Several years ago, I had a traumatic first birth. This is not uncommon, and you might be thinking: “I did too.” Like many crunchy moms, I wanted a natural childbirth. I wanted dim lights, immediate skin to skin contact, and blissful breastfeeding. But things did not go as planned, and to this day, I feel a sense of mourning. Yes, my baby is healthy. Very healthy, even. He is never sick. I managed to breastfeed him for 3 years. He started reading 2nd grade level chapter books in preschool. He does gymnastic stunts that leave me breathless. We have a strong bond, and a loving relationship.
I had a healthy baby! Isn’t it all that matters?
Having a healthy baby is important. Extremely important. My heart goes out to all the women I know and those I have never met, the women who lost babies during their pregnancy, or at birth, or whose babies ended up with birth related injuries. My heart goes out to every man, woman, or child, who went through a traumatic experience.
And also, my heart goes out to women like myself, the new mom who spent over 24 hours in Pitocin induced labor, by far the most painful experience of her life. The new mom who spent 4 hours pushing her baby out, numbed from the waist down due to an excessive amount of pain killer. The new mom who spent 2 weeks postpartum in agonizing pain because the epidural went into her spinal fluid, and could only function by taking the highly addictive painkiller Percocet.
Telling me, and telling women who went through a similar experience, that we had a healthy baby and should not complain is insensitive, and dangerous. It is insensitive for so many reasons that I won’t get into here, because what I want to talk about is how dangerous it can be.
Ignoring women’s feeling could lead them to hide postpartum depression out of shame. Can you imagine how dangerous this would be? To have a mom hide her depression because she is ashamed of having negative feelings when she has “a healthy baby?” Do you see that this kind of thinking keeps us in the dark ages of childbirth, where women do not matter, and where they are a means to an end? I had a traumatic birth, but it did not need to be that way. Many things could have gone differently.
With my first baby, I was put on Pitocin because 12 hours after my waters had broken, I was not in active labor. But my midwife the second time around (in a different hospital) told me they always waited at least 24 hours, because it was unlikely for a first time mother to give birth in only 12 hours, and unlikely for infections to occur after such a short amount of time. The birth center I visited told me I would have had 4 full days. If more women rebel after getting unnecessary injections of Pitocin, mothers everywhere will benefit. Strict but archaic guidelines and timetables will loosen.
With my first baby, I was pressured to get the flu vaccine, which I refused — we were in April, on top of everything else. There were other things to worry about than the flu! The second time around, I was instead getting recommendations for exercises that would turn my baby into optimal positions, shown studies about vitamin C intake reducing the risk of waters breaking prematurely, and was told that the whooping cough vaccine would protect my baby for 2 months after the birth (definitely more useful than a flu shot in the Spring). If more women asked hard questions (and knew what to ask, like how to keep the bag of waters intact for as long as possible), less mothers would be put on timetables and rushed through the birth process.
With my first baby, I was pressured to give my newborn formula because he had jaundice. I was too exhausted to ask questions. Thankfully, a nurse came in after the pediatrician left, and told me I could pump instead. If more women were supported and encouraged in their breastfeeding journey, more of them would be able to breastfeed successfully. Feeding a bottle in the first week after the birth dramatically reduces the chances of full term breastfeeding, and breastfeeding does not get in the way of treating jaundice.
I could write and write about the many ways childbirth would have been easier for me and my baby. Yes, I am healthy, and my baby is healthy, but we both needlessly suffered. This isn’t about a difficult first birth. It’s about outdated hospital policies that are not questioned, and therefore do not change.
Mothers, you deserve the best birth experience possible. You deserve a healthy baby. And you deserve a smooth labor filled with good memories. Anything less is unacceptable, both for you, and for your baby.