I spend a lot of time online with women who are planning upcoming pregnancies and births. Most of these women had previous cesarean deliveries and feel very strongly about avoiding another cesarean surgery. Too often, these women report terribly negative comments from partners, family and friends when they share their birth dreams and plans. Usually, these women tell me that they dream of a certain kind of birth but know it will never be possible because of the reactions theyíve gotten from their loved ones. Sometimes they dream of something as "radical" as a safe, natural homebirth but sadly, often all they dream of is a vaginal birth instead of another cesarean surgery. Occasionally I have the opportunity to talk with a woman who hasn't had a cesarean yet, and knows she really wants to avoid it. Maybe it's time to rethink birth Ė what we think it is, and what we think about other people and our own births.
Questions: When you made the decision to try to conceive a baby, did you announce it widely? Did you tell your family and friends what position you and your partner planned on using during intercourse? Did you discuss what day/afternoon/evening you thought youíd be having intercourse before you did so? Did you discuss whether or not you thought youíd have an orgasm when you had intercourse? Did you expect and welcome commentary on your choice to have intercourse with the desire to conceive a new life? Do you think it would be weird or rude if someone did comment on any of the above? Did this series of questions embarrass you a bit or make you uncomfortable?
Babies are usually born about 10 months (38-42 weeks is the normal human pregnancy and 40 weeks is not average) after a very intimate act results in the conception of that child. Yet somehow, birth has become completely disconnected from that intimate act - the public property of any and every person who cares to expound on how babies are supposed to "come out", whether or not theyíve ever been pregnant, whether or not they even have a uterus! And we join right in - we hear and tell really graphic stories about birth, we share the details of our plans, we talk in shocking detail about our "exams", we watch with voyeuristic pleasure the popular television shows that feed us 2 obstetrically mismanaged births in a single hour! We even feel guilty when we consider keeping any of our plans secret - After all, "how could I not tell my mother my plans? Sheís my mother!"- again, I need to ask, did you tell her all about the conception?
We need to examine how we "classify" birth- sure, there are some people who really enjoy participating in "public sex" but thatís not really the norm - do we really enjoy participating in "public birth"? Maybe birth needs to be hooked back up with the incredibly intimate act that starts it - it's a continuum in our wonderful and profound lives as women: sex, pregnancy, birth, lactation, mothering our children. Maybe if we viewed it that way, we wouldnít feel so conflicted about keeping it private. Iím not saying that thereís something wrong with sharing plans and dreams and hopes about an upcoming birth with a close, supportive friend or family member - Iíve certainly done my share of giggling about our sex lives over coffee with a best friend, but I donít talk about it with everyone! Should it be any different when it's birth we are talking about? The key is "supportive" Ė and that may or may not be your mother or your partner or your neighbor.
The practical point that Iím coming to is this bit of advice: Donít volunteer information about anything (including your "due date") - other than the fact that you are having a baby sometime in the next year, as that will be obvious soon enough. Why should you? Unless you are absolutely positive that a) the person you are sharing with will unconditionally support your decisions without reservation or b) you truly do not care in the slightest what that person thinks you and your baby do not need the stress! Those of you who already shared your hopes and dreams with unsupportive friends and family know exactly what Iím talking about - and this absolutely includes mothers, mothers-in-law and other family members. We didnít tell any of my in-laws, including my mother-in-law about our homebirth plans, I never had to lie to anyone (youíd be surprised how little you can say and keep someone content) and no one had to worry about our plans. (my mother-in-law thanked me for keeping it secret until after the fact, believe it or not, she didn't want to worry either!)
You arenít obligated to tell anything to anyone. I believe this is true for any woman, under any circumstance - whether you are planning something really "out there" (in the eyes of society) like an unassisted homebirth after cesarean or a scheduled repeat cesarean (about as safely mainstream as you can get these days). The repeat cesarean will be supported by most people only because you can say "my
Now I know that it isnít that easy sometimes, we often have people in our lives that donít respect or even understand the concept of boundaries - people who will go ahead and ask really intimate, personal and hard to avoid questions about our plans. It takes a lot of effort and energy to deal with and sometimes we canít avoid negative input but my goodness, we donít have to volunteer and broadcast the information for all to comment on!
If you have an unsupportive partner, you have a very tough situation - I think it is simplistic for me to say "well, itís your body, you do what you want, it isnít your partnerís decision" and you canít really not tell your partner about the pregnancy or your hopes/plans for the birth. However, very often when I see a woman who really pursues her birth dream and really does everything she can to realize it, her partner begins to see how important it is, that it isnít some "crazy idea you picked up on the internet" and at least begins to listen and consider other options. I know I completely underestimated my husband, I thought Iíd have a pretty tough sell on my hands for my plans and he really surprised me - he wasnít as passionate about it as I was (really, why would he be? He didnít have a cesarean nor has he ever been pregnant) but he was supportive enough. More importantly, he looked at me through his love for me, his respect for me and saw how important it was to me and knew that I wasnít being reckless, frivolous or stupid. He saw that I did the work and made an informed decision about what I wanted and why I wanted it.
Those of you who already told people of your plans and are now reaping the consequences in negativity have to practice limit setting now. Make the upcoming birth a non-topic for discussion. Ask people to respect you enough to do a bit of reading (there is plenty of good material out there to read about VBAC and birth in general) before they discuss it with you - or else it just doesnít get discussed. Thatís tough to do but it really empowers a woman to set those limits and I think gives her even more self-confidence as she approaches birthing her baby. Because you know what? This is your baby. You are the mother. You can know best. You get to pick. You also get to live with the results of your choice for the rest of your life. I see women giving up their VBAC or their homebirth because it was just "too hard"- and it can be very, very hard. But so is dealing with the regrets later when you wonder why you gave up and what would have happened if you had just kept trying a bit longer.
The truth seems to be that for those of us that are aware of a better way than what we had and what we are being offered, its just going to be hard, one way or another - itíll either be hard fighting and working for a birth that no one seems to understand or itíll be hard working through the regrets, doubts and maybe even guilt that come after we decide to just do what everyone else expects and is comfortable with. When you are discontented with current birth culture, it is hard on you no matter what you do. Why not go ahead and embrace the struggle before the birth rather than wait until after? Go for it. Dream your dreams, plan it out, be wild and imagine what youíd plan if you truly didnít care what anyone else thought. Fight for that dream, you have it for a reason. No one is going to care about this as much as you do; no one is going to remember it with anything like the intensity that you do for the REST OF YOUR LIFE! You might not get the dream birth you want, even if you give it everything you have - but you know you wonít get it if you donít even think about trying for it.
You are strong women. You are doing strong things, just to be reading this! Donít give up, donít compromise. Donít do something because someone else (and that includes me and anyone else with strong opinions) thinks its better- do it because you know its better. Donít be afraid of your desire, tap into it and use it for your baby and for yourself. If you canít believe that you deserve the birth of your dreams, then believe that your baby deserves that birth. But, I know you deserve it. Every woman does.