Friday, September 29, 2017

Childbirth is Not Easy. The Natural Birth Movement Needs to Stop Insisting That it Is.

Few women have been pleasantly surprised by how easy and pain-free childbirth is. Yet a zealous natural childbirth movement continues to tell them that birth can be--should be, perhaps--easy. This article, which insists that painful birth is a "myth," is the newest example of this ridiculous claim.

I'm a huge supporter of natural birth. That's why I had one. I believe that, for the right woman, an unmedicated birth can be deeply empowering. Natural birth can help women see their hidden strengths, and regain control over their own bodies. 

When we start telling women that birth is easy, though, we remove all the strength they stand to gain from the challenges of birth. It's time for the natural childbirth movement to stop lying to women. Birth is rarely easy. And when it is, it's a fluke--not something the woman earned with enough meditation and natural childbirth classes. 
Childbirth Without Fear, Not Childbirth Without Pain 
Doctors have long taught women to see birth as something that happens to them, perhaps even something that victimizes them. Lie back and spread your legs, lady, and let the doctors get to work. 

The natural childbirth movement is a backlash against this trend. Natural birth advocates argue that birth is like running a marathon--something active, something challenging, something worth doing. The doctor or midwife is there in the event of an emergency, and to provide reassurance to the mother that she is safe. 

In their haste to assure women that birth is possible, though, natural childbirth advocates have begun telling women birth is easy. It began with Childbirth Without Fear. This otherwise excellent guide instructs women that the reason birth is painful is that they are afraid. 

Next up was Husband-Coached Childbirth, better known as the Bradley Method. Bradley instructed women to defer to their "expert" partners, and reassured them that the right series of movements and breaths could make birth virtually painless. 

Somehow the two guides became gospel, even though they shared something in common: both were written by people who had never experienced birth. 

Undermining Women's Strength 
Some women are lucky enough to have an orgasmic birth, a short birth, an easy birth. These women are the exception, not the rule. For most women, childbirth is the hardest and most physically painful thing they will ever do. Women don't ask for epidurals because they're weak. They ask for them because birth is so very difficult.

It's time for natural childbirth educators to stop telling women their goal should be a painless birth. I understand why they do it: they want women to recognize that hospital policies, brusque doctors, and abuse during birth are a major factor in the difficulties of childbirth.

Even when care is excellent and women are respected, birth is still hard. To say otherwise is to undermine women's strength. Women who get through birth--whether with the assistance of an epidural or through sheer force of will--have done something no cis man will ever do. They deserve to be able to bask in that achievement. When we say that birth doesn't have to hurt, what we're really saying is that women are exaggerating their pain.

Victim Blaming in Birth 
There's an even uglier side to this promise from natural birth advocates that childbirth doesn't have to hurt: victim-blaming.

When I took a Bradley Method class, the male instructor had the gall to tell me that my childbirth philosophy was wrong, and that if I had any concerns about the exercises, it was because I was doing them incorrectly. Unsurprisingly, this mansplainer was wrong. My birth went exactly as I wanted it to.

It was not painless.

That's because it could not be.

When we tell women that a painless birth is possible if only they do the right things, we are victim-blaming. We are instructing women that pain during birth is their fault. With that comes an instruction to the woman's support people that, if she feels pain, it's only because she's doing the wrong thing.

Why support her at all, if that's the case? 

Childbirth as a Crucible 
When I gave birth to my daughter, I left the old me behind in that hospital room. I was an anxious, fearful person. During birth, I confronted the reality of my own death, dealt with pain I had never imagined I could cope with, and came out on the other side.

This crucible will define me for the rest of my life. We tell women not to talk about positive childbirth experiences. It might make people uncomfortable. It might make them feel bad. That's sexism masquerading as compassion. Women have a right to claim birth as the painful crucible it is. They have a right to be proud of themselves for getting through it.

Birth is hard. Women are strong. Birth makes women stronger. This needs to be the message. 

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