Alright, so there are now facebook groups with names like “Fed Up With Natural Childbirth” and the term “sanctimommy” gets thrown around a fair bit. It seems that everywhere I turn, there is a woman who is trying her best, and who loves her children more than anyone else ever could, and yet feels judged and less-than. There are women in online unassisted birth communities feeling like failures who must confess if they decide to hire a midwife or obtain an ultrasound. That is very sad. But from where I’m standing, the natural childbirth movement has absolutely nothing to do with judging other women. Let me say it right now: I love you. I respect you. Whoever you are, you are wise, your needs are important, your choices are valid.
The Internet has exploded into a platform for anyone with something to say. Independent online research is now the norm for anyone with a bit of bandwidth, and we are all now exposed constantly not just to the dominant narratives of the mainstream media, but to the musings and opinions of our peers. No doubt, it can get intense, especially when we find ourselves confronted with opposing views from people we trust, or with the latest study showing that everything we’re doing is EXTREMELY FUCKING WRONG. But I want to let it be known ~ right here/right now ~ that from my perspective, participating in and advocating for a natural, non-intrusive and peaceful approach to pregnancy and childbirth is basically about two things: 1. Scientifically, physically – the dangers posed to mother and baby by interfering in the spontaneous physiological process of birth, and 2. Politically – articulating and fiercely protecting every woman’s right to reside over pregnancy and birth. This means instilling a genuine respect for her choices surrounding where, how and with whom she gives birth.
It’s about women owning our bodies, knowing (and truly, being one with) our babies, being the absolute masters of our pregnancies and birth processes, and bucking the notion of any other so-called expert or professional assuming authourity over any of that. If a woman wants to refer to a doctor or midwife during the course of her pregnancy, or if she feels more comfortable giving birth in their presence, sure – wonderful. As long as she is truly supported and empowered to make informed decisions, as opposed to the current standard of belittlement, lies and weighty ommissions.
The voices you hear, that are calling into question the legitimacy of ultrasounds, induction, episiotomies, most c-sections, administering of labour “enhancers” and pain meds, directed pushing, early cord clamping, separation of mother and baby, rigorous rubbing-poking-prodding-hatting of newborn, circumcision, encouragement of “supplementation” via baby formula… These voices are not judging you. You are fine, you are loved. These voices are critiquing a system that has medicalized, problematized, industrialized and attempted to control not just pregnancy and birth, but the female BODY and MIND, to such a degree that a great many women now spend a significant portion of their lives processing the residual trauma, confusion and guilt resulting from interventions that in retrospect seem completely unnecessary, harmful and ultimately degrading.
These interventions (or—excuse me, assaults) can occur without consent, definitely without true “informed consent”, and often even in spite of the mother’s expressed request to abstain. I say request, because very often in our culture a mother timidly and excitedly following her pre-natal care routine must ask permission or plead her case should she not be in favour. They can include, but are by no means limited to:
- Membrane sweeps (an extremely invasive and painful procedure touted as ‘quick and natural’, whereby the cervix is forcibly stretched – hey, we’re dilating! – and the amniotic sac is ripped from its walls. Can cause bleeding, intense cramping, and premature labour)
- Scheduled induction – conveniently booked “just in case” during your 39 week check-up (now being systematically pushed on many women at the 41 week mark. This is a terrible lie since a) many do not know their true conception date, especially considering the fact that sperm can live inside a woman for up to 5 days, b) different bodies and babies require different periods of gestation to reach “term” c) it is dangerous to the baby and significantly increases mom’s likelihood of ending up in emergency surgery, and d) much of this is being done to women because it is convenient for doctors and it gives the hospitals total control over the baby’s birth – which has now become a medical procedure – and thus, management of liability)
- Planned cesareans (for a variety of reasons, the vast majority of which are scientifically unfounded. There are rare instances when a cesarean section is truly a lifesaving emergency measure. The epidemic of the “unnecessarean” diminishes a woman’s trust in, and I would argue love for, her body and prevents her from knowing its true power to finish what it started when it moves her baby into the world at just the right time, in just the right way. This experience is an integral part of the transition from growing the fetus to mothering the child, enormous for a first-time mom. And for the baby, from life inside the womb to life in the world.)
Even deep in the most primal throes of the childbirth process, most women must dig deep and find the additional strength and focus to argue with the professionals present in order to avoid some level of intervention – and this applies to many homebirth midwives (medwives inextricably linked to the same rigid, paternalistic system of birth management) as well as the more obvious hospital scenario. All of these commonplace interferences in modern day childbirth have short and long term effects which we are only just starting to comprehend, and scientific journals are pointing to the potentially far-reaching negative impacts of ultrasound on the cells of a developing fetus, and of cesarean section on a baby’s intestinal flora (which we now know is hugely important to a strong immune system).
For many, it’s about opting out of a system that has eroded women’s power throughout this process (a time when she is naturally at her peak in terms of intuitiveness and strength) to the degree that it is no longer tolerable to participate. It’s about calling out a systematic degradation of femininity and motherhood, and making an effort to make available important evidence weighing against the contemporary conveyor-belt approach to pregnancy, birth and beyond. It is not about targeting, shaming or judging any woman for her experiences or choices. You are wise, your needs are important, your choices are valid.
I do not actually care what kind of birth you have, whether you elect for a c-section because of personal fears, or you orgasmically eject a baby from your glorious henna’ed yoni in an Appalachian stream with a ceremonial llama in attendance. I don’t really care if you cut your baby’s cord immediately post-birth, or salt it and carry it around in a red hand-stitched velvet sac for four days in the spirit of lotus birth. I don’t care if you and your baby are injected with Rhogam, DTap, Hep B, Vit K, Pitocin, Oxytocin and whatever else is on the menu, or if you never see the inside of a hospital during your entire pregnancy. I don’t care if you have 5 ultrasounds or choose to connect with your baby simply by listening and visualizing. Whether you beg for induction at 40 weeks or remain cool as a cucumber (but secretly want to kill yourself) at 43 weeks+2, and if you give up on breastfeeding on day one or nurse your child through elementary school, these personal choices don’t shape your intelligence, your worth or my opinion of you, because that is what they are –personal choices.
Now… does this mean I withhold all judgment from any and all practices? C’mon, we all know that that would be a big ol’ “HELL NO”. I do judge the pharmaceutical companies who invent solutions to problems that must then be invented afterwards. I do not believe formula to be equivalent to breastmilk, and I judge Nestle and Similac, and the doctors who encourage new mothers to supplement with formula, when they know damn well (or should) that this will completely undermine her breastfeeding efforts and ultimately set her and her babe up for failure. I judge our culture’s appropriation of the female breasts as sex objects for male enjoyment, and the false notion that breastfeeding ‘isn’t for everyone’ (and yes, I do acknowledge and have empathy for the women who are not able to breastfeed. Still, this condition is overrepresented in public discourse when what is actually happening most of the time is a lack of knowledgeable support). I judge our cultural acceptance of routine infant circumcision and firmly believe this is wrong, and a huge transgression on the rights of baby boys who cannot defend themselves, and that we need to unlearn the misunderstandings behind this grotesque practice so that it can be eradicated from our society. I judge a system in which women are led to fear-based, emergency-trained medical professionals for what should literally be the most natural thing in the world, and I judge the system that routinely makes us feel inadequate, unprepared, and in crises when nothing could be farther from the truth.
Still, I don’t judge you, or her. Truth be told, I can’t even find it in my heart to judge the professionals much of the time. We have all been brought up differently. We are all living our truths, and we need to make choices that put us most in alignment with who we aspire to be in our heart of hearts. Mommy wars is a lie, because I actually believe that women mostly love each other, and because having different ideas and experiences doesn’t put us in the trenches.
The Internet has made it possible for us to share information and speak out with abandon. This is a good thing, and feeling challenged is the optimal environment for self-reflection, learning and growth. If something has you feeling really triggered, really defensive, that is a perfect opportunity to examine your values and decide whether you want to hold steadfast to them or let in a new way of thinking. I truly believe that if we are confident in our choices the opinions of others, much less others we don’t know, can’t offend. It’s when we’re not sure that it hurts. So may I suggest we all forget about the so-called mommy wars and begin to take accountability for our feelings? In 2015, I would really like to not see the term “sanctimommy” perpetuated. Let’s banish it, and own our shit. It will make us stronger, I promise.
I’d love to hear what you think. And just for reading to the end, here’s a random picture of me & the kids at Peggy’s Cove. You’ll have to let your imagination fill in the scenery. I don’t have a selfie pole 🙂