The Road to Hana: In Pursuit of Positive Birthing

For some of us, the journey matters as much as the destination.  This is the fundamental reason many of us make alternative birthing choices.

So many of us are told that what matters is a healthy baby and a healthy mom – the implication being that these are the only things that really matter when a woman is expecting.  Certainly, these are the ultimate goals of any expecting woman and her care provider, but wanting a healthy mom and a healthy baby shouldn’t cancel out also wanting a positive birth experience – whatever that may be.  Too many moms are told after a disappointing birth experience that “at least you and the baby are here, safe and healthy,” leaving them to feel as though the only emotion they should be having is gratitude, and that there is no room for disappointment or grief over a birth that didn’t go as the mom had hoped it would.

For many of us, how we give birth – the atmosphere in the birthing room, the attitudes of those surrounding us when we give birth, the procedures we submit to by choice or otherwise, and yes, ultimately the outcome – ties very much into how we feel about ourselves as women and as mothers.  It can also play a large part in how we cope with the postpartum period and beyond, and it can impact how we approach subsequent pregnancies and births.

I know this because it’s what’s driven me for years and years in the birth arena.  I never realized how profoundly my birthing experience would impact me until after I gave birth to my first baby over fifteen years ago.  It ended up being a huge disappointment, even though I went into it with no particular agenda except: (a) wanting pain management as soon as possible (which was based on fear), and (b) believing I was in the best possible hands.  After Kevin was born, however, though nothing had gone amiss during his birth, I felt cheated.  That experience led me on a pursuit for positive birthing, and it was during my next pregnancy with Joey five years later that I became somewhat of a birth junkie, reading everything I could get my hands on about pregnancy, labor and birth, and even pursuing certification as a doula.  The truth is, though, that I don’t think I really had the kind of birth experience I pined for until this last one, when Scarlett was born.  My hospital births were all disappointments – my twins’ birth, especially, still makes me sad and angry when I think back on it – and even my first two home births left me with conflicting feelings (my first home birth – Lilah – I just went into arrogantly and was therefore ill-prepared for the reality of how intense it would be, and my second home birth – Finn – not only kicked my ass physically, but the aftermath, with his hospitalization and diagnosis, clouded the entire experience with gloom and sadness).  This last birth, though, was pretty much everything I dreamed of: it went smoothly, I was surrounded by people I love deeply, it was, more than anything, a celebration, and I felt empowered and very much at peace with the whole thing.  I am profoundly grateful for that experience and for the memories of it that I’ll carry around for the rest of my days.

There is a misconception, I think, that women who choose non-mainstream birth want to be in control of the process.  I don’t believe it’s about control – birth is unpredictable, and we all know this.  It’s about wanting to be an active participant in our own care and our own experience; it’s about putting our care in the hands of someone who has as much reverence for the process as we do, who honors and respects our bodies’ capabilities.  It’s about surrounding ourselves with people who believe in the value of the journey as much as in the value of the destination.

It’s true that these things don’t matter to everyone.  And while deep down, I think those women are missing out on something profound, I’m not here to say that it should matter to everyone.  To each his own.  But to discount the feelings of those of us to whom it does matter is doing a huge disservice.  It is valid to care about how we get there, and not just getting there.

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10 Comments on “The Road to Hana: In Pursuit of Positive Birthing”

  1. Maranda
    July 27, 2012 at 3:45 pm #

    I personally had both of my girls at a hospital. My midwife was amazing and my husband, daughter, mother and mother-in-law where present to welcome them both. It was wonderful and I was a willing participant in that, in case something went wrong with the birth, I would have medical people there on hand to assist. I loved my birthing room and everything it entailed. I felt every pain and contraction (Opting for no type of drugs).. and to be honest, there are times I wish that I would of had something to be able to enjoy the moment more and not feel like my head was going to explode and yelling get her out!!!..

  2. Alyson
    July 27, 2012 at 7:07 pm #

    I agree with you on many points. I hate when people say things like ” all that matters is everyone is healthy” because your birth and after experience can really impact a lot. However I have a family member (in-law) who did lose her son during birth and obviously for her the “birthing ” experience means nothing to her and she has chosen to have 2 elective c-sections right before her EDD. I think it’s all relative to life experiences. I wish that women would get truly informed on natural birth,home birth, etc.before going into labor. Natural birth is a very empowering,amazing experience in my own experiences. However many women put more time into their nurseries and baby registries than really learning about birth and the capabilities of women’s bodies.

  3. Kris M
    July 27, 2012 at 11:35 pm #

    It’s your blog and I do enjoy your writing, but for me it WAS about the end result and not so much the process. You did acknowledge that not every one feels the way you do about home birth, though I would say that many of us DON’T feel we missed out by not experiencing a home birth. It’s been 10 years since my last baby was born and, except on her birthday when she wants to hear the story of how she came into the world, I rarely think of her actual birth. I am empowered by being the best mother, wife, friend, daughter etc. I can be now and not at all by the circumstances of my children’s births. Just another perspective. I will say that I am so glad to live in an era where women have so many choices about their birth experiences!

    • Lisa
      July 27, 2012 at 11:49 pm #

      I think you misunderstood what I said (or I came across wrong). What I wrote wasn’t meant to advocate home birth – though that was was right for me – nor was it meant to say that anyone who doesn’t have a home birth is missing out. The point I was trying to make is that the process itself has value and meaning – wherever that might take place. Devaluing the process – or journey, if you will – and only placing value on the end result is a disservice to those of us who DO care about the journey.

      • Kris M
        July 28, 2012 at 4:15 am #

        No, I understand that you don’t advocate home birth for everyone. I respect that your feelings about it are personal and very positive. You do say that you think that women who don’t have a home birth are “missing out on something profound” and we shouldn’t discount the feelings of those women who do want home birth. I totally get that you did what was best for you and your baby. I guess all I’m really trying to say is that for some of us, the birth process doesn’t tie in to how we feel as women and mothers (as you said it does for you). That’s all. For you, it does and I respect that. Like you said…to each his own.

      • Lisa
        July 28, 2012 at 4:56 am #

        Kris, I think you need to go back and rereading what I wrote. I didn’t say that women who don’t have a home birth are missing out, nor did I say that the feelings of those who want home birth shouldn’t be discounted. What I said was that I think those women who don’t care about the “journey” are missing out and that the feelings of those who do care about the journey shouldn’t be discounted. This is specifically why I made the analogy to The Road to Hana – it’s not just about the destination, it’s also about the journey.

  4. Stacey
    July 30, 2012 at 6:11 pm #

    ITA with you, Lisa, and I’ve tried many times to write about this myself. My first birth experience was 16 minutes from an alarm going off (I wasn’t even in labor, only at the hospital for an NST) to a “crash” c-section under general anesthesia. I completely missed my baby’s birth and didn’t see her for 11 hours. Whenever someone told me to be grateful that she & I were both alive, I wanted to scream and/or throw something at them. Most people didn’t seem to understand that the journey to motherhood was vitally important to me as a rite of passage and that I needed to properly mourn that loss. I likened it to standing in line at graduation, waiting to walk in to “Pomp & Circumstance,” and being whisked away for an emergency appendectomy; you’d still get the diploma, sure, but you’ll never have the experience of walking across that stage, hearing your name & degree called out, looking up to see your family waving from the stands. Some of miss those kinds of things when they don’t happen. And I know a lot of women who didn’t know that they *would* feel that way about the journey through birth until they didn’t have a good birth experience.

    • Lisa
      July 30, 2012 at 6:28 pm #

      Excellent analogy, Stacey.

  5. Jennie
    July 31, 2012 at 2:38 am #

    The birth experience is not just about the experience of the mother either. The baby experiences that birth as well and that experience should be allowed to unfold as nature intended. My mother took three days to deliver me, that story is a story that we both share and it is very much a part of me and it is a story of strength that carries through everything that I do.

  6. Kel
    August 1, 2012 at 9:24 am #

    Needless to say, I’m with you on this one.
    While I don’t think everyone need birth the same, I will shout from the rooftops that is physiologically normal and needs to be seen as such. Yes there are times when things go wrong and I’m glad we have doctors for those moments but we do ourselves a great disservice medicalizing every birth and denying so many women the experience of what their body is capable of.

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