The article “Monstrous Births: Pushing back against empowerment in childbirth” is making the rounds, and some are taking exception to it. But here’s the deal- she’s not wrong. Birth isn’t always awesome.
Birth is always, on some level, a transformative event; because who you are when you begin, is not who you are after the baby is born. How that transformation manifests is different for everyone.
Birth can be empowering, transcendent, orgasmic, beautiful, sweet, calm, touching, tender, powerful, exhilarating. It can also be terrifying, harsh, confusing, overwhelming, rushed, frantic, chaotic, painful, messy, sorrowful, ‘monstrous’.
And, here’s the super-duper important part: Birth can be any of those things, in any combination, no matter where or how you give birth.
A cesarean birth could feel empowered and uplifted.
A home birth could feel confusing and painful.
A normal ‘natural’ birth could feel beautiful and overwhelmingly scary.
A high risk, intervention filled birth could feel transcendent and chaotic.
All of these are real and valid birth experiences.
We, as birth workers must remember that we are not in the birthing person’s head and body. What might seem empowering to us, may seem terrifying to someone else. What might seem limiting to us, might be uplifting to someone else.
When we promise (explicitly or subtly) emotional/spiritual experiences based on place or type of birth, we are literally making promises we can’t keep, because we can’t tell someone how they are going to react to the reality of their birth.
If we say “Birth is the most empowering experience of your life!” and they come out of birth feeling low and confused- what story will they begin to tell themselves? Will it be positive self messages, or will they be wondering where they ‘failed’?
When we (explicitly or subtly) assign positive emotions & images to one kind of birth and negative emotions & images to another kind of birth, we are assigning value to those births, and by extension the people who have them. What message does that send to the person who has the ‘wrong’ kind of birth? What message does that send to the person who had a negative experience in a ‘good’ birth, or a positive one in a ‘bad’?
The bottom line is that we can’t predict or control which births are “empowering”, and which births aren’t, and we need to respect every person’s birth experience, even if it doesn’t mesh with our own beliefs or values.