When I called the nice assistant at the birth centre I planned to give birth in and enquired about pain relief options, she gasped a little, and then uttered the m-word: “medicalized”. It sounded cold and distant and basically insinuated that a medicalized birth was the worst thing that could ever happen to me. When I went to my 6-weeks post partum appointment a while ago, the midwife felt sorry for me because I was not able to have my “dream” birth in the birth centre.
So I wasn’t, but I didn’t feel guilty, but why would I? Aaah, I see. Because the birth wasn’t “natural” enough. I totally get it that in many countries women feel that they don’t even have the chance for having a natural birth. I get it that women are made to feel guilty for even wanting a natural birth. In the Netherlands, midwife-led birth is the norm. I had friends who had homebirths (and I had planned one myself), I have friends who had successful VBAC’s (vaginal birth after caesarean). I have friend who had a natural, pain-relief-free birth with twins. All of these friends are very happy with their birth experiences. Good for them!
But I also have friends who were not satisfied with their experiences because they were refused pain relief. Friends who had to fight for their elective C sections with a breech baby because the midwives insisted on trying to deliver them naturally first, or friends who laboured for hours before they had the C section. I have heard stories of infections and defects missed or misdiagnosed. And, stories like mine- where people felt sorry for me because I was in the hospital, and making women feel guilty just because they chose to have pain relief.
I used to read homebirth stories from Birth Without Fear or similar websites. Then I discovered a great site called Happy With Hospital Birth with stories by women who gave birth in the hospital and were actually happy with their choices. Amy Tuteur of the Skeptical OB started a website called “Birth Without Guilt”, also collecting stories from women who were made to feel guilty about giving birth in the hospital, having an epidural, C section or induction, or then bottle-feeding their babies. I'm afraid that in the Netherlands, where natural births are the norm, many women would be made to feel guilty for similar reasons.
Who is to judge for women’s choices as to where and how their births are going to take place? I was happier with the hospital stuff, who took care of me and my baby than I was with my midwife, who dumped me for something that wasn’t my fault. The midwives also weren’t happy with my choice to have a doula. I then realised that for me, it is not the place of birth that is important, and not what happens during birth if mom and baby are healthy, physically and mentally.
When my doula asked me what was important to me during labour, I answered: “The right people”. The first time around, I had no one to support me, even though I was surrounded by people. The second time my husband was there but he was anxious and afraid, and also had to take care of Klara. The third time, the girls weren’t with us, and we had a great doula whose support was absolutely invaluable, and who also motivated me to get pain relief.
So, who’s to judge me for my birth when I was absolutely satisfied with my experience? I still have to smile when I think of Markian’s birth.
Maybe, instead of judging women for their birth options, maybe we should ask whether they were happy with the choices they made? and if they weren't, maybe we could ask what went wrong and support them better the next time? Instead of just assuming that all women want natural births, we should accept their choices no matter what they are?