The faded blue chair in my therapist’s office is not comfortable. And it’s not just because talking about my intense postpartum anxiety is uncomfortable. The actual chair kind of sucks — it swallows me every time I sit down. I sink so far into the seat that it’s hard to get back up again when we’re done. And right now, I want to be done.
We’re talking about the vivid images that assault my mind anytime I take my two toddlers out by myself.
That dude is going to abduct us.
This lady looks like she must be on something. Why is she walking so close to us?
What’s the quickest way out of the mall if there’s an active shooter?
What happens if we get in an accident and I can only save one kid?
How am I going to run away and carry the two of them at once?
I’m fighting back tears. Because as I sit there and catastrophize, my imagination goes to such a real place that I am overcome with grief, and I can hardly breathe.
As the doctor gently peels more detail from me, she asks me if I feel this level of fear and anxiety when my husband or mom take the kids out, or is it only when I take them out that I feel this way?
“Only with me,” I say.
“And why do you think that is?” she asks.
“Because I don’t trust my ability to protect them in an emergency.”
“And why is that, Amy?”
Without even thinking, I respond with something that I am ashamed to admit. It was not a thought that I had ever (consciously) had before — and yet there it is, racing out of my mouth and into the open. As if it were in the back of my mind and on the tip of my tongue all these years. “Well, because I can’t even be trusted to give birth without help so …”
I start to choke. I can’t say another word. I am shocked, betrayed by my own subconscious thoughts.
And then, the breakdown happens. We’re talking ugly, uncontrollable, snot-faced, relentless sobbing. I couldn’t move to get a tissue if I tried, damn that chair.
Thankfully, my therapist passes me the box of Kleenex. And then just lets me be, as I allow the weight of what I just said really sink in.
“So is that what this is about?” I ask out loud, more to myself than to my doctor.
I don’t trust myself because 3.5 years ago, my perfect son was born via emergency c-section instead of “naturally”?
This overwhelming anxiety and constant fear of failing my kids in a crisis, is all because my birth story didn’t line up with the Instagram-worthy expectations I had of what my first childbirth experience should look like?
This intense loathing I feel toward my body is because I feel like it let me down?
If I couldn’t even give birth naturally, the one thing a woman’s body is “supposed” to do … how could I possibly channel my inner Gal Gadot and fight off would-be attackers a la Wonder Woman?
Suddenly, so much made sense. And although I’m still working on healing the feelings I was harboring, at least now I know where a lot of my anxiety comes from. Which means, now I can deal with it. And I am. Right here. Right now. So, pardon me as I jump onto my virtual soapbox and scream:
Ladies, enough of this B.S. — all births are natural. So stop it with that word already. Births are medicated or unmedicated. They’re vaginal, or cesarean. And guess what? Every single one is natural AF.
Oxford Learner’s Dictionary states that the word “natural,” when used as an adjective, means expected, normal, or as you would expect.
So to that end … what do you expect a mom should do if her body has been under assault for hours and she’s on the brink of giving up, and an epidural is her only way forward? Is putting her own needs first somehow unnatural?
What if a laboring mom’s doctor is worried about her baby’s heart rate, and wants him out. Now. Is that mom expected to distrust the people in charge of her baby’s safe delivery, and refuse the c-section they adamantly recommend?
Moms in labor have to make difficult decisions, sometimes in mere minutes, sometimes without their partner present. And in every case, in every situation, what is more natural than a mom, in her grace and her best judgment, doing what she believes is best for the health and safety of herself and her baby?
That is motherhood. That is expected. It doesn’t matter how the baby gets here. Birth is birth. And there is nothing unnatural about any of it.
The words we use matter. They seep into our subconscious minds and form our thoughts and biases about the world.
They create expectations, that often we don’t even realize are there, about what motherhood and childbirth should look like. And consequently, they open the door for massive shame, judgment, and (in my case) anxiety when things don’t go according to plan.
Expectations, shame, and judgment are harmful for our mental health. So we need to stop inflicting them on one another.
Unmedicated moms, you are warriors. Medicated moms, you are fierce. C-section moms, you are brave. Pandemic moms, you are heroic.
For those of you who still cling to the notion that there is only one right or “natural” way to give birth … consider this: What are you going to say to your daughter, or daughter-in-law, when her birth doesn’t go according to plan? Are you going to shame her and her “artificial” baby born via c-section?
No, probably not. Why? Because you know, deep down, that the words you use matter.
So start using better words. Now.
All births are natural, and all births are beautiful. With every birth, a mom is born. And there is nothing more natural than that.