A few months ago I was talking with Hubby about birth options, and he asked why women make such a big deal of where and how they give birth. After all, if the point is to get the baby out and have everybody healthy, then isn’t one place or method as good as another? (He really didn’t ask in a heartless way like that, he just genuinely wanted to understand.) This is an issue that is raised frequently, so here is my attempt to explain why birthing matters.
There are two parts to this in my opinion. First it’s about safety and respect, and secondly it’s about personal accomplishment.
Many women report feeling like they had no choices, no control, and/or no rights when they were laboring and birthing. Schedules had to be kept, this or that intervention came up, and lady you’d better be quiet because you don’t know anything anyway and we are trying to save your baby here. This sort of experience is often referred to as “birth rape” and (given the power-play involved) that seems to me an accurate term. During labor a woman is at her most vulnerable—not only is she without clothing and (commonly) laying down, but her body is doing things which are beyond her control, and in the midst of all that SHE HAS TO RELAX! After decades of being pushed around and told how we should labor and birth our babies, is it any wonder that women are becoming assertive about birth and insisting on different providers, locations, or methods for their births? A woman should to be able to choose the things which allow her to be comfortable. If there is anything that inhibits labor it is feeling uncomfortable! I don’t know anyone who can relax and let their body do its thing when they are stressed…it’s a little like trying to have a bowel movement with half the neighborhood watching.
There is a second reason why birthing choices matter though, and in some ways I think this one may even be bigger than the first, and that is that birthing a baby is the ultimate expression of femaleness. We in the western world live in a culture that has spent the last century de-feminizing women. Some of these changes are the result of technology, and many have come at the behest of the women themselves, but the result is the same: women are becoming more and more like men. They dress like men. They talk like men. They work in the same offices at the same kinds of jobs. They take medications so that their hormonal swings over the course of their menstrual cycle are minimalised. They can even limit or stop the menstruation itself. Many do not marry. Many do not have children (or if they do, they hand them off to be raised by nannies or daycare and school systems so that they can continue to work). They are out of touch with the natural cycles of the world: they live in a climate-controlled home that is the same temperature year-round. They work in a climate-controlled office. They drive in a climate-controlled car. They eat the same imported foods year-round and probably don’t even know what foods are in season when. As mentioned before, they control (or do away with) their menstrual cycles so that not even that bit of nature is allowed to occur naturally. But birth, that is an exclusively female domain. No man can do it. In other words, for many women, giving birth is the one time in her life when she is being true to what she is--when she is actually doing something as nature intended--and that can be a powerful (and empowering) experience. It is her chance to be a WOMAN rather than another androgynous clone. Is it any wonder that many women spend so much time and emotion planning for their births? Especially given that most women in our culture will only do it once or twice, is it any wonder that birthing matters?