Eight years ago, I was a young, pregnant mother with a baby book in each hand. I read What to Expect When You’re Expecting and all the other popular how-tos from cover to cover. I wanted to be as prepared as possible when I walked into my first delivery. But by the time I finally waddled into the hospital, I’d heard so many conflicting ideas about giving birth, I literally had no idea what to expect.
There was this idea that I shouldn’t worry too much about the delivery because “a healthy baby is all that matters.” Well-intentioned mothers told me this over and over again. I didn’t know if my birth plan or preferences were far-fetched or ridiculous. My care provider kind of scoffed at me months earlier when I mentioned wanting to write my birth plan down. While that should’ve been a red flag, I rolled with it because I’d been steadily absorbing this narrative not to care. In fact, I was starting to feel a little crazy for educating myself on safe, evidence-based birth.
I nodded my head and smiled each time a mother told me not to worry about how my baby came into the world. But something about this concept felt inherently wrong. I didn’t want to feel demonized for caring about how my baby was born. This was my baby and this would be my first time giving birth; it would be a day I would remember forever. Why shouldn’t it be important? The truth was, choices about my birth felt significant to me, and I wasn’t sure why they would be viewed as controlling, ignorant, or irrelevant.
The people who emphasized that my choices about my body and my baby had some (or any) importance were few and far between. But why? From labor preferences, to comfort and coping mechanisms, to what happens in the immediate postpartum, and how your body recovers from birth, these choices are of great value. They impact your first precious moments with your baby, your breastfeeding relationship, and your feelings about your birth, too.
At 24, I was learning this anti-feminist notion that women’s — especially pregnant women’s — choices about their own bodies didn’t matter.
Mothers-to-be routinely absorb messages telling them that they shouldn’t get a say in how they give birth. And often, when they do have preferences, they are more likely to be mocked by their care providers. The narrative of calling women “controlling” or “unreasonable” for desiring to make choices about their own bodies might be centuries old, but it’s certainly not a thing of the past. And it’s not something we should be so willing to accept, the way so many mothers (and even my doctor), suggested.
The truth is, if your doctor is unsupportive of you for having educated yourself about your birth, you should probably be seeking a new one. The idea that women should remain quiet and simply accept one-sided care or disrespect is not a good one. Shaming women for wanting to make important decisions — decisions that have a huge impact on their overall health and the health of their baby — is a damaging ideology that leads to women feeling unsafe and unsupported during birth.
What we really need to be telling birthing women is that we support their choices — whatever those choices look like.
Studies show that women’s feelings about their birth had more to do with having choices, than specific details about the birth itself. Women are also less likely to develop post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), or suffer from birth trauma when presented with choices. Additionally, easier postpartum periods have been reported with supported birth. This is why we hear so much about the presence of doulas. It’s not only because doulas improve birth outcomes, but because they leave women feeling continuously comforted, acknowledged, and much more at ease during and after delivery.
Are there times when birth preferences need to be amended or even thrown out the window completely? Absolutely, but that doesn’t mean women shouldn’t plan for the best birth possible. In fact, it’s the very idea that women shouldn’t be proactive about their own births that inhibits positive birth outcomes. A birth that happens without any planning, support, or knowledge of your provider’s birth policies isn’t likely to resemble the birth you imagined.
Not every birth goes off without a hitch, which is why planning with a supportive care-provider is such a positive thing. Because if you don’t know your options, you can’t be an active participant in decisions about your body, your baby, or your birth. Perhaps what women don’t hear enough is that their body and their birth belong to them.
Women’s choices about their own bodies matter and always will. And no matter what kind of birth a woman desires, “I will support you” is the only thing she really needs to hear.