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Heidi Hart

By day, I'm a domestic violence prosecutor. By night, I read romance to restore my faith in love, relationships, and humanity in general. 

Motherhood is Not a Competition: Why Pressure Moms to Strive for the "Perfect" Natural Childbirth (and make them feel guilty if that isn't in the cards)?

Ina May's Guide to Childbirth - Ina May Gaskin

Now that my youngest (and probably last, alas) son is a year old, I feel like I have enough distance to be able to write this review. My wife and I have two boys: she carried and birthed the oldest; I carried and birthed the youngest. My wife went first for several reasons, not least of which was that I had have a real and irrational fear of childbirth. The hope was that Pelly's birth experience would be smooth, and having observed it, I'd feel better when my turn came around. Knowledge is power, right?


Well, it didn't work out that way. Due to complications, Pelly delivered our older son by emergency c-section four weeks early, without experiencing a single contraction. When my turn came around, I still felt woefully unprepared and not a little bit terrified of childbirth. We took the classes, I talked to other moms, I read everything I could get my hands on (including this book), I read a billion birth stories on birthwithoutfear, but in this case, Knowledge was NOT Power. So much of what I read just made me more scared (even though I tried to avoid the triggering stuff, the loss stories, the bad outcomes).


Eventually, my wife and my doctor staged an intervention. They told me to throw out my birth plan and put away the books and websites and just let it go. "You want a birth plan? Here's the birth plan: We go to the hospital, and we come out with a healthy baby, and two healthy moms. That's the goal. That's all that matters."


But that's crazy! It's too simple! My brain doesn't work that way! What about all the what-ifs and contingencies? I'm a girl who likes to be prepared for any eventuality.


"You can't," my doctor said bluntly. "You can be prepared, but you can't be in charge."


Long story short (seriously, I just wrote my whole birth saga in 10 long paragraphs and deleted them because this is a BOOK REVIEW), my birth did not go according to plan either. I was put on bed rest at 33 weeks and then delivered by emergency caesarian at 38 weeks. It was not what I wanted. I felt like my body had betrayed me by failing at this most basic task of womanhood, which my female relatives have done countless times without issue. Maybe I was too old. Maybe I'm just a wimp when it comes to pain. Maybe I should have resisted medical interventions for longer. Maybe I should've hired a doula.


But when I tried to tell my wife all this, she shook her head. "You followed the birth plan. Healthy baby; two healthy mamas. You're a rock star."


It took me a long time to come around to my wife's way of thinking, and to be honest, I have moments when I'm not totally there yet. Here's the thing (and I'm finally getting to the book review part of this review, I promise): Motherhood has become a competitive sport in our culture. We are under enormous pressure to be the Right kind of parents, get our kids into the Right schools and the Right activities, use the Right methods of feeding, weaning, sleep training, discipline, et cetera. The media and social pressure often make it seem like the fate of the world (or at least the future well-being and societal value of our kids) rests on basic parenting decisions like whether or not to use cloth diapers or BPA-free sippy cups. And this insane social pressure on moms begins even before kids are born, in the Natural Childbirth movement that this book represents.


Let me be clear. I have nothing against natural childbirth. If it had worked for me, it would have been ideal. I think this book really does aim to give women information and strategies for a positive natural childbirth experience, and it is an unintended consequence (perhaps not even stemming from the book itself, but from other media sources and the natural childbirth movement at large) that women like me end up feeling like our non-natural birth experiences are tainted or less-than, or that we have failed as women and mothers, because we needed a little extra help. The days and weeks following my son's birth should have been the happiest of my life (well, barring the hormones rocking my boat, of course), but instead I had to spend the first year of my baby's life wrestling with guilt and shame and a sense of inadequacy, and that's just stupid.


Healthy Babies, Healthy Mamas. That's the bottom line. As long as readers don't lose sight of that, and start viewing doctors as the enemy and medical intervention as failures, this book contains a lot of useful information.