In all my years of writing and teaching about childbirth there’s one thing I’ve learned over and over again: A positive birth experience is not about how you did it– epidural, no epidural, c-section, water birth– but whether you were treated with kindness and respect at a vulnerable time.
Women don’t remember the pain of childbirth, but we do remember fear. We remember being talked to like an idiot, or wheeled off on a gurney with no explanation, or getting an episiotomy without being told, or being hushed or ignored when asking questions about what’s happening to our own bodies and babies. These moments of disrespect can really linger or even be traumatic. Pain? Well, moms who were promised pain relief and don’t get it can feel traumatized. Women who are told the pain is not that big a deal, can have angry feelings that linger. But more often than not, pain all on it’s own is not what women complain about when it comes to birth.
This idea is abundantly clear when scrolling through the birth stories on The Birth Interview Project, a ongoing collection of birth stories posted by a doula, educator and blogger based in Chicago (thejoyofthis.com). For each interview the questions are always the same: what did you like, dislike, what surprised you, what would you have done differently… But read through these and you’ll notice how frequently the words doctor, nurse, husband, doula, atmosphere come up in terms of what worked and didn’t work.
Most of the birth stories on the website right now are from women who hoped for few medical interventions though there are good number about c-sections, epidurals and inductions. I hope more stories are added to the mix, including women who wanted epidurals. This is such a great way to learn about birth. If you’ve given birth, I encourage you to submit your own answers so that you can be a part of this fantastic, growing mother-to-mother education resource.
Here’s a sampling of quotes I pulled together:
What did you like about your birth experience, if anything?
I loved the birthing pool, I loved the calm relaxed atmosphere, having our older daughter there (even if she didn’t care), & being able to crawl into my own bed afterwards with my new family. – Rachel
I really liked the atmosphere at the birthing center … I also loved having a doula. She was able to help my husband in so many ways because the pressure to help me wasn’t all on him. She helped me through nearly every contraction for almost an entire day and had so many wonderful things for me to help me through my labor; a heating pad, food, lip balm, massages, but most importantly being a calm and experienced presence with us. I also liked waiting to find out the sex of the baby. Even after so many hours of labor and the disappointment of the c-section I was so excited to find out I had a little girl. – Sarah
I loved my husband’s pride in my ability to give him a son. I was quite happy with the pushing phase since that is typically advertised as the hard part. It was not difficult. It was a relief to me. It felt like the only right thing to do at that moment. Beth
Ummm … I really liked my baby and the nurse(s) and doctor was amazing to try to keep me as comfortable as possible and they did everything they could to avoid a cesarean. Through most of the labor, even when they were doing all these things to monitor the baby, they kept the lights down really low and whispered and would wait till a contraction passed to touch or move me. They were still really nice to me in transition, even when I was screaming at them to stop touching me and trying to kick one of the nurses in the face. They never got irritated, although the doctor did get in my face and tell me that I HAD to open my legs to push the baby out. – Destiny
I loved, loved, loved being drug free. I loved feeling the pain, the euphoria, and walking to the bathroom 5 minutes after delivery. I also felt like a total rock star in recovery when I had 3 different nurses ask “did you really go drug free?” – Tracey
My doula was awesome & knew what to say for me at certain times (she was the one who asked for the birthing ball, she also asked if I could birth in the shower but they said no), & that I had a beautiful baby girl & a fast fairly easy birth. – Rachel
I delivered a healthy beautiful baby girl without drugs and I was totally aware of everything. I was tired but felt wonderful afterwards. – Marylois
What did you not like about your birth experience, if anything?
I wish I would have booted the nurse out of my delivery room who rolled her eyes when I said was having a natural delivery and asked about 25 times, “Are you ready for the epidural yet?” – Tracey
I hated having to push on my back, I hated that the nurse had never seen an unmedicated birth before, I hated the management of the 3rd stage, I hated that a nurse later lied to me & said I wasn’t allowed to leave. – Rachel
It was postpartum I was waiting to go to my hospital room asleep on a gurney. Without giving me any warning, the RN began to “massage” my uterus. She so shocked and startled me it took me some time to calm down after that experience. I don’t think she liked her job very much. - Marylois
I didn’t like vomiting. -Rachel
It was traumatic and scary and so beyond painful. I know it was just a difficult circumstance with Valor being in fetal distress and that is very serious and I am grateful that they took it so seriously. This sounds morbid, but I think another few days and he would have been a stillborn. He was very non-reactive, I had barely any fluid due to my water breaking and me not knowing don’t ask me how I didn’t notice. I’ve had 2 other babies and my water broke with them so I know what it’s like but because of that, I had to lay down with someone manually holding a monitor on his head for the last hour and a half of my labor (including transition). The pain became unbearable and I was scared for my baby. - Destiny
I wish that the second birthing room had tools for labor. There really wasn’t much to work with other than my husband, who was amazing and incredibly supportive and helpful. I also had really bad PPD which came almost immediately also. – Meredith
Contractions were pretty much what I expected since I had read so many descriptions and women’s stories about labor in Ina May Gaskin’s book, Guide to Childbirth. In labor I expected a lot of pain and there was, but there was also something very rhythmic and gracious about the gradual progression and intensity of natural labor. I felt like I was in touch with my daughter and her progression towards life. As soon as I received the epidural I was grateful for the relief of pain but I also felt as though I had been removed from the equation of my daughter’s birth. – Sarah
I do not like being told how to breathe. I still to this day do not like people telling me to be quiet. One of the L&D nurses insisted that I not make any noise while pushing because it reduced my effectiveness. Apparently not! I did not like being cut without consent nor the slightest warning. I didn’t like being left in recovery cold and completely alone. I didn’t like being lied to about my son’s breathing which was CLEARLY a side effect of the narcotic – which I didn’t learn about until ten years later when I read that this was one of the most common negative reactions in newborns. – Beth
What did you like or dislike most about your birth?
Read more TheJoyofThis.com or submit your own interview responses.