Taffy Brodesser-Akner had a really lousy birth. In fact, it was so lousy she experienced post-traumatic stress as a result. In her piece at MSNBC, “Who Controls Childbirth—Expectant Moms or Doctors?,” she tells her tale and it’s no fun: An induction for high blood pressure led to pain-killers that caused nightmarish hallucinations; her doctor was rude and patronizing and acted without her consent; she was eventually rushed into a c-section which she described as “akin to being buried alive.”
After the birth she tried to find women who would understand. But rather than validation Taffy got more questions: Why didn’t you get a doula? Why didn’t you go with a midwife? When she became pregnant with number two, friends and doulas instructed her to be more relaxed, empowered. They told her to “take back her birth.”
But can you really control birth?
Women with very strict ideas about how the birth will go—whether it’s with an epidural at the first contraction, or in the ocean with dolphins—do risk “failing” those expectations. Taffy quotes Pam England, midwife and author of Birthing From Within:
“I don’t understand this phrase ‘take back your birth. Who took it? What would a woman tell herself it meant about her if she failed to meet the criteria she made up for ‘taking back’ her birth? I am concerned that this phrase, meant to generate action and a feeling of empowerment, may actually be generated by or feeding the victim part of her.”
This rings true to me.
I don’t think women can “control” their births and despite lots of technology that aims to do precisely that, I don’t think medicine can control them either. But I do think we can be treated with respect when we’re in labor. And this is where I found Taffy’s story particularly heartbreaking.
A positive birth experience is not about how you did it–whether you had the epidural or didn’t have the epidural– but whether you were treated with respect and kindness at a vulnerable time. All kinds of births can be powerful, positive experiences. Or even just *not traumatic* experiences. Just read the personal essays on this site: People love their c-sections and love their home births.
But Taffy didn’t get much in the way of kindness. She wasn’t listened to. She wasn’t consulted. She wasn’t even included! Reading her story, it felt like her birth was done to her. And it did her in. I hope she gets some respect when she’s laboring with her next baby. Not so she can control the birth, but so she can let go.