Friday, March 23, 2007

Birth Guilt

More often than not, when you congregate a group of young mothers together at any social gathering, conversations seem to eventually lend themselves towards the topic of childbirth. Perhaps this phenomena is due in part because childbirth is typically one of the more emotional events you can experience in life. Whether the moments surrounding your child's birth were positive or frightening, breath-taking or fearful, the emotions stay with you, forever etched in your memory, changing you in some way from who you were, to who you now are. Later, by sharing your story, you are in essence sharing why you are who you are, now. And this personal debriefing, of sorts, will often be met with words of support and validation, or occasionally signs of disapproval and judgement. And this is where 'birth guilt' can grow from.

"Did you have any pain medications?"; "Did you have your baby vaginally?"; "Did you make a lot of noise?"... all are common questions that quietly allude to the idea that one answer is the 'right' way and the other answer is the 'wrong' way. If their experience fits into the 'right' way to birth, women are generally more confident to share their story knowing they will be met with those words of admiration that yes, they did it right and they must have just wanted it bad enough to have achieve it. Conversely, the woman who's experience doesn't fit into this real or imagined 'right' way to birth, may hesitate to share her story in the same company. She may question some of her experience or second-guess her choices to wonder if only she had (fill in the blank), would things had turned out differently? Turned out 'right'? To share a story that personal is to bear yourself completely, leaving yourself open to the judgement of others who may or may not understand the experience. And to many women, the risk of disapproval is just too great. Instead of sharing, they fold up their story and file it away in the safety of their heart, only to be pulled out when it's in safe company.

Can one person's birth be more miraculous than another? The short answer is obviously no. Though the circumstances surrounding every birth will vary, each experience has some of the same amazing firsts: the first sights as mom sees her child face to face after nine months of waiting, the first sounds as baby draws air into his lungs for the first time, the first smells as baby imprints in his soul the unique 'fingerprint' smell of his mother's skin, and the first touches as mom eventually gets to hold her new little one and stroke his cheek. It is an awesome time when a woman becomes a mother (or a mother again), and a man becomes a father (or father again). It is the shift of relationships and the assuming of new responsibilities. These are all miracles and moments worthy of joyful sharing.

'Birth guilt' is an unnecessary and heavy burden to pull around. To carry it is assume that you had the power to change the birth experience, when in reality, there is so much you cannot control in childbirth. It is a force of nature that you can only set the stage for, and then stand back and let it unfold as it sees fit. To think you can change how it unfolds is like trying to hold back the sea as it starts to roll in. When you are able to let go of the things you really never had control over in the first place, and to allow yourself to just ride the experience nature has provided you, it can be a liberating experience. Instead of trying to make things be 'right', you end up empowering yourself to experience what is pure and simply, yours.

All mother's are to be celebrated no matter how their birth stories tell. All birth experiences are to be validated no matter what happened along the journey. And all baby's are to be snuggled no matter how they emerged into this world. Those are the true miracles of life.

-Heather McCue

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Beautifully said.