Of Monkeys and Birth

The inspiration for this post was based on a post written by “I am a Monkey’s Mama“, concerning a comment that somebody posted about her video. For background, the blogger had her first baby by “unnecessarian” and experienced PTSD and PPD as a result. On her blog, she said that someone on YouTube said she was selfish because she was upset over the way her child was born; the other woman was unable to have children at all. I really enjoyed this post, and was glad to see the ensuing discussion, because it really clarified the thoughts that have been swirling in my mind regarding it.

The thing is, so many people seem to be in a game of “one-ups-manship” or perhaps “one-downs-manship” in life. Why can’t things just be as they are, and leave it at that? Take birth stories as an example. If you’re currently pregnant or have ever been pregnant, you’ve probably had this scenario happen to you: you’re in a group of women, and one of them tells the dramatic story of her baby’s birth; immediately on the heels of her horrible story, another woman starts in telling her story, which is even worse than the first woman’s story. Then almost before the second woman has stopped talking, a third woman chimes in with, “You think that was bad? Let me tell you about when I had my baby.” Why can’t we just let things be as they are?

As “Monkey’s Mama” put it so succinctly, it is “apples and oranges” to try to compare the pain of infertility with the pain of an unnecessarian. They are both pain, but they’re different. It’s easy to look at another person’s life and say, “I would have been happy with a C-section, just to be able to have a child!” And that may very well be true! — “the grass is always greener on the other side.” But does that mean that this person or that person ought to deny that they were caused pain by what happened?

Let me go off on another tangent, and then I’ll draw the two points together.

In his best-selling book, The Total Money Makeover, financial counselor Dave Ramsey tells about research done on monkeys (which also serendipitously ties into the above blog). Researchers gathered a group of monkeys in a room that had a bunch of bananas at the top of a pole. Of course, the monkeys naturally climbed the pole to get to the bananas. As the monkeys climbed up, the researchers turned a water hose on them and knocked them down. Eventually, the monkeys gave up trying to reach the bananas, because they found it to be impossible. Next, the researchers replaced one of the monkeys with a different monkey. The new monkey, of course, immediately tried to climb the pole. All the other monkeys pulled him down, because they knew that it was impossible for him to succeed, and the monkey eventually gave up–without actually being knocked down by the water hose. One by one, all of the original monkeys were replaced, with the same results. Finally, all of the original monkeys who had actually experienced the water hose treatment were gone, but all of the replacement monkeys wouldn’t even try to climb the pole. A new monkey was put in and immediately tried to get the bananas, but all of the replacement monkeys pulled him down and wouldn’t let him go up. They didn’t even know why. They had never even been knocked off of the pole by the water hose, but they “knew” it was impossible or wrong or bad to try to get the bananas.

Now, to bring the two points together — aren’t we all at least a little that way? The women who tell horrible birth stories got knocked off the pole, and are now intent on pulling down other women who would attempt to climb the pole and have an empowering birth. The women who have had C-sections and are grateful for them (whether they were actually necessary or not), feel threatened by women who have problems as a result of C-sections and talk frankly about them. But your experience is not my experience; and my experience is not your experience. I’ve never experienced infertility. In fact, I’m one of those women that have to try to not get pregnant. [If you’re struggling with infertility and reading this post, my heart goes out to you. I know you hate me, and that’s okay — I’d hate me too if I were you. It’s totally understandable.] But here’s the thing — although I don’t “understand” other people’s feelings in one sense, because I’ve not gone through that experience, I sympathize as much as I can.

Because of the differences in experience and personality, people deal with things different ways. My sister had planned to have a natural birth with her first, and ended up with just about everything except a C-section. Her second birth, she got an epidural as soon as she entered the hospital. Other women have the exact same experience as my sister, but instead of opting for more medicalization of birth, they go completely the opposite way, and choose to give birth at home. My sister-in-law (who died of colon cancer at the age of thirty-five, leaving behind two young children — know the symptoms!) planned a home birth for her first that ended in a C-section. When she pregnant the second time, she couldn’t decide whether to try for a VBAC or not, but was leaning towards a trial of labor. However, when she went into labor the second time, she chose to have a C-section because the contractions reminded her so much of her first birth, and she feared a repeat of her first experience — a very long and ultimately unsuccessful labor. Many others have chosen to have a vaginal birth, some of whom have even given birth without medical attendants, either because they couldn’t find one who would allow a vaginal birth, or didn’t trust the medical establishment after their first birth experience. A friend of mine who had a horrible recovery after her C-section said at 6 weeks postpartum, that if she knew she’d have to have another C-section, she simply wouldn’t have another baby. (The C-section was necessary, because the baby was in a transverse position and her water broke.)

Did you have an awful vaginal birth and an easy C-section birth? I sympathize with your feelings, and ask you to also be sympathetic of women whose C-sections were not so easy. Did you have an awful C-section birth and an easy vaginal birth? I sympathize with your feelings, and ask you to also be sympathetic of women who did not have such an experience. Did you have a horribly difficult time getting pregnant, and don’t care in the slightest which way the baby comes out as long as it comes out alive? I sympathize with your feelings, and ask you to also be sympathetic of women who expected one thing, but got something entirely different and upsetting — just as you expected easy fertility and got something entirely different and upsetting.

All of these things are based on your experiences — which are yours and not mine. I don’t judge you for your feelings. When I advocate for normal birth, that is all I am doing — I am not denigrating your choices nor experiences. The problem arises when we women start to fight over this, and try to pull one another down from the pole that is holding some beautiful bananas at the top of it. If you don’t want the bananas, if you’ve been knocked off the pole one too many times, that’s understandable. I’m not going to judge you for not wanting to try to climb it again. I understand that you got some horrible bruises and maybe even a broken leg from your experience. But don’t pull others down — let them at least try to climb the pole!

3 Responses

  1. Beautifully put. We should help each other to have the best births possible, regardless of what “type” of birth they are. Let’s support each other instead of knock each other off the pole.

  2. Love the monkey and banana analogy. I’d never heard that story before.

    Good post!

    Molly🙂

  3. Fantastic! Loved it! Well done!

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