The Competition for a Perfect Birth

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When I was pregnant with both of my kids, I felt pressure to have a “perfect” delivery. There’s a whole market around this: doulas, birth centers, a plethora of books and videos…and Flagstaff, with its hipster vibe, is all in. An all-natural birth is the way to go; a home birth, even better.

I had Claire in the peak of the pandemic. Because of this, a home birth wasn’t an option. I chose the now extinct Birth Center in Flagstaff to deliver. I liked their woman-centered, naturalistic views. They spent a lot of time with the mother-to-be in each prenatal visit and looked at the whole person. I liked the idea of not laboring in what I saw as a sterile environment (i.e., the hospital).*

I went into labor on January 5th, 2021 at 10pm. My contractions were 2-3 minutes apart at the outset, so I was confident I’d have the baby quickly. When I got to the Birth Center, though, I learned I was only 1cm dilated. For the next 36 hours, I labored without medication, without sleep, and without food (I couldn’t keep anything down). By Friday morning, the Birth Center told me they’d exhausted their options and I needed to go to the hospital.

When I got there, I told the nurse I could not get through one more contraction without drugs. Although I had been dead set against it, I eagerly received an epidural and pitocin. After a total labor of 41 hours, I delivered a healthy baby girl.

I remember feeling so relieved when I was told that I had narrowly missed a c-section. And although I was disappointed that I hadn’t had a natural birth, I felt that I could forgive myself after the atypical ordeal of my labor.

Almost three years later, I was telling my birth plan to my L and D nurse for my second child. I had decided that, again, I wanted a natural birth, unless one of three things happened: 1) the baby was in distress, 2) my labor stalled (which is what happened the first time), or 3) I passed the 24 hour mark. At 19 hours, they told me that dilation wasn’t progressing. I opted for an epidural at that point, ending my opportunity for a natural delivery. Three hours later, we met Cormac.

Did I feel like I’d failed?  Yes. Was I confused about why other women could do it and I couldn’t?  Yes. Did I feel wimpy and weak?  Yes.

I tried to talk myself out of those thoughts by reminding myself that the process didn’t matter as much as the product. But not long after, I read a friend’s social media post about her “beautiful” waterbirth experience. I felt a spike of jealousy. I started second-guessing my own experience. If I’d had a doula, would I have been able to do it?  Did I simply give up too soon?

But what I–and all of us–need to remember is that it doesn’t matter. Childbirth is beautiful and wonderful, yes, but it is also excruciating, dirty, and embarrassing. Childbirth is many things, but what it doesn’t have to be is “perfect”. Let’s peel back the social pressure of an ideal birth. Let’s understand that the road from belly to baby looks different for everyone, and your journey often doesn’t reflect your strength, your willpower, your fitness, or anything else that society smugly implies. Why should I have felt inferior for asking for medical interventions?  Conversely, why should I have felt superior for avoiding a c-section?  Women who have c-sections are amazing, as are women who choose epidurals, as are women who have successful natural births. To all the books, videos, OBs, and women who put natural births on a pedestal:  please stop. This isn’t a competition. It’s simply a means to an end. And it’s the end that counts.

*Although I was initially so reluctant to deliver in the hospital, I had fantastic experiences in the L and D department at FMC both times.

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