In my weekly Prenatal Yoga class, I often bring up a topic that I would like to hear more about in the Maternal Health Community. Mommy Empowerment. In this community, I am considered a “Birther.” A person who believes in the power, beauty, and sanctity of the birthing process. A person who believes that in most cases, birth doesn’t need any intervention at all. The medical community very often depicts this very special period in a family’s life as a time of consistent monitoring, complete with a laundry list of potential interventions that the qualified medical team is ready to perform should the need arise. Many of these interventions are absolutely necessary and we are fortunate that medicine, science, and research has developed into what it is, so that we may benefit from these interventions if need be. However, if we take a look at the big picture, most families do not require any interventions at all to have a healthy baby. In fact, most families require support, education, love, a safe space to welcome a new little soul into this world, financial resources to support the growth in their family, and more emotional support.
The medicalization of pregnancy and birth leaves many soon-to-be Mommas dis-empowered and fearful. I recall my own tour of the maternity ward that my husband and I chose for the birth of our daughter. The labor and delivery suites were nice, fully stocked with all of the equipment needed to facilitate the birth of our baby. The postpartum unit was beautiful — very much like a hotel with many of the comforts of home and a room-service menu to boot! And then there was the explanation of how the labor process works at this particular medical center. It was during this aspect of the tour that the laundry list of interventions was discussed. Augmentation of labor, pharmacological pain management, failure to progress timelines, when the baby will be delivered by cesarean section if there’s a noted problem on the fetal heart rate monitor, or if labor has simply gone on for too long were all touched upon in the span of a few minutes. I looked around the room and realized that many of the soon-to-be Mommies had their shoulders raised at this point. One Mommy became very flush and asked for a seat. From my training, from my background, I knew that one of these Mommies out of ten of us would likely need to be delivered via cesarean section. And she likely knew it already from her prenatal appointments. But sadly, it was more likely that three of those Mommies would need to have cesarean sections because their labors would stall out, or their baby started to have challenges tolerating prolonged labor. There are many factors that contribute to these issues, but fear is likely a serious culprit in such circumstances.
What was missing from that tour? Empowering language, a discussion of natural labor. A reassuring comment that women have babies, women are meant to have babies, and women have been doing so for millennia. A discussion of how fear can impede the birthing process, slowing labor and going against the clock that most women birthing in hospitals and medical centers are placed on at time of admission.
Adding to this lack of Mommy Empowerment — Birth stories have become the female version of war stories. The thirty-six hour labors, the pain, the epidurals, the difficult pushing for hours, the episiotomies, the vacuum-assisted deliveries, the scary emergency cesarean sections. Human beings tend to share their stories of struggle and pain in a way that helps them to process the experience that they’ve endured, but sharing negative birthing experiences with women who are about to become mothers is not helpful. It only invites fear and anxiety during a time when the soon to be mom really needs encouragement to have the birth she desires. These stories become imprinted on the minds and hearts of the women who are about to enter into their own birthing experiences. Such stories may have been conveyed with good intentions in mind, but in many cases, such stories just bolster doubts, worries, and amplify feelings of unpreparedness.
It’s time we do better fellow women! Women are by nature, the nurturers. But when it comes to nurturing each other, we overwhelmingly fail. It really does take a village to raise a child though! This has not changed for us as communal creatures. Society has changed, but every family needs support and guidance from their community. So we need to work toward supporting each other. Sharing our successes and providing encouragement ultimately empowers all of us.