Defining Success in a Birth Story

I should apparently feel terrible about the way I ended up birthing my children. I can’t count how many stories I’ve heard or read about women who were so disappointed in their “birth story” that it devastated them. They had all these scenarios of how it should all go. There’s this weird competition between mothers. There’s so much judgment. There’s a gold standard that few achieve yet we all seem to let it define our worthiness. Somehow, if it didn’t go as magically perfect as planned, it meant total failure as a mother. If you used drugs or God forbid had a c-section, you didn’t really experience labor and delivery in the correct way. I’ve never understood that. I try to say it doesn’t bother me, but honestly it’s hard when people make you feel like you’re “less”. If you didn’t have a totally natural birth it’s as if you graduated with all C’s. Sure, you all get a diploma, but the honor students like to remind you they did it “right”. That somehow their ability to take on labor and delivery without using drugs shows everyone what a strong woman they are. The “mommy wars” drive me crazy. But I have to say something has always bothered me about the whole birth story standard. It seemed even more stupid and pretentious than other mommy issues. 
My girls are obsessed with Grey’s Anatomy lately. Sometimes I sit and watch an episode or two with them. A young couple was in an accident and the wife was several months pregnant. The doctors were checking them out and said the baby probably wasn’t moving because it was sleeping. The wife said to her husband “isn’t that cute? Our baby sleeps!” They looked at each other with such adoration. It was adorable. But then the doctor had to tell them that their baby had died. Later in the episode they return to the couple as she delivers their lifeless child. Their sadness was as believable as their adoration for each other. 
And I finally put it all together. (Sometimes I can be so slow). 
If you birth a baby that is alive – that is a successful birth
That sounds stupidly obvious, but I don’t think in our white privileged lives we really grasp how crazy it is that we assume our result will be a live baby. The birth story becomes all about the personal experience, accomplishment and feelings. But imagine going through hours of painful labor knowing your baby is already dead. Maybe then you can understand how ridiculous it is to take the baby for granted. And to be upset about how that baby arrived. 

And maybe that’s why I have never felt bad for having two planned c-sections. Sometimes, women assume I never experienced labor since my three children (twins & a singleton) were c-section births. But the truth is, I did experience labor. Eighteen hours of it after my first baby lost her fight for her life when I was eighteen weeks pregnant. It was drug induced and terrible and sad. It’s not something I’m super excited to share with random groups of women. It’s one of the reasons I avoid baby showers or really any gathering of women in general. I don’t care about the comparing of experiences. I don’t want to give anyone the expected pat on the back for achieving the gold standard in birth experiences. 

So please, can we all just admit that childbirth is hard, and coming out alive is a miracle in itself? Maybe we all feel like we deserve praise, no matter how we got through it. Maybe we don’t feel appreciated for the whole process. But creating a random hierarchy of who did it best doesn’t really help anyone. Putting others down to lift yourself is never a good choice. 
So please, if you feel the need to share your birth story, please let it be about how excited you were to meet that fabulous baby. And how hard you’ve worked to be the person who deserves to be called mommy. Because that’s the point, right? 

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3 thoughts on “Defining Success in a Birth Story

  1. For a long time I was so disappointed with the outcome of my birth experience. I had watched The Business of Being Born a few dozen times, I read about every step of labor, I had visualized a smooth, quiet, private, happily blissful home birth day after day. After hours of pushing, I had to go to the hospital where my birth became loud, stressful, and full of stitches. It took years for me to understand that what I wanted and what I got equated to the same thing: a happy, healthy baby that I had wished for for many years. Thank you for the post, I enjoyed reading it.

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    • I’m so sorry you had to go through all of that emotional and physical pain. It’s so sad that we complicate something that is already incredibly difficult! I’m glad you recognize your success now and can celebrate it.

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  2. I had a rugged but beautiful natural birth with my first living daughter and a 48 hour fully medicated induction at 20 weeks which ended my second daughter’s life. Both birth ‘stories’ are extremely special to me because they are mine, despite the differences for my body, the circumstances and outcomes. I will say, I felt this before, but now having lost a child and knowing that is also a component of birth sometimes, I truly feel the same…. There is no right way. If you get a living child as the ending, any story of how you got there is perfect.

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