My husband and I often talk about how much we plan to shelter our children. We both know families whose kids have been completely sucked into the worst of pop culture; but we seem to know even more families whose attempts at sheltering their kids backfired badly. When the kids finally encountered the real world, they often rebelled or succumbed to the worst, because they had not had the benefit of knowledge or exposure to build up their defenses. (I’m being vague here, because I don’t mean to criticize any of the parents I knew, who were certainly doing their best! But I have experience with all the examples in this post.) I have seen parents be so scared of inappropriate sex education that they barely gave their children any at all. The kids had to learn it on their own, either through experience, or through less reputable sources than their parents or teachers. There is also the danger of sex being seen as something “dirty” that you don’t talk about, which leads to a really unhealthy attitude toward sex.
What I’ve realized lately is that this is not just a problem for children, but for adults as well. In my last post, I talked about the dangers of sheltering women from the realistic expectations of pregnancy. I see something very similar happening with childbirth. Women are assured that, with the proper “birth plan,” they can achieve the perfect “birth experience.” Now, I know that I have been very lucky: my midwives and nurses were respectful and considerate, and I was never pushed into something I was not comfortable with. However, I have also heard of so many women who were led to believe that they could have a low-intervention, peaceful, joyful natural birth, only to be crushed when necessity dictated otherwise. Once again, we’re setting women up for shame and guilt. No matter how much we understand rationally that a C-section, or an induction, or an epidural may be necessary, that nagging little voice inside our head will say “you’re taking the easy way out” or “you’re not letting your body do what it’s made to do” or “you’re giving in;” but if we’ve let our expectations become completely unrealistic, we are feeding that irrational guilt.
The friend I quoted in my last post made the same connection between pregnancy and childbirth expectations; after commenting on the importance of your “attitude” and “focusing on the positive,” she noted that “the people who helped me have a good birth were the ones who kept telling me a good birth was actually possible.” Now: how do you define a “good birth?” A birth that goes as planned? A birth that is peaceful and expected? Or a birth that results in a healthy baby? If you only tell a pregnant woman stories of ideal births, how will she feel when her labor fails to progress, and her baby is in distress? Google “birth disappointment.” I have seen so many sad stories of women who felt horribly disappointed in themselves because they “gave in” and got the epidural, or because they had to have a C-section. Instead of fully enjoying the baby, they feel a sense of loss and grieving. They may feel, like this poor lady, that “this was my fault” because their bodies are “broken.”
[A side note: yes, your body is broken! But it’s because of Original Sin. This is why it doesn’t make sense to me to expect childbirth, or sex, or breastfeeding, to go perfectly just because it’s natural and it’s “what our bodies were made to do.” Our bodies, like everything else in the world, sometimes don’t do what they were made to do. If we put all our faith in “nature,” we are going to be let down because our nature is broken.]
Again, I am not recommending that we flood pregnant women with horror stories! But imagine that we tell them something like this instead: “My first was born naturally, and it was wonderful! My second had to be induced, and I was hooked up to 3 IVs, and that was pretty awful. But you know what? I didn’t even care, because then I got to hold my beautiful baby.” Or this: “I was really loopy after the pain meds, so I don’t really remember the birth well, but we had nice quiet cuddling time afterwards.” Or this: “The epidural worked great for my first, and failed for my second. But either way, I got through it.” Let’s give them realistic expectations, so they’ll be prepared; but let’s always remember to finish up with the most important part: the baby. A good pregnancy is a pregnancy that ends in a good childbirth, and a good childbirth is one where the baby gets born. Period. Natural birth, water birth, home birth, epidural, induction, C-section, forceps, IV, hypnosis, episiotomy, whatever–I wish you a peaceful and pleasant birth, but please remember that no matter what your “birth experience,” the main thing is getting that baby safely into your arms!