When It Comes To Giving Birth, There Is No Medal

by Elizabeth Broadbent
Originally Published: 
TanteTati / Pixabay

I saw it on Facebook, of course. He was an old friend I hadn’t seen in years, one who’d gotten really into marathons and motivational speech. I should have expected it. But still, it hit me like a slap in the face: He announced the baby’s name and said something like, “[Wife] crushed it!” over a picture of the local birthing center (the place where they birth in tubs without intrusions like meds or IVs or doctors). He followed it with a pic of the fam — wife in full makeup, baby in full ruffles, and the words “About an hour afterward!”

I felt some kind of unidentifiable rage, and typed, “Congrats! Can’t believe she had time for makeup and a dressed baby one hour after birth!”

“This pic was more like 90 minutes,” he replied.

I know Facebook doesn’t show the reality of anyone’s life, and that perfectly perfect picture with ruffles and bronzer and lipstick wasn’t the whole story. It took me some time to realize what was bothering me. Dress your baby up in white lace an hour after birth. Put on a full face of makeup and blow-dry your hair. The hippie part of me says you’re missing out on important bonding time, but whatever. What bothered me was the word “crushed,” especially alongside a brag about having a natural birth. You don’t “crush” your natural birth. No way, no how.

You don’t crush a natural birth because that word comes straight from the language of competition. You crush the opponent. You crush the opposite team. You don’t crush birth, which is a natural process, not something to be beaten. If you can conquer birth, you posit the opposite — birth can defeat you.

I’m sure my friend’s wife did a great job with her natural childbirth. But what if she had begged for an epidural? Screamed? Said she didn’t want to do this anymore, and asked to be taken to a hospital? These are all things that women typically do during natural childbirth. Newsflash: Pushing out a baby really fucking hurts. I suppose if you crush natural childbirth, you manage to do none of these things?

It also means that if you can crush natural childbirth, you can’t crush any other kind of birth. Let’s back up: All childbirth is natural because you’re having a baby, however it comes out. But let’s assume my friend means natural childbirth in the traditional sense of no meds. So if you choose to use medication, your birth is somehow lessened. If you need medication, your birth is somehow lessened. If you need a C-section, you didn’t crush birth. If you need to be stitched up, your birth is somehow lessened. (No way did that chick tear, get stitched, and then slap on a full face of makeup, all in 90 minutes.) Birth itself becomes a competition in which you win or you lose.

The only thing you win when you give birth is a healthy baby. And even if you don’t get that, you still win, because you went through pregnancy and a baby somehow came out of you. Everyone wins when that happens.

The language of competition has no place in or around the delivery room. When one woman crushes natural birth, it follows that another woman doesn’t. These things get seen in opposition to each other.

What about someone whose son ends up direly ill in the NICU? What about someone who had her babies induced because of gestational diabetes? Or someone who birthed her babies at home, but who says she screamed through each one? Someone who had a precipitous labor, whose terrified husband caught their daughter, who tore horribly? Did they crush birth?

What about me? I was transferred from a birth center, ostensibly for pain. The midwife had scoffed at my husband’s insistence on the transfer and said I could do it if I wanted to. In reality, I was too sick and too depleted to manage it. When I got to the hospital, they discovered I was severely dehydrated from vomiting and needed medical help. I got an epidural and slept for the first time in 48 hours. Then I pushed for three hours and finally delivered a healthy, squawling brute of a boy who tore me from stem to stern. It was a 3-day ordeal. It was horrible. It was magnificent.

Did I crush birth?

I refuse to believe my labor was somehow inferior to a woman’s traditional natural birth. I refuse to think that any woman was somehow more capable, more brave, or more something than I was.

We go down into the hellish tunnel that is labor; we emerge sweat-soaked and shaking. When we start to make birth into a competition, every mother loses. Let’s not pull the mommy wars into the delivery room.

And the way to do that is to change our language. Say someone “rocked” their birth. Say someone had a magical birth, or did a great job, or worked hard and did her best. Say she had a damn baby. You don’t get a medal for turning down drugs.

But don’t say she crushed it. She didn’t. You can’t. You can only give the best of yourself to birth, and let your body do what it will. That might mean a C-section — and C-section mamas are the same as those who deliver in a pool surrounded by flower petals and Enya. You don’t crush birth. You experience it, each for her own, one no better than the other.


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