep pushing for another hour I didn’t have to wonder if my insurance would cover it, or think about the extra expense. Long live the NHS!

Either all mothers are heroes or none of us are…

In fact, maybe -and bear with me here – the latter is true. None of us are heroes, we’re just females who’ve been fertile enough to procreate, doing the thing that we’ve been doing for millennia. A ‘good birth’, really, is just one where the mother and baby make it to the other side, and none of us have much control over that, as much as we’d like to think we do. And it’s the hero worship the “oh my God she was sooo amazing!” stuff that sets up divides between us, when really we’re all just mammal trying to survive.

My real heroes are the midwives and doctors who helped me bring Bubs into the world. Without them, where would we be? That question can stay rhetorical.*

So what’s my point? I suppose it’s that, however you’re child got into the world, you’re allowed to feel good about it. Or bad about it. Because there’s no objective assessment to say if it was right or wrong.

Mostly, I feel grateful. I don’t plan on ever feeling good about the actual experience;  I’ve made my peace with the fact that it pretty much totally sucked. But I was healthy and so was Bubs, and that’s more than a lot of people ever get to say.

_________

What do you think? Are there gradations of birth? Are we all heroes? How do you feel about your own birth – were you expecting to feel differently? Do comment, tweet me or go to my Facebook page to let me know what you think…

*Incidentally those midwives wouldn’t be eligible for a bursary to train anymore and the doctors where mostly juniors working the night shift and fucking smashing it. Just so you know.
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8 thoughts on “Of home births and hero worship.

  1. I totally agree with you . I gave birth in 1977 (overdue and breech, so elective caesarean) and 1982 (54 hour labour, epidural and forceps). I always tell expectant mums that although they will hear so many birth stories (see above lol), they must remember that they will only experience ONE version and it will be unique. A recent new mum told a mutual friend that my advice was the best she’d been given. It’s not a competition, it’s an experience and it’s yours.

  2. Great post! I gave birth in hospital with an epidural and SELECTIVE C-sections.. Yip you heard it, I chose to have abdominal surgery over and over again! Us moms need to stop trying to better each other and instead uplift and encourage one another. One persons journey is exactly that… Their journey.. http://www.onemessymama.com

  3. Honestly. I expected to hate this post and I’m not sure why, on that basis, I started reading! (To annoy myself perhaps?)

    Let me explain; there have been A LOT of articles going around (looking at you, Huff Po) about how home birth Mums think they’re something special and we’ve all got out heads up our arses and we hate c section Mamas. This is how I thought this post was going to go – and as a woman who gave birth alone on my bedroom floor without any pain, let alone pain relief – I’ve been properly fed up of being told I’m a sanctimonious birth snob! I was super lucky. I planned a drug free home birth, I got a drug free homebirth. I also planned to use a birthing pool, burn Neon candles, listen to my ‘Labour Companion’ CD and actually have a midwife present… But even my ‘great’ birth is testament to the fact that your birth is unlikely to be exactly as you imagined.

    Anyway – thanks for writing a post that acknowledges that not all births are ‘perfect’ (are any??) And that sometimes you might be disappointed with how things go but that that’s OK – without slagging off those of us lucky enough to be able to say it went ‘well’ 🙂

    Unfortunately for those who experience a hospital/medicalised/surgical birth there often seems to be an assumption that those who had a home/unassisted/vaginal birth consider themselves holier than thou – its nice to see someone consider that perhaps we as a society put them on a pedestal they don’t necessarily want to be on! That’s certainly how I feel. I often get told how incredible my experience was but as someone further up commented – it was just MY experience. I didn’t perform better than any other woman, I didn’t ‘out-birth’ anyone – that was just my experience and it just so happened to be a very natural, crazy one.

    • Thanks so much for this comment, and I’m glad you were pleasantly surprised by this post! I don’t at all assume that there’s a superiority complex in women who had births (though there are superior knobs in all walks of life, so there are probably a few). It’s all about solidarity! Xxx

  4. I had an emergency caesarean because bub’s heart rate and mine were soaring sky high after my waters broke at 37 weeks then an induction 24 hours later didn’t go to plan. I remember saying to the midwives in a drugged up and anxious pre-op state, “I’m sorry for failed”, as I’d really hoped for a water birth and successfully managed to avoid an elective c section when a transverse baby turned. Sod’s law I needed a c section anyway, but as long as mummy and baby are healthy we all do an amazing job of bringing them into the world. As do the Drs and midwives, as you say! Xx

  5. As a dad, I’ve often struggled to understand why so many people seem to regard this as an either/or choice, as if there is one ‘right’ or ‘better’ method – home versus hospital, caesarean or not, pain relief or ‘natural’. There’s only ‘different’ and ‘personal preference’ in my mind.

    Two of our three were born at home and the third would have been at home too had my wife’s waters not broken while at the hospital for a check-up. Was a home birth the right choice for us? Absolutely. Is it right for everyone? Of course not. I’ve never thought any less of any of our friends who had elective caesareans in hospital. As for those who do look down their noses at other people’s choices – it says more about their narrow-mindedness than anything else.

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