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.