Birth Animosity and a Guide to Sanity

I’ve been reading all sorts of blogs and forums on childbirth recently, and almost any article actively pro- or anti- ________ (fill in the blank: natural childbirth, interventions, homebirth, etc.) is followed by a long strand of back and forth comments, each series seemingly more vicious than the next. The banter is reminiscent of two kids on the playground, each convinced he knows what he’s talking about:

“Oh yeah? You think you’re so smart? Where’d you learn that?”

“Well, just listen to this story- that means it has to be true!”

“Wow! That story makes you look like a total idiot!!!”

And on and on and on…

Why is it that birth issues are discussed this way? Maybe it’s because birth is so personal, or maybe it’s because we’re so passionate about the choices we made, or maybe it’s because we were hurt by a particular experience so we speak out against it. These are valid feelings, but I need to be frank here: I’m very tired of all the name calling, credential waving, antecdotal gossiping and bragging, and arrogant and opinionated birth animosity that goes on across the web. All of this is anything but helpful for women who are trying to make educated decisions about their birth. It is not constructive for mothers to maliciously degrade others’ birthing methods, nor  is it beneficial to self-righteously exalt the Way they themselves birthed.

There are two extremes that are mainly at play here: 1) The “all natural childbirthers are presumptuous, irresponsible martyrs who are only advocating NCB for the money involved or for the sake of ther own egos” group, and 2) the “all doctors are conspiring to make higher paychecks, don’t care at all about women, and have an all-consuming control/power complex that overrides their practices” group.

It is my strong conviction that probably neither of these assumptions are usually  the case (although it’s true that sometimes each group does play into its own stereotype). Let’s be honest here- blanket statement generalizations are rarely true. (Remember the true or false questions in school? If the statement contained the words “always” or “never,” as a rule, the best answer was probably false.) And yet, this is what so many of us do, day after day- point fingers at broad groups, make assumptions based on very little evidence or experience, and go around spouting off about why we are right. I’ll be the first to admit that I have been guilty of this in many areas.

While this practice might seem gratifying and self-affirming to some, or just harmless press to others, in reality, it is hurtful and uninformative. This kind of behavior needs to stop. The following is an attempt to reintroduce some sanity into these online birth forums, and more importantly, some kindness and consideration into our relationships with others.

Women who would like a natural childbirth or homebirth- please:

  • Do not assume that doctors don’t care at all about the desires of women in birth. I’m sure that many do care. Some may have differing opinions of what is best (or what is normal in a birth), so this is where respectful discussion of your desires for birth comes in. If he or she still disagrees, find a differnt caregiver.
  • Do not assume that all doctors are money hogs. I’m sure that these doctors do exist, but we cannot presuppose the worst of everyone.
  • Do not assume that all doctors are anti-NCB. Many OBs are welcoming to women who want to birth naturally, and will work with women to acheive that goal. If yours does not support you, then find one who will.
  • Do not assume that all hospitals are evil places. It is true that lawsuits, time limits, finances, emergency mindsets, and protocols do influence hospitals a lot, and can tip the scales against natural childbirth. But hospitals do have good in them, and can sometimes save lives because of the available equiptment. There are hospitals that are more natural birth friendly than others. It is important to weigh the pros and cons of hospitals (and the likelihood of differing complications- natural or intervention-induced) carefully when considering a place of birth.
  • Do not assume that you will be mistreated if you give birth in a hospital. I have heard many sad stories where this is the case, and I am so sorry that so many women have been wronged in this way. However, I have also heard many wonderful stories where women have been treated with kindness and respect in a hospital. Try to get to know some of the people who will be there when you give birth to help determine the treatment you will receive (I know this can be difficult to get to know everyone, but you could at least try to meet with the each of the doctors and midwives in your practice who could be on call the day of your labor).
  • Do not assume that all interventions are terrible. While I believe they are widely overused, I do think that they have a place and can help a woman who is truly having natural complications in labor.
  • Do not assume that women who receive pain medication are “sissies.” I myself am not in favor of pain medication becasue of the risks involved and what they take away from the birth experience. I also strongly believe that any woman who chooses them should definitely know the pros and cons of doing so. However, absolutely no one is in any place to judge how another women feels in the middle of labor and the decisions she made.
  • Do not assume that all homebirths are perfect. While it’s rare, things can sometimes go wrong. I encourage participation in proper screening and precautions to minimize risks.
  • Do not assume that midwives are better than doctors. They each have their own strengths and they cannot compete with one another. In an ideal world, they would work together more often than they do.

Doctors who do not usually attend natural childbirths or homebirths; please:

  • Do not assume that women who want a homebirth are irresponsible. They are making informed decisions and choosing what they believe is the best for themselves and their babies, and most of them do take reasonable precautions.
  • Do not assume that NCB advocates are in it for the money. I’m sure that these people do exist, but to say that most are is just as unfair as saying that all doctors are money-hogs.
  • Do not assume that NCBers are trying to be bad patients or to purposely aggravate you. Even though you do this day in and day out, for each woman, her birth is extremely personal and she wants to make it the best she can. If she challenges your opinions or seems skeptical, please respectfully explain to her why you would like to do a certain procedure. If you don’t have a good reason other than it’s routine, then maybe you should reevaluate why you’re having her do it.
  • Do not assume that you can rush through routine things with a woman in labor. Be gentle and explain things as you go. It can make a world of difference in helping her feel calm and secure during her most difficult hour.
  • Do not assume that all homebirths go wrong. Remember, you only see the transfers, not the rest of the women who give birth peaceably at home. Treat the transfers with kindness.
  • Do not assume that women who want a natural birth just want it for their egos. Birth is a life-changing process for women, and doing it naturally is very important for some. For most, it is not so they can brag. Most women who want a natural childbirth want it because they feel it is the best for their babies and their bodies. Some also feel that experiencing the instense pain of childbirth can be an empowering and beautiful process, and can magnify the bliss of first meeting their child.
  • Do not assume that doctors are better than midwives. They each have their own strengths and they cannot compete with one another. In an ideal world, they would work together more often than they do.

I think we all need to take a step back and reevaluate our attitudes and motivation before we speak. Is it to prove we are right? Is it to make someone else look bad? I am not against having valid opinions and strong feelings about some of these matters. I am all for critical thinking and discernment when it comes to making decisions regarding birth. Also, I think it’s totally okay to disagree on what we think is the ideal birth. My point here is that we could all use a little more grace in our interactions with others, particularly in these crazy online comment boxes. Perhaps if we all followed the old adage of “think before you speak,” avoiding gross assumptions, and mixing in some tact and courtesy, the birth animosity that we see so much of would gradually diminish.

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One response to this post.

  1. Posted by dac on January 11, 2011 at 3:12 pm

    Excellent observations.

    Reply

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