Dear first time mom who wants NCB,
I used to be one of you. I tried very, very hard to have a natural childbirth in a free standing birth center. I would have chosen home birth if my house did not have so many negative memories attached to it (although that is another post for another day). I tried.
I cannot overstate how much I felt like a failure rolling down the hall at the hospital in a wheelchair to the L&D unit. It was the place I desperately did not want to be. I had a great doula with me, but the midwives I trusted with my labor had abused me, and so I declined to have any of them accompany me to the hospital. I knew I was going to have to give birth with strangers, and I dreaded a fight with them over what I would consent to or not.
I won’t lie to you- it was an awful experience. A procedure was done without my permission. My trust in any medical professional was shattered. I still haven’t gone to an OB or a midwife since my baby’s birth, despite the fact that I had surgery and was told to follow up with someone. Some nights I worry that I will have cervical or ovarian cancer and not find out until its too late. The fear of that is outweighed by the fear of being violated again.
I learned the hard way that people are not always what they say they are. I learned the hard way that it didn’t matter if it was a midwife or a doctor, I couldn’t control what anyone decided to do to me during my labor. I felt especially upset because I believed that I had avoided a lot of problems by picking midwives, that they would respect me and my wishes. I felt bad for having chose to have a baby, that I was too weak or stupid to properly care for my child. I felt that the way things went during my labor was proof that I shouldn’t have even tried in the first place, that my judgment must be terrible to have ended up like I did.
I had to make my decision about care providers without a lot of crucial information, because it there was so little data about first time mothers in home birth. Most women in the NCB movement had a traumatic or less than ideal birth in the hospital and decided to home birth after that. I searched endlessly for anecdotes from first time mothers who home birthed, and found very few reassuring stories. What I didn’t know was that in other countries first time mom status was enough to consider a patient high risk. There isn’t a way to know if some kind of issue inherent to an individual will arise in a mother until it happens. Most of the time the occurrence of a complication in the first birth is an indication of a problem in the subsequent births. I still want to know the rate of transfer for home birth midwives with first time mothers ONLY, I know it is usually about 10% over all, but I am willing to bet that first time mothers have a disproportionately high rate of transfer.
What I want first time mothers to know most of all is this: You can’t control your birth. You can roll the dice and choose a birth provider that brags a certain percentage for certain things, but there is no way to know if it will be you or not. Anyone who has played D&D or any other table top RPG knows that sometimes you strike out, even with a 90% skill. 10% happens, and its not because you did anything wrong. Its just life. If you had a c-section or an instrumental delivery or an epidural you did not fail at anything. It literally means nothing about you as a human being if you had a c section vs a vaginal birth- you can force it to be meaningful, and therefore you also have the power to decide it isn’t worth worrying about. Having a vaginal birth or a c-section isn’t inherent in anyones character- how much meaning could it really have outside of one constructed by culture?
I don’t think there is anything wrong with wanting a specific experience in childbirth. I don’t think there is anything wrong with being disappointed when it turns out differently. I am not someone who will complain that women who tried for NCB and ended up with something else are selfish or ungrateful, because I know that isn’t what its about. No one needs permission for their feelings or their hopes- they just are, and should be accepted. What I do think is wrong is women blaming themselves for something that they don’t have the power to change. I don’t think women blaming themselves are wrong, I think the people who perpetuate a culture that blames women are wrong. This means that home birth midwives are wrong- they perpetuate a culture of sexism where mothers are at fault for virtually anything that happens during a birth, and where women who have the ‘right’ child birth experience get bragging rights and support for something that happened by luck instead of skill. I remember ruminating over my c-section, wondering at what critical point I fucked up and made the small odds of having a primary c-section become a certainty. I’m reminded now of the aftermath of sexual abuse, where victims wonder what they did to “make” the other person hurt them, all of us search for absurd ways to make it our fault. Women cannot control the outcome of giving birth any more than we can control the actions of other people. We can say “no” to people or interventions, but it guarantees nothing. Women should not be made to blame themselves for any of it. Picking up the pieces, working through what happened and moving on takes a lot of strength. Energy should not be wasted on self hatred during something so difficult.
-An ex home birther