As mother of three, birth photographer and mentor I have seen pretty much all kinds of births – hospital and home births, water births and induced births, natural births and c-sections – and whilst I understand why a natural birth with minimal interventions are viewed by most as the ‘trophy birth’ (I wished it for myself), I do often wonder if the perfect birth might be a myth. Beautiful? Absolutely! Empowering? Definitely! But perfect? Mmmmmm.
I’m sorry if I’m bursting your bubble, but trust me, you might thank me later. Before you burn me at the stake however, let me clarify by saying that whilst I do not believe in promoting a perfect birth (who gets to define what perfect means?), I absolutely believe in the importance of a positive, optimized and compassionate birth experience.
You see, whilst a gift and privilege, becoming a parent in itself is challenging and I see how promoting the idea of a ‘perfect birth’ (however you want to define that) just puts unnecessary stress on already overwhelmed parents and more often than not ends in disappointment. Becoming a parent is more important than how you become one – that is a fact. That being said, this truth is often unfortunately abused by medical experts to coerce women into choices driven by fear and ignoring the importance of the birth journey would be irresponsible in itself. I’ve experienced this first hand when I suffered severe post-natal depression after a traumatic birth experience. Your birth experience may not be perfect, but it matters. Very much so. It may not be as important as becoming a parent, but it is nevertheless important. It feeds into your emotional wellbeing in birth and (as we all know) your physical wellbeing is heavily intertwined with that of your emotional.
The truth is that, contrary to biased information often given to mothers, Mother Nature is, for the most part, on the side of the labouring mother – that is until she is not. And here lies the heart of the problem for me – a mother’s birth experience should not become less important because she ‘deviates’ from what is viewed as ‘perfect’ or ‘normal’. Stigmas, pressure and choice-bashing do little in terms of promoting the importance of the birth experience and the making of empowered choices and instead creates an illusion that leads to disappointment, shamefulness, uncertainty and resentment. Instead of telling mothers what perfection or disappointment in birth looks like society should inform, empower, support and promote birth ownership and the notion of choices with compassion. Because becoming a parent requires courage in different forms and shapes.
I’ve come to know birth as this perfect miracle that happens in an imperfect world with imperfect systems. You can and must put serious thought and planning into your birth experience, but your ultimate goal should be to find and own the beauty of your birth, no matter the small imperfections. To feel proud of yourself for ‘surviving’ another soul splintering off yours, no matter how that happened. Yes natural births are beautiful, but I have experienced and captured beautiful c-sections as well. Like parenthood, the only kind of perfect birth for you must be your own – and for that to be true you need to own your birth, make empowered choices, be respected for those choices and ultimately find the beauty in your unique experience no matter the small imperfections. Finding the beauty does, however, not mean not grieving the disappointments. Disappointments in birth are, like in life, unavoidable and feelings of sadness about this should always be validated. This is where a compassionate birth team should also play a big role in helping a mother come to terms through compassionate de-briefing, counselling and other initiatives. Finding the beauty does however mean not getting lost in disappointment.
I want to end by offering you a compromise – it’s the least I can do after bashing your dreams of a perfect birth *wink*: Instead of aiming for the perfect birth, why not work towards an optimized, empowered, compassionate and positive birth experience ? One that you will love regardless.
I define a positive birth experience as follows:
- One where nature is respected for her power to both heal & hurt in birth and her energy channeled for the greater good in birth by you and your birth team (much like using wind to generate power) – even when it comes to births where interventions are needed
- One where you get to make empowered choices that are respected by your birth team
- One where you are treated with compassion – where you feel heard and loved when you are at your most vulnerable, before during and after birth
- One where you minimise disappointments and are allowed to grieve the ones that do happen without losing the ability to find the beauty amongst the small imperfections
- One where you and your birth team celebrate you becoming a parent through the perfect miracle that is birth
To love something does not always mean that it is perfect. We can often love ‘in spite’ of. So I would like to encourage you today to love your birth, no matter what. To feel like the brave, powerful mama bear that you are and to wear your birth stripes (or scars) with pride!
If you found this helpful, why don’t you help me to empower others by sharing this post? You can also leave a comment below and tell me how you would define ‘a perfect birth’.
PS: As mother of three and birth professional I want to help you work towards a positive, optimised birth for you and your baby. So join me for my free ante-natal video series, At the Heart of Birth by registering at www.aldasmith.com/freecourse.