Her husband was taking a few moments to update family when she turned to me and asked a question. I could tell by the tone in her voice and the change in her demeanor that this topic was causing her some anxiety even moments after her euphoric birth experience.
"How do I tell my friends about my birth? How do I explain to them why I chose to give birth without drugs? None of them understand & some even put me down because of it."
Silence filled the room for a few minutes as I contemplated my answer.
"Tell them the truth," I finally said.
"Explain to them that giving birth has been a very positive and empowering experience for you. Tell them everything you're feeling in this moment. Don't do it in a judgmental or condescending way as if choosing to have an epidural is a bad decision, but tell them exactly how you feel about it. And if they have questions, answer them honestly and with compassion. Understand that they may not have not done their research or maybe their birth experiences have been quite different from yours. Just love them and express that your birthing choices are yours and yours alone."
"OK, yeah. I can do that."
A week ago I had another client ask a similar question at our postpartum visit.
"How do I talk to my pregnant friends about childbirth? I don't want to scare them, but I don't want to lie to them either."
This mama had every intention of giving birth without medication, but when labor became too intense she opted for an epidural. As her doula I supported her through it and helped her realize that there should be no regrets. When processing her birth she has very positive feelings about it all, but also recalls that it was much more painful and intense than she expected.
Again, my response was to tell the truth. "Emphasize the positive and be real about your experience. When talking about the pain in childbirth, don't talk about it in a scary way, but instead in a realistic way. Offer advice on how to handle the contractions and the many things that helped you cope. Explain that every person's experience is different and that it's best to approach childbirth with an open mind and heart."
As a doula and a woman who desires to have children one day, I find it troubling that women are judging each others birthing choices and scaring each other with their birth stories. I don't think we need to romanticize childbirth, but I also don't think we need to be telling others to "get the epidural ASAP!" These types of attitudes toward childbirth can be extremely damaging.
It is my belief that we need to be real, but real in a positive way. In a way that encourages women to do their research and learn to advocate for themselves. In a way that helps a woman trust in her body and believe in her ability to birth her baby as she chooses. In a way that expresses love and acceptance.
But how do we do that while still honoring ourselves and without passing judgements? Well, I think it's a work in progress. I think the perception regarding childbirth in this country is shifting exponentially. Women are beginning to take charge of their births which is so encouraging. This generation of women has the ability to truly change how American women birth their babies. I believe a combination of knowledge and love is the key to taking the first steps toward expressing the reality of childbirth in America & to supporting women in their birthing choices.
What are your thoughts on birth stories? What was your experience when telling others about your birth(s)? I'd love to hear the responses from those around you & how you dealt with any judgements or if your story helped educate or empower someone.