In following several of the posts over the past few weeks about different birth choices, I’ve noticed a number of different attitudes. One predominant one was: “The birth is all about the baby.” That is, that it shouldn’t matter what the mother wants or how she feels; the only important factor is having a healthy baby.
While I agree that this is key, and certainly the most important factor in any birth, I’m not sure it should be the only consideration. Most births are not emergencies, and there is room for more than just “get the baby out safely” sort of thinking. Why does this matter so much? And what would it look like if everything was ‘all about the baby,’ not just the birth?
Let’s take this argument, that the baby’s health and safety matters most of all to greater lengths. Let’s say that the baby’s health and safety is the only factor that truly matters throughout the entire pregnancy. Anyone who is pro-choice is going to have an immediate problem with this line of thinking, although that’s not even what I mean. Still, something to consider.
Supposing that you want to be pregnant, though…every single decision that you make has to be for the baby’s benefit. If your job is too high-stress…quit, cut back, or move to a different position. You must eat a perfect diet — no junk food ever. And it doesn’t matter if you have morning sickness: the baby’s health is paramount, so you must eat everything that is good for you and take your prenatal vitamins, even if it makes you sick. This isn’t about how you feel at all; this is only about what the baby needs.
Throughout your pregnancy, you must be careful to keep your stress level minimized by any means necessary. That could mean quitting your job, hiring a housekeeper or nanny, whatever you need to do. Anytime you feel at all tired, you must lie down and sleep. Other responsibilities don’t matter. If you’re depressed and just want to go out and have coffee and eat a chocolate cookie, you can’t — that’s not healthy for you, and you can’t do that to the baby. You can’t drink any alcohol or smoke cigarettes even once, even if you were a chain smoker and nightly drinker before pregnancy. There’s no research proving that it’s really safe for the baby, and plenty to suggest it may not be.
Do you see how ridiculous this really is?
There may be certain behaviors and certain circumstances in which the baby’s safety does outweigh your own. For example, if you require bedrest because you have had pre-term labor threaten. It doesn’t matter if you’re bored; it’s clearly in your baby’s best interests that you stay on bedrest! (Not that there aren’t things you can/should do to help stave off boredom, but ending bedrest against medical orders isn’t one of them.) If your baby’s in trouble, yes, s/he comes first! But under ordinary circumstances, you don’t need to be that strict.
The truth is, there are two people involved in pregnancy, labor, and birth: baby and mom. It’s important, throughout, to consider the needs of both as much as possible. Again, if a health risk is involved — baby’s safety trumps mom’s comfort. But barring problems, it is crucial to consider both.
Pregnancy is a huge event in a woman’s life. It is an enormous mental, physical, and emotional undertaking. A woman is subject to 9 months of morning sickness, soreness, being woken by baby (from moving, needing to pee, etc.), and various other discomforts. She’s also subject to all the hormonal shifts, the mood swings, weight gain, and more. In labor, she has to deal with the pain and exhaustion. Women go through it because it’s worth it to bring a new child into the world. But that doesn’t mean that a woman’s needs should, at any point, be ignored!
A woman needs support to get through her pregnancy. She needs friends, family, and caregivers who can listen to her as she’s experiencing these physical and emotional symptoms. She needs to balance all the decisions she makes — on what to eat, whether or not to drink, which vitamins to take (if any), where and how to birth her baby, and so on — based on what she feels is best for her and her baby.
Rest assured that all women (or, well, the vast majority) are choosing based on what is best both for themselves and their babies. They’re not taking any decisions lightly, no matter which ones they make. They believe that what they have chosen is best for both of them!
It’s not unlike, say, a mother who chooses to formula feed because she cannot stand the idea of breastfeeding or breastfeeding doesn’t work out so well (and is causing her stress). Although there are some stigmas attached to this, most moms will say, “You need to do what’s best for both of you. If you are stressed and upset all the time, that’s not good for the baby either.”
The same is true throughout the pregnancy and birth process. If one chocolate cupcake and a conversation with a friend reduces mom’s stress level, then let her have it…so long as that’s not the only thing she eats! If mom is going to be stressed at the hospital and freaking out (and can find a safe, qualified midwife), then she should be at home. Or, if mom would be too nervous at home, then she should be in the hospital.
We cannot say that “mom doesn’t matter.” We cannot say that a mom who is making a different choice is “selfish” and only after her own interests. Because, it’s true, moms do consider their own feelings, comfort, health, and safety — as they should! But they don’t do this at the expense of their baby’s health and safety. They aim to strike a balance between mom and baby’s needs.
And I don’t know a single mom who, if their baby was in danger at any point, would put their own comfort or needs above their baby’s.
Birth is a huge, huge event in a woman’s life. And how it goes impacts her for life…and her baby, too, as well as their bond. A mom is not selfish for wanting the experience that is best suited to her, whatever that is. Baby won’t have active memories of birth…but mom will. And baby is affected by mom’s mood, attitude, if she experiences postpartum depression, and so on. Choosing the birth that is right for her (as well as safe for her baby) is crucially important.
The final thought is simple: pregnancy and birth are about two people, and neither can (literally) be separated from the other. All decisions that are made must be best for both people involved.
What do you think? Is birth really all about the baby?
Top image by Jessicafm