The Myth of the Birthing Goddess
Here’s what I know about babies and vaginas.
If a woman manages to get the former out of her latter, the accomplishment she feels will be deeper and more profound than anything else she has ever experienced. Just based on the size discrepancy of one to the other, it’s kind of a big deal!
But is it less of an accomplishment if the birth was by caesarean?
The Birthing Scorecard
Any woman who holds her newborn child for the first time will be filled with that indescribable awe and wonder that accompanies bringing a child into the world. It’s hard to believe that you made a person. But if anything can take the shine off this achievement, it’s the way a woman has birthed. How you did it has become the all-important question and the answer you give is subtly (or not so subtly) given a value.
Pushed the baby out the old-fashioned way at home with zero drugs? Top marks. Hospital birth resulting in a caesarean section? Oh. Well, never mind. Perhaps you can give a natural birth a go next time.
It seems unfortunate that this scoring system has been applied to childbirth, which by its very nature is individual, wildly variable and ultimately, deeply personal.
And yet, we compare and are compared. And predominantly, “we” refers to other women. Sometimes we are our own worst enemies. Meanwhile, most men who have witnessed childbirth are just so grateful it isn’t them that they don’t give a damn how their partner
chose to get the baby out.
Is There Really a Right Way to Give Birth?
I have had both an emergency caesarean and a vaginal birth requiring vacuum extraction. Both times, I was eyeball deep in drugs. Both births are spectacular and magical to me. If I compare the two, the sense of achievement after the vaginal birth can’t be denied. I was elated I had managed it. Thrilled. There’s something deeply primal about it that the sterility of an operating theatre can dull. But once that babe was in my arms, truthfully, the ‘how’ just melted away.
But things changed when I started having to tell people about the ‘how.’ I was almost apologetic when admitting my first baby had arrived via a c-section. Telling people I had managed a VBAC with my second baby was a vastly different experience. I felt I could own that birth more – that it was something to be prouder of than the caesarean.
But that’s just ridiculous. The idea that there is a ‘right’ way to give birth is offensive. Pain thresholds, baby’s position and myriad other extenuating factors can contribute to how baby makes its way into the world.
As long as the labouring woman is treated with dignity, respect and unwavering support by everyone responsible for her care, then the birth, regardless of whether it is natural, assisted or requiring surgery, should not matter.
Every Birth is Different
Every woman – and every birth – is different.
I’ve watched videos where the woman births in complete silence. Automatically she scores huge “birthing goddess” points. Unfortunately, that’s not how I do it. I weep and wail, and occasionally, scream. In my opinion, birth really hurts. There are women who will tell you it doesn’t. And who knows? Maybe for them, it doesn’t.
Setting your heart on exactly how your birth will go is fraught with danger. Birth can be unpredictable. If things don’t go the way we plan, there can be terrible disappointment and a feeling that our bodies have somehow failed. But that disappointment is so misplaced. Because birth requires strength and courage, no matter how you do it.
I don’t say women shouldn’t be proud of the way they birth. Birthing without any drugs is a huge accomplishment. If a woman tells me she pushed a ten-pound baby out her hooha without so much as a paracetamol, I am the first person to celebrate her awesome achievement. But I think we do a disservice to one another when we use language like “birthing goddess.” It automatically sets a standard of which most women will fall short – especially during their first labour.
And if undergoing major surgery to bring a baby into the world isn’t the epitome of strength, then I don’t know what is!
Birthing My Way
I am due to give birth to my third child soon and my midwife says that my body is primed to birth this time around. Hearing those words filled me with confidence and reminded me that I was capable. And certainly, I will be using the lessons of my last two labours to help me get through this one and have the kind of birth I would like.
But that’s just it. My vision of this birth belongs only to me. Regardless of the opinions of others, my dream birth is based on what I want and what I need. I admire women who homebirth, but I am aware that this would not be the right choice for me. Hospitals make me feel safe. Are they statistically safer? Doesn’t matter. It’s what I feel.
Thankfully, women have choices. How informed that choice is becomes a decision for the individual. If you go looking for it, you will find an argument for your preferred way of giving birth. And then, despite your painstakingly executed plans, you might just end up with something completely different.
Maybe I’ll get my dream birth and maybe I won’t. I know well enough that there are some factors that are not mine to control.
When it comes to childbirth, I am not a natural. I don’t fit the birthing goddess picture at all. Labour is very hard work and when things get going, I’ll scream and cry and want to forget the whole damn thing. But no matter how this little person makes her way into the world, when she’s finally in my arms, in that moment, there will be no greater goddess than me.