I have seen many, many talk shows or TV court shows where a woman is very distraught –often brought to tears–when she talks about her wedding that “went wrong”. How she had planned this day for so long, it was HER MOMENT, she will NEVER get it back. Even how traumatizing it was for her.
It dawned on me–women are given more sympathy (and more air time) for their wedding day disasters, than women who a bad birth experience!
You can plan weddings, and things can still go wrong. You can plan for how you would like your labor and birth to be — or, more to the point, you can plan who you would like to be there, and how you would like for them to treat you and the baby. Occasionally, things may arise that throw your plans out the window. [Click here to read Rixa’s post on the topic, plus many interesting comments following.] Borrowing from the wedding analogy — the caterer could be in a car wreck, smashing your cake; the photographer could fall in a lake, ruining not only his camera but the pictures as well; your future father-in-law could have a heart attack on the eve of the wedding; your flower girl could pull up her dress to show her pretty panties; the ring bearer could pick his nose (and eat it) during the most solemn part of the ceremony — there are numerous things, large and small, that could happen to disrupt your plans. Some, you can laugh off (at least, with the passage of time); others, not so much. Anyone can see that if the bride is disappointed on her wedding day, that something has gone wrong (or else she has her expectations too high, possibly). We go out of our way to ensure that women have happy weddings — that everything is “just so” or “just the way she wants it,” just the same as we would try to make sure that people have happy birthdays (anybody ever get a free dessert at a restaurant on your birthday?). Common courtesy demands at least that we treat people special on their special day. A woman giving birth should be treated with even greater respect, not just because it is most certainly a special day in her life, but because of the intensely personal nature of birth. Whatever happens in birth happens to her; something bad happening during a wedding usually does not (unless her hair catches on fire from the candles or something).
What is it about this culture?? We value the woman’s right to be a “princess” for a day, “The Dress”, pictures, cake and champagne more than the woman’s right to informed consent, to be treated with dignity and respect, free of coercion and harmful, unnecessary intervention.
And that, I think, is a great deal of the problem — when women feel mistreated, disrespected, coerced, and undergoing unnecessary interventions, they have a right to complain. If the intervention is necessary, then it can be explained in a respectful, dignified way. Common courtesy.
If the wedding was a disaster, be it a torn dress or a medical emergency, does everyone tell the newlywed to just be thankful they are married? After all, even though they planned the wedding for months, invested lots of time and money into it and were anticipating it, they got the end result they wished to achieve – marriage. There should be no reason to dwell on any upsetting or traumatic events. After all, it’s just a means to an end. The moment they got married would – and should – erase any prior upsetting events. Right? I doubt it. So why are women who share with others their feelings about disappointing or traumatic births told they should just “be thankful”? Why are they told that the process of birth doesn’t matter, it’s just a means to an end?
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A public relations professional, mother, and “birth nut” had an insightful article about this topic called “Hitting the Right Notes.” She notes that often when people like us have conversations like this (where we, *gasp*, note the importance of being respected in birth, or talk about birth as being an empowering experience; or on the flip side, the trauma that can come from an upsetting birth experience), that people in the mainstream don’t get it. They think that we are setting up a choice between “a mountain-top experience” and “the safety of the baby,” and that’s false. Because they are not (usually) mutually exclusive. She writes,
A reporter once asked what was so bad about my cesarean. I could have talked about the painful recovery, the nearly failed breastfeeding relationship with my son, or the limits it placed on my future birthing choices. Instead, I botched my answer by talking about how emotionally disappointing it was.
None of these messages is wrong. In truth, the emotional aspect of birth is undervalued…
Talking about natural birth as a life-affirming amazing high fails to impress. Even if, on some level, women want that positive birthing experience, they don’t give themselves permission to pursue it. Too selfish. It has to be about the safety and well-being of their babies.
She then goes on to write that, rather than being opposing forces, a “one or the other” choice, a good birth experience has a great deal to do with good outcomes for mothers and babies.
By choosing our messages with care, we have the power to elevate natural birth from being a slightly hippie subculture to the safe and healthy standard that every health-care provider is obligated to uphold, and that every mother should demand.