Yeah, I did get a medal for birth

NS October 1st, 2010

My son turned two a couple weeks ago. At various points in the day I thought of where I had been in labour and made sure to stop and mark the moment when he had been born, at 4.32pm. When I thought back to his birth, I smiled. I remembered it warmly and fondly and with more than a little joy.

His entrance into the world, in our home, went just as I had hoped. While it was obviously intense, I did not consider it horrendous, overly painful or traumatic. At many points and up until I was nearly ready to begin pushing him out, I was smiling and laughing, so excited to meet my little guy and in awe of my body’s intuitiveness and primal, biologically-designed power.

If I could recreate and live through that day again every year (without adding to my family each time!), I would. Every contraction, every push, every soul-shaking guttural groan, every everything. I want to feel it again because it made me feel so utterly alive, so connected to myself, so grounded and yet so light that I felt as if I could simultaneously meld into the earth with feet of stone and fly far away, up into the clouds.

But I didn’t write about it. I didn’t talk about it. I didn’t share those feelings of nostalgia and joy. I kept my mouth shut and my head down because that is what is expected of me.

Our modern cultural narrative of birth tells me that my experience, my story, does not exist. It’s either all in my head or a bunch of hippy claptrap designed to make other women feel inferior and guilty. Enjoying birth is a privilege I am not allowed to have because so many others have been denied it, through circumstance or luck or whatever forces are behind the story of how our children are born.

Last year, when Noble Boy turned one, I surveyed my view at the apex of the mountain. I know I’m lucky to have even climbed that mountain and that it wasn’t necessarily anything ‘special’ I did or was or knew to get there. I don’t presume to have special powers that other women do not possess or more knowledge than those who had disappointing, interventionist or traumatic births. My birth is in no way a condemnation of anyone else’s. It is simply and only what it actually is: mine.

As a doula, an advocate for mothers and vocal member of the online birth community, I fight tooth and fucking nail for women’s right to choose not to give birth at all, to choose caesareans, to choose hospital birth, to choose narcotic pain relief and as many bells and whistles as they want. I do this alongside my advocacy for those who don’t want drugs, don’t want interventions or don’t want to leave their homes to have their babies.

I am a birth advocate because I believe in women’s autonomy and in their personhood. I believe in mothers’ ability to make their own decisions, lead their own lives and have their own experiences, on their own terms. I respect them. I trust them. I want the best for them.

So when my own experience is sidelined, marginalised, silenced, criticised, dismissed and ridiculed, it hurts. It hurts a hell of a lot. I have to choose my words very carefully when relaying my son’s birth and be sure to throw in self-deprecating remarks and pay penance for not finding it horrible, lest I hurt anyone’s feelings or make them think I’m ‘smug’. The accusations of superiority and patronisation are sometimes implicit and, often times, outright explicit, said to my face with defiance and what appears to (sometimes) be glee.

I guess that’s because it’s socially acceptable to tell a woman she is crazy, ridiculous, smug, flaky, woo woo, arrogant or any other myriad of derogatory terms when she says childbirth was anything but a best forgotten ride to hell and back. Women who say they didn’t find it painful or even found it pleasant are told they are outright lying, the implication being that because the majority experience birth in one way, those who fall outside that ‘norm’ must be disbelieved, discredited or punished.

And no matter how this sounds to anyone, no matter how many accusations of insensitivity or insanity are thrown my way as a result, I think it’s completely ridiculous and more than a little sad that women having joyful, memorable, special (yes, sometimes even pain-free) births that changed them, moved them, empowered them — inexorably and unalterably for the better — are being silenced and shouted down lest anyone with a less-than-ideal birth get their feelings hurt.

How are we ever going to change that narrative and know of more women having positive stories if we don’t hear any or won’t allow them to be told?

I’ve spent months and years walking on eggshells, bending over backwards to make sure that I don’t offend or belittle or minimise other women’s experiences. I strive to face my own little creeping prejudices and biases and correct them before they turn into sweeping generalisations or proclamations of what is Best and True and Noble. I do my best to listen and learn and help when I can and only where I am wanted.

I have no interest in competing for gold in the Birth Olympics but I sure am sick and fucking tired of being told I’d better get off my high horse because there ain’t no medals in this here event, sweetie cakes.

Well you know what? I do have a medal. I have a medal of achievement around my neck and it hangs there, invisible, every day. When I want to feel good about myself or when I am doubting my capacity to cope with something life has thrown at me, I take it from where it hides beneath my heart and gather up all the strength from that place of calm and courage within me from which it came.

But no one else gave it to me, nor did I expect them to. I gave it to myself.

I mark my son’s birth as a victory not because I was competing against anyone else or because I needed to win, but because of how I felt about myself as I made that journey towards the finish line.

The thing is, birth doesn’t even have a finish line; it’s a starting point. So even if one woman’s didn’t go as she’d dreamed, even if that journey ended without the ‘medal’ she yearned for, she still finished the race and that, in itself, is pretty damn amazing. Us mothers are doing what billions of women have been doing for billions of years —  giving over their bodies and their lives so that another body and another life might grow and flourish.

Pretty fucking cool, right?

As Dr. Seuss says:

You have brains in your head

You have feet in your shoes

You can steer yourself

any direction you choose

I have no interest in marking out a path or prescribing a method or lifestyle of my choosing for others. Life’s not worth living if it’s under someone else’s thumb, in accordance with their wishes or in conjunction with their views. We’re all individuals and we’re all going to choose and experience things differently so it’s important that we extend respect to those whose life choices and experiences have taken them down paths divergent from our own.

I try my best to practice what I preach but damnit, I expect a little bit of that respect in return. Is that really too much to ask?

15 Responses to “Yeah, I did get a medal for birth”

  1. [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Marcy, Noble Savage. Noble Savage said: New post: Yeah, I did get a medal for birth http://bit.ly/d20Kb9 [...]

  2. Expat Mum says:

    As someone whose 1st and 3rd deliveries were C, and the (huge) middle one a relatively good vaginal experience, I would say that, at both ends of the spectrum, we’re made to feel like this.
    The amount of people who smile (sneer?) knowingly at my 2 out of 3 “failures” is very, very upsetting to me. With my first baby My pubic bone simply didn’t budge and she got stuck;my uterus then hemorraghed big time with all the pushing; my third started coming out fist first, and it all went downhill from there. In both cases I was fit, and had taken very good care of myself. I had no intention of having C’s; IMO there’s no question which option of delivery I prefer.
    I truly envy women who had decent to good experiences, because the bad ones are really bad.
    I just wish everyone (husbands are sometimes the worst) would butt out. It’s not a competition and we all win a big shiney medal at the end.
    Expat Mum´s last blog ..Reality TV – too tame by halfMy ComLuv Profile

    NS Reply:

    @Expat Mum, People who sneer at others’ birth experiences or think they know better than what you’re telling them need to be taken down a peg or two. It’s rude, it’s arrogant and just uncalled for. I obviously don’t get sneered at for having a c-section like you have (I’m sorry, that sucks), but I know what you mean in that sometimes when I tell people I had NB at home I get a shocked look and one or more of the following phrases: “Wow, that is sooo brave. I could never do that, I’d be too freaked out about something happening to my baby and then not being able to live with myself. A healthy baby is more important than scented candles!’ implying that I put my own comfort or eccentricities above the safety of my baby.

    Or I get a shocked look and then “Oh my god, are you MAD? Didn’t you have any drugs? No?! You wouldn’t get a tooth pulled without drugs, I can’t imagine why you’d go through that kind of pain willingly” implying that I only gave birth at home because I wanted to be some kind of martyr.

    And then there’s just all the little comments that I read and hear from mums (and others) about ‘whale music’ and ‘earth mothers’ and how they’re all so smug as they light the patchouli and find women who had caesareans or interventionist births to berate. There are a hell of a lot of assumptions about what ‘kind’ of person has a natural/home birth, just as much as there is a certain air of ‘Oh, that’s too bad dear, you must not have tried hard enough’ about some people’s comments on c-sections. They all need to STFU.

  3. Kat @ slugs says:

    great births are wonderful. As someone who births naturally and easily, I agree that birth can be transformative.

    What I’m not clear about is who is marginalising your story? In my years of discussing birth in and outside of birth circles, with mums at playgroup, with friends, with family, no one has ever made me feel I had to downplay the ease and joy of my birthing experiences. Even in wider society, I’ve always felt that in many ways easy and ecstatic birth is the golden chalice. I am sorry you have felt differently.

    NS Reply:

    @Kat @ slugs, Not everyone does this, obviously. Many people are very supportive, kind or at least respectful about my choices. But I do (on a more regular basis than I’d hoped) hear the comments and sneers as described in my comment to Expat Mum above.

    The thing that really brought this on was the response I got from posting an article on Twitter about some celeb mums who had great birth experiences and were talking about how it changed them. More than one person responded with a variation on ‘they should shut up’. Other words used were ‘bullshit’, ‘smug’ and ‘insulting’. It just astounded me that it seems perfectly okay to bash women’s positive experiences but I’d be shouted down and taken to task (rightly so) if I belittled or insulted mothers who wrote about having negative experiences. Apparently, those of us who liked birth aren’t allowed to share because it might make others’ feel bad. That’s not fair, IMO.

    kat @ slugs Reply:

    @NS,

    what a shame. I wasn’t aware that there was this kind of sentiment circulating and you are absolutely right, its not on that ANYONE’s birth experience is marginalised.

  4. Kelly says:

    I swear you write things I could have written myself. If I was better at writing. I feel so similarly about my birth. It really hurts to hear all that stuff – I’m a hippie, I’m flaky, I’m stupid, I’m a “birth nazi”, I’m smug, I’m delusional. Even though no one has said it to my face they hardly need to.

    I’ve already written that women get put down whether they choose birth or abortion or to breed or not to breed; they get put down no matter how they birth, how they mother. So thanks for giving a little space that’s hopefully safe all of us. Like you, I had a non-medical, beautiful, non-interventionist birth. And I’d just like to be allowed to talk about it and glory in it without people thinking it’s about THEM, or that I’m part of the many who judge and put down women who had different experiences.

    Thanks for a wonderful post.

    NS Reply:

    @Kelly, Thank you Kelly. I loved that post you wrote, which you linked to above. Great stuff, as always.

  5. *littlestar. says:

    I also had a wonderful, at home, drug free birth; twice in fact. I know of what you speak as far as how some people, often other women, react to these stories. I feel sad that our female culture is so fucked up, that women feel the need to judge or be judged, put down rather then get behind. It’s too bad that’s what television tells people it’s like to be a girl. Backstabbing, petty, manipulative. We can be, but are capable of SO MUCH more.
    We are not alone, the happy birthers, my girlfriend has had four boys, all naturally in a hospital, no drugs. She LOVES giving birth. She’s also tall and skinny, that’s EVEN worse. You’re for sure not allowed to retain your slender figure, enjoy being pregnant AND love giving birth.

    Poor women so unsure, so insecure, so scared – all we can do is stand tall, encourage and empower, smile and feel happiness at others joys, to show others how to do this. I am glad for you that you had a great birth experience! We are lucky to have been able to enjoy such an amzing experience.

  6. Mummylimited says:

    What a fantastic post. You’ve summed up my feelings perfectly.
    I am so proud that I gave birth without any pain relief and yet I tend to gloss over this when talking about it.
    What I find most galling is the implication from people that I must have had a pain-free, easy birth and it wasn’t. I was, naively I guess, shocked at the pain but there seems to be a view that I was ‘lucky’ to not need pain relief. It wasn’t luck. It was desire, support from my partner & the midwives and lots of yoga breathing!
    It’s the same with breastfeeding. The implication that it was luck alone that meant I successfully fed him.
    You’re right about the invisable medal, I’ve never thought of that before. I shall wear mine with pride.
    Mummylimited´s last blog ..I grew them bothMy ComLuv Profile

  7. When I first gave birth earlier this year I felt as though I’d entered a special “sisterhood” of mothers. Bringing a baby into the world is a feat, a huge achievement and something we should all be proud of and respect each other for, no matter how we did the deed. To mock a mother for sharing a positive birth experience is pointless, and mean.

    Some births are clearly more complicated/difficult than others but in my case, I believe my attitude about birth really impacted on my experience. I researched my options and decided to try for as natural an experience as possible.

    While my birth story proved quite different from the home birth I had planned – I was induced at nearly 3 weeks post date due to elevated blood pressure and ended up have a ventouse delivery b/c my daughter’s heart rate was dropping as I attempted to push her out – I still used only yoga breathing as pain relief and didn’t find labour painful but more intense, primal and definitely capable of taking me to another place. I had told myself I’d be a “birthing warrior” and I’m sure this decision gave me strength and conviction in the heat of the moment, even when things didn’t go to plan.

  8. It’s weird because I’ve felt relief in telling my “I ended up at the hospital” story for the same reason: apology. I had a grand plan that others looked on as fanciful and hippie-dippy. The fact that I ended up on a gurney made me more palatable.

    It sucks, but it’s true.

    Wonderful post, and happy birth day to you.
    Jessica – This is Worthwhile´s last blog ..Learn this- A childs body and mind are his own- not anyone elsesMy ComLuv Profile

  9. [...] you like birth stories, check out Noble Savage’s post Yeah, I Did Get a Medal for Birth. She doesn’t outline her son’s birth story in great detail, but rather focuses on the idea that [...]

  10. Blue Sky says:

    I think it would be wonderful to have a really good birth experience, but perhaps the issue is that not enough women have access to the information and help that would enable them to achieve this? Most of us end up on a conveyor belt, where the birth of our children is managed for the convenience of the hospital and using ‘defensive’ medicine to avoid possible insurance claims.
    Blue Sky´s last blog ..About the girlsMy ComLuv Profile

  11. troutie says:

    As always you have provided a thought provoking post!

    Having had a fairly crappy first birth with intervention and a second great birth with a doula I have to say that I have had quite different experiences. This time around I was much more assertive and much more in control. I was ridiculed by lots of people who thought having a doula was hippy claptrap. But I knew why I was doing it so I didn’t let them put me off and I had the birth that I should have had the first time around.

    I think that being a doula must be an amazing thing and if you can put your own beliefs aside and empower women to make their own choices, despite what you feel or think, then that is even more amazing. My doula was a bit of a hippy but she didn’t flinch when I chose to throw a shot of rum down my neck instead of one of her potions she had made me. That’s what I loved about her, that she embraced my choices and helped me to have the birth I wanted.
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