So here’s the thing- we spend a lot of time thinking about our births. We spend a lot of time wondering what they will be like and reminiscing about what they were like. We also spend a lot of time negotiating just which way to tell our stories. The conversations usually revolve around 3 or 4 questions that need to be answered. These questions are: Did you have a c-section? Because let’s be honest, everyone wants to know if you could pull off a vaginal birth. Did you get the epidural? We want to know just how “tough” you are. Did you need any stitches? And are you breastfeeding?
Allow me to elaborate on how ridiculous these questions are. The answers to these questions are supposed to be what society uses to decide whether someone had a “good” or a “bad” birth.
“The entire conversation is basically a dance between two people trying to avoid making the other feel ashamed.”
Whether someone has a c-section or not is only relevant if you are planning to bring food, help do her laundry, or pick up her other kids from daycare because otherwise, she might be disappointed with her looooooooooong, intervention ridden labour and not want to talk about it anymore, or have to explain WHY she had a c-section. Even worse than that, she may not really even know why. Alternatively, she might have chosen a repeat c-section because the trauma from last time was too hard for her to face again. Either way- asking her is really just forcing her to justify why her baby came out of her stomach, whether it was her choice or not.
Asking a woman if she “got the epidural” is a confusing question, because the response almost always depends on whether the person asking received one as well. If you birth without an epidural, most women downplay that, or feel guilt because of it and then act like they should have, or like they just happened to get “lucky”. I hear women say things like “wow- you didn’t? You are insane, I don’t know how you did it”. Honestly, what does that statement even mean? What good comes from asking this question because A) it’s none of your business and B) Do you even know enough about epidurals to be assessing her answer anyway? Do you know whether epidurals are harmful or beneficial? Or do you just know that they take labour pain away (most of the time)?
“Did you need stitches?” is a hilarious question. Why don’t you just say, “So how exactly did your vagina hold up?”
Why do women want to know the answer to this? If you don’t have kids, do you really want to know “how many stitches” she got? This question is also irrelevant because as healthcare providers we don’t actually count these stitches. There is a lot of muscle to be put back together, so it’s not like you usually get “one” stitch anyway. There is even an inherent judgment in asking how many stitches she got. Why don’t you just come out and say “hey, you got a lot of stitches- that means your vagina is EVEN WORSE than the woman who only got a couple stitches! You might as well also say “Let’s talk about how terrible you probably feel about your body now and how I’m basically focusing attention to the fact that your vagina is likely forever changed.” What good comes from this conversation?
The breastfeeding questions probably annoy me the most because there is SO much judgment in our culture about breastfeeding. There is a lot of judgment against women who don’t, and definitely judgment about women who do.
“The reality is that the answers to these questions are really none of our business and women say they don’t care when people ask them but I find that they absolutely do. They come into my office, close the door and bawl their eyes out. These questions matter…”
So what should we say?
I find that when women have their babies and the topic comes up, or I’ve just gone to visit a couple of days or weeks later, I say “How are you doing?” followed with “So how did everything go?” These questions are more open-ended and let her take the lead and shape it in the way she feels necessary. You see, we put emphasis on all of the wrong things when we ask these specific questions and I’ll tell you why- because whether you had a vaginal birth, an epidural, stitches or are breastfeeding is not what defines her birth as good or bad. It’s whether she felt respected, valued, informed and in control.
“She will remember her birth positively if she was given all the important information, was treated with dignity, asked permission before she was touched, and was given the sole rights to her baby the second the baby was born.”
She will look back on that derailed, long, intervention-ridden birth with confidence if she knows that SHE made the decision for a c-section, or that she was listened to when she said “I’m not ready for you to break my waters, I want to walk some more instead.” These are the things that matter most. She doesn’t need you to remind her about the specifics- and yes, some women do want to talk about these things, but on their own terms.
“Some women have a vaginal birth, in 4 hours flat, no epidural, no stitches and breastfeed their babies like a champ- and STILL look back on their births negatively. Who are we to judge?”
So I think when we ask women about their births, we need to stop and let them tell their story- because it is THEIR STORY. If they don’t want to elaborate on all those juicy details that we so badly want to hear to validate our own experiences, then we have to respect that. We need to encourage women to tell their stories, and learn from each other, and smile when they say, “Everything went really well.” At the end of the day- she has a whole new job to do and what she needs is support- not to feel ashamed for getting an epidural or not breastfeeding her baby.
Thanks for stopping by to hear my midwife rant…
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