August 9, 2011

The Culture of Childbirth

“There is a sacred power in the innately feminine capacity of giving birth. It is one of the elemental, continuing processes of nature that women have the chance to experience, and it is the one act of human creation that is not shared by men.” – Ina May Gaskin

I have been reading Ina May Gaskin’s newest book, Birth Matters. It is an empowering and insightful book, written by America’s most famous midwife. Though I am often struck by the chapters that discuss obstetric medicine that lacks any scientific backing or the fact that the USA is one of only four countries with an increasing maternal death rate, I realized today that there is another topic that stands out to me.

The culture surrounding childbirth in the USA is missing so much. Why is it that the only birth stories that we hear are horror stories? This person hemorrhaged, this person would have died, thank goodness this person was in the hospital. Why are those the stories that we share with one another? Where are the beautiful stories? Where is the encouragement?

Why don’t we, as women, rally around one another? Why don’t we lift each other up with optimism and shared experiences?

Why is a birth a terrible, frightening, dangerous experience? Why isn’t it wonderful, life-changing, transformative, and spiritual?

I didn’t realize how much this lack of support bothered me until today.

In my line of work, I have the opportunity to mingle with powerful business women, many of them important lobbyists. I was shocked to have an email exchange with one of these corporate women (whom I don’t know very well) that went a little something like this:

Enjoy. Seriously, children are the most awesome thing ever. I hope I’m not overstepping here, but let me also tell you that childbirth itself is one of the coolest experiences in life EVER.

As someone who is seeing a midwife, delivering at a birth center, and reading way too many birthing books… I really appreciate your comment about how cool childbirth is!! I know it will be difficult and I’m a little bit nervous, but I am honestly looking forward to it.

Extra happy to hear you’re using of a midwife at a birthing center. You go, girl. Women are so cool. Our bodies are amazing. With my first pregnancy, I was nervous and felt some trepidation. A very dear friend sat me down and told me this: “Change your attitude. Childbirth is the most awesome thing on Earth. You need to anticipate with delight this experience and you need to recognize and acknowledge how awesome it is while it’s happening. And you won’t believe how incredible the outcome is.” Best words of advice I’ve ever received. You and your baby can and will do it well, and you’ll love it.


Why haven’t I been hearing things like this throughout my whole pregnancy, or my whole life, for that matter? Has the childbirth experience been downgraded so much in our society that this “awesome experience” doesn’t exist anymore or is there some reason that women are reluctant to share?

Maybe it’s the pregnancy hormones, but the email exchange brought tears to my eyes. I suddenly realized that it sucks to gather all of my support for one of the most important events in my life from books and my midwife. A woman, basically a stranger, shared a small piece of her empowerment with me and it means more than I can express.

I only wish that this type of sharing was more common in our society. I am probably the farthest thing from a feminist, but childbirth seriously makes me want to shout from the rooftops about how awesome women are and about how cool and capable our bodies are.

I need to push all of the horror stories out of my mind and remember things like this:

My mom’s friend on Facebook: Go all natural. I had one of each and preferred natural.

The old lady working the reception desk: You can do this. Your body was made to do this.

My mom (without much confidence, not realizing that she is a rockstar): I thought I was a huge wimp and that I was going to die if it lasted much longer. Then I realized that I was 9 cm!

And then I need to encourage other mothers-to-be. I need to be the change that I wish to see.

Disclaimer:  Though I am planning a natural birth, I don't want to knock anyone that has had different experiences or makes different choices.  The point is, we are all women and we should support one another.  Let's focus more on the good and less on the bad.


  1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  2. Having watched both my niece and my nephew be born, it really is an amazing experience, even from the outside point of view. The fact that our bodies can do stuff like childbirth, makes me think, as a society we play the woe-is-me card way too much.

    Even thought I am not pregnant, I find pregnancy and birth an incredible story and each one is unique.

    Enjoy the experience!

  3. i can kind of see both sides of this one... i've had three easy births, and when i tell people i get pretty consistant reactions, they either proceed to tell me their own (usually painful) experiences or they insist that there's no such thing as an easy birth and i must be an amazon and they would never try it without medication... it's gotten to the point where i usually don't even try to say how "easy" it can be, but you're right, birth IS totally natural, and can be relatively easy... if raising children was as easy as labor/delivery, i could have a dozen! (people that keep it all together through teh raising of the children are the amazing ones to me!) i do understand that there's a lot of complications and difficulties that can be associated with childbirth, but people have been doing it very successfully for a LONG time! and they keep having more kids too :)

    ps, with all three of my kids combined i was only in painful labor for about 8 hours, and even that it was usually easy enough to get through, i'm lucky that early labor is easy for me, just like braxton-hicks, but i still insist that if you trust your body and your dr/midwife, you're okay!

    good luck with everything! trust yourself!

  4. Sorry if I have not been vocal enough about my experience/opinion. The majority of women are disbelieving and so I am just used to keeping my happy secret to myself. You will do great. You will be transformed. It will be the best/hardest/loveliest thing you ever do. And now I am tearing up, so I must go hug my lovelies! (awkward around the belly) Hugs to you too!

  5. You do have a point, Kieren. Childbirth is a gift women should feel happy about. It's an endowment God has given only to us. Allowing a person to come into this world is such an inspiring act. Congratulations on your baby! Share your blessings. =)