Birth: It’s not a competition

On a friends facebook page recently I came across an angry statement from a young mother:
"It's rather sad that you feel like you need a pat on the back for giving birth vaginally. If you highlight the fact that you gave birth vaginally without pain meds whenever recounting your birth story, and if the only way you can "recover" from your "traumatic" other births is by shoving a baby out your vag, then yes, it's pathetic. Other people have actual accomplishments. But I get it, everyone needs a trophy in the mommy race."
Another mother on the thread likened giving birth vaginally to a child learning to take a crap in a potty, she believed vaginal birth deserved no more recognition.

Where does this animosity come from? What drives someone to write such nasty comments? While these comments are more on the bitchy end of the spectrum, this attitude, albeit toned down, is seen far more than you'd expect. It's not uncommon to read something like this in a discussion about natural birth:
You are no better than me because you had a natural birth and I had an epidural. The only difference is I didn't have to feel pain.
What stands out to me is a feeling of defensiveness and resentment, along with a misunderstanding of why women might feel proud of their natural births. I'm also guessing there's a lack of knowledge about the physiological and emotional aspects of natural birth, the potential benefits of a natural birth, and the potential detriments of certain interventions.

Natural birth is one of those things that unless you've personally experienced you probably won't understand what it's like. Natural birth is different for each woman, and it's not universally loved by all women who undertake it. For most it's very intense and exhausting, both physically and mentally, requiring immense focus. Towards the end, many women go into a trance-like state, becoming less aware of what's going on around them and focusing solely on giving birth. It's also a process of learning to let go emotionally and physically, learning to trust your body, instead of fighting against the pain of contractions. This may sound airy fairy to those who've never experienced it, but I'm trying to be as matter of fact as possible. The truth is, natural birth is very emotional, the body is literally taken over with huge surges of hormones you've never felt before. For many it's a strange, painful, intense and exhilarating experience like nothing they've ever experienced.

Having been through this intense, exhausting experience, having done it all by myself... yes, I did feel proud as punch. I love the quote, "happiness is self sufficiency", and it definitely applies to natural birth. But according to some, I don't deserve to feel proud of my birth, apparently it's no more significant than taking a dump. Last I heard we don't beg for epidurals when passing a stool (no your haemorrhoids are nothing in comparison), or spend 24 hours passing one giantic stool the size of a large watermelon. For many women natural birth was the most painful experience of their lives, why try to deny that a woman overcame that? Why piss all over her hard work, trying to convince her that her pain and effort was worthless and insignificant?

No one likes to think that their birth was any less of an accomplishment than someone else's. Many who opted for an epidural or cesarean may wonder why a woman who had a natural birth should be congratulated or feel proud for putting herself through unnecessary pain? This is where knowledge about the negative effects of birth interventions comes into play. See this post here for a large list of risks associated with common interventions such as epidurals, cesareans and inductions.

For instance one important reason to avoid interventions, such as epidurals, inductions, cesareans, and pain medication, is that they lower naturally occurring birth hormones. These hormones are needed for birth progression, bonding, and breastfeeding. Provided hormones are left intact, women will usually experience massive surges of hormones causing a 'birth high' when baby is born, promoting a very memorable and happy time after birth. This helps explain why women often remember their natural births with such excitement and enthusiasm.

Besides the risks associated with unnecessary intervention, many women who opt for a natural birth do so simply because they CAN - their bodies are capable of doing so and the feeling of accomplishment and self sufficiency is fantastic. It may not seem practical to some, just like I don't see the practicality of climbing a mountain when you could helicopter to the top, but the exhilaration the mountaineer feels at the top of that mountain is like nothing we can imagine. Just like the accomplishment of giving birth to your offspring, all by yourself, is like nothing you can imagine.

So to answer a commenter angry at women for expressing their pride in their natural birth:

Women don't choose to have natural births to feel superior to those who don't.
The reasons a woman may choose a natural birth are unique to each woman, for instance she may have faith in the natural way in which our species procreates and wishes to follow suit, or she has knowledge of the negative consequences of unnecessary intervention in an uncomplicated pregnancy and wishes to avoid them.
A woman who gave birth naturally may feel and express pride because she was glad she was able to avoid unnecessary or possibly detrimental interventions. Maybe it was simply because the experience was amazing, birth hormones surged through her body imprinting memories of intense feelings of love and happiness in the moments after birth. And of course she may also be proud because she accomplished something huge, it was a mammoth task, and she did it all by herself.

She was self sufficient, and in self sufficiency there is happiness.

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  1. Great article!! Thanks for writing it! Wish all women could read it.

  2. Amen! I don't even tell people that I am planning on a natural birth because all I get are eye rolls and horrified expressions. My first birth story which includes all sorts of emergency interventions is always met with enthusiasm though. Go figure.

  3. Thanks for your comments mamas :o)

  4. i have weird reactions to pain killers. the last thing i wanted with either of my deliveries was to be in labor and having a drug reaction. i don't think of myself as a body-builder in a strongman competition trying to prove how tough i am, but i do know my body and my mind, and i know i can endure immense pain a lot easier when my mind is unaltered, and my pains stopped immediately after birth.

  5. I've got to say though Samantha I wish I'd built up a little more stamina and muscle before birth, it can be very exhausting, especially for those first time mums labor is often long. And I'm totally with you on the pain killer buzz. I had pethidine for my first birth and I was literally falling asleep in between contractions, then being woken with painful contractions, unable to focus at all. The difference to the next birth (no meds) was like night and day. I was able to focus, relax and even had a spontaneous orgasm.

  6. great article. I am totally proud of my natural births especially after having terrible intervention filled pregnancies! I was also told I would NEVER carry a baby to full term so having three and experiencing childbirth for each was a miracle and a blessing.
    Poo hoo to people who take objection to this, Im damn proud... especially of my last one which was only 25 minutes and was the most intense, but best birth of all.

  7. Poo hoo indeed Leonie, well done!

  8. Very well said. Birth IS something to be proud of. We need to remember that being proud of an achievement is not a criticism of someone else - and yes, that goes for breastfeeding too.