Written by: Alice Zeigler, Birth and Postpartum Doula
When anticipating labor, one place you will likely get unsolicited advice from is your own mother. There is some comfort in knowing how the experience of childbirth was for someone similar to us. It is important to remember, however, that no birthing person’s experience is the same. Hearing birth stories from others can give expectant parents all sorts of expectations, some of them unrealistic, overdramatized, or even scary. The process of having a baby is different in many ways than it was twenty years ago. It is important to be mindful of this when taking advice from others (yes, even your own mother!)
The “Natural” Movement:
Birth practices in the United States have changed drastically in the past fifty years. Even more in the past decade. In the 1970s there was a push for radical change as the natural birth movement found its footing. Trends of home birth and natural delivery gained momentum. This was a positive shift, but it left a huge gap in choices for families. Families who may have benefited from support but opted for a more traditional hospital birth. The natural birth community took a strong, low tolerance stance against the medical system.
Doulas and midwives were seen in a negative light within traditional medicine. A stigma was created around birth work. Some medical professionals today look down on doula support in their delivery rooms. This is due to ingrained ideas that birth workers are disruptive to medical staff, pushy, and have their own agenda. It is crucial that doulas maintain professionalism and respect for all parts of the labor and delivery team. Doulas, midwives, and hospital staff must all work together to dismantle the prejudice.
Antiquated science, myth, and patriarchy all contribute to misgivings surrounding childbirth. For many years there was little medical advancement in the field. Women’s rights have advanced immensely throughout the past two decades. Abortion rights, contraception, and acceptance of trans identifying people in birth are all part of birth liberation. Everyone deserves to have a voice when it comes to body autonomy. This translates beautifully to the delivery room (whether at home, at a birthing center, or hospital of choice). When carrying a baby, your body is still your own.
All of these changes are revolutionizing and expanding how we think about childbirth, and how we accommodate birthing people. Sometimes our family and friends have varying values when it comes to these topics. You may be surprised to find how strongly opinionated people can be when it comes to your body and your baby. This can cause tension within families if firm boundaries aren’t applied.
Words like “real” and “natural” surrounding birth can be a negative influence on expecting people. It is key to understand that all birth is inherently both real, and natural, and that your choices during labor are personal. You CAN mix natural methods and traditional medical recommendations. Knowledge is power in the delivery room, knowing your options and their corresponding pros and cons can save stress in the delivery room. People are more emotionally attached to their own births than they realize. If a friend or family member had a “perfect birth” they may want to share with you how they achieved this. Listen with discernment, and remember that you are on your own childbirth journey. You know yourself better than anyone else (again…even YOUR mother!) Everyone will have an opinion about YOUR birth, and these opinions are often reflective of age, gender, or even cultural differences.
It is impossible to have everyone on the same page in our world’s rapidly evolving medical and social climate. This is why our mothers, aunts, grandparents, and other trusted confidants may give us contradictory advice. It can be emotionally difficult to choose against the influence of family. You may be very close to your mother and typically trust her to help you make good decisions. You may feel strongly called to home birth, and, perhaps, she had a friend who experienced a traumatic home birth in 1971. Her experience and perspective with one home birth could easily overshadow any of your reasoning in her eyes. We see the world through our individual experiences, which can sway our beliefs immensely.
This is where your doula comes in! Doulas provide advocacy and support through information, never personal perspective. Today there are many great options for a hybrid birth experience. Hiring a doula is a great way to learn about and discuss these choices with an unbiased support person. Your doula can help you reach deep inside of yourself and deconstruct any internalized falsities about child birth you may have. You may opt for a hospital birth if you have a higher risk pregnancy, but choose to only use intervention if absolutely medically necessary. You may opt for a c section, and yes, you can still benefit from doula support! Some doulas today offer virtual support at a lower cost if your birthing location does not allow doulas in the operating room. Your doula will be flexible and support the choices that you and your family decide on.