One of the most often asked in the first few months after giving birth has been “normal or…” It’s a question left hanging where many don’t even want to take the dreaded C- word. I always found it very strange that it is perfectly all right to ask such a private question and I can explain why. Whenever I have been asked this question and I have replied back saying “yes I had a vaginal birth” people immediately broke eye contact and/or changed topics. If you cannot handle hearing the word vagina, why would you ask this question? But it is incredible how an assumed shared experience makes it perfectly all right to suddenly ask someone a question about their nether region.
My problem with this question stems from the intent. If you were asking me this out of concern for my well being and recovery, it is a different story. But we all know that in most cases, it is a question to evaluate if someone has suffered the right amount and is worthy of the respect given along with the title of “mother”.
The conversation around this began around the third trimester when conversationally I would be asked if I had a birthing plan. And my response had always been “my plan is to get this thing out”. After a laughter that clearly indicated no amusement, would begin this conversation on how these days women just prefer a C-section because it’s easier and can be fit into a busy work schedule. This would be followed by a tsk tsk and how doctors also just prefer a C-section. The unspoken message in the air being how women these days don’t have it in them to bear the pain or prioritize their lives over this miracle of birth.
Important side note: There are many reasons why one would choose a birthing experience over another. I am not advocating for any one way. What I am assuming is that women are capable of identifying and gathering information they need to best make a choice that would suit their needs. Novel concept?
Post birth is the next competition of hours in labour. I have stopped answering the question on hours of labour simply because every single time I have, the response has been how someone else had x + few more hours of pain. Then there is the epidural conversation. Now I am someone who is not embarrassed to say I am pro-drugs. I am in favour of the medical advancements being made and if there is a way to manage pain without causing significant harm there is nothing like it. I have absolutely nothing to prove or so I thought. But when the time came, I did feel like a lesser mortal asking for help.
I was left wondering how we ended up with such an idealization of birth. How did we come to make gold standards of many things that are particularly difficult for many women especially for those who choose to maintain an identity outside of motherhood. Of course, if you want to visualize that your body is opening up like some flower while listening to some Tibetan chants, you should be free to do so but what is unfair is for anyone to wield their choice with exaggerated benefits of a method that is impractical, unpleasant and quite frankly impossible for many women.
Yes “natural” is good but not everything that happened in the olden days is necessarily the best (infant mortality and maternal mortality rates can probably attest to this). The movement around this began with the intent of giving women the choice to make informed decisions pertaining to their bodies but has become another way to control, dominate and judge women. What this results in many a time are unrealistic expectations and a feeling of guilt even before the parenting journey has begun.
We need important conversations around abuse during birthing, informed consent, taking women’s pain more seriously and empowering women to feel their best while focusing on the health of the unborn. Instead what we have devolved into is a slugfest of wearing pain as honour and a sense of martyrdom to justify inadequate support.
Now as promised:
Handy tip while visiting a new mom:
When you are about to ask someone if they had a “normal or….” delivery, pause. Think about why you want to know.
- Is it out of care?
- Is it to share your birthing story when it is not warranted?
- Is it to share some new found nugget of gold on child birth that you cannot hold in?
- Is it in any way shaming the person for the choices they may have made?
Think about these questions before asking. Irrespective of the experience they underwent, the person is healing. They don’t need your bullshit.
P.S: This didn’t fit in the post but I needed to get it off my chest. Your birthing experience doesn’t have to be about absolute suffering. Neither does it have to be magical or pure or <insert any word typically used with getting high>. It can be – meh, whatever, okayish or even I really don’t recall. It is FINE. There are shades in this spectrum my friend and you pick you.