I was at the doctor's office the other day, making small talk with the receptionist. She smiled at Peregrine, asked me how old he was, and started talking about her little girl. We compared development and talked about crawling and talking and teething. We got on the subject of birth, and started trading stories. She asked me if I'd had an epidural, and I said no.
All of a sudden something changed. Something subtle, but there. A barrier of some sort. We weren't on the same level anymore. She told me she hadn't wanted hers, she had tried to go natural, but the doctors thought it necessary, they had made the decision without her permission. She hadn't wanted it, did I know that?
I don't doubt her story, and I'm really sorry her birth involved her feeling forced into a procedure she hadn't wanted. But this is not the first time this has happened. That sudden break in sameness. The loss of something we shared--until now. I hate it. It's happened with strangers and friends alike. It's like people feel the need to apologize for their hospital births, their epidurals, their c-sections, just because I didn't have these things. Like it somehow makes me tougher, braver, somehow better than them.
It started before Peregrine was born. People would ask me about how I planned to give birth, and when I mentioned with a midwife or unmedicated I felt the same sudden distancing. Or people would shrug, and tell me I was "so brave."
I love natural birth. I love midwifery care. I love that I have those options, and that in the part of the world I live in, they are safe, viable, wonderful options. A lot of things went into my decision to birth with a midwife and not to have an epidural. Toughing out pain was not one of them. (If it had been, I probably would have opted out of the soothing rice pack, the anesthetic while stitching, the ridiculously high doses of ibuprofen to deal with after-pains. Just saying.)
I have a friend whose water broke early, and labor never started. She had to go on pitocin, and needed an epidural to manage the (much more painful) pitocin contractions. She is so brave.
I have a friend whose labor progressed much faster than intended, and her husband delivered the baby in the parking lot of the hospital. She is so brave.
I have a friend who was able to fulfill her dream of having a successful VBAC. She chose an epidural early on, and spent the rest of her peaceful, pain-free labor resting, praying, and talking to her baby, sharing her hopes and dreams for her new daughter's life. She is so brave.
I have a friend who chose not to have a VBAC. She scheduled her second c-section because that was the decision she felt most comfortable with. She is so brave.
I have a friend who had a ridiculously long labor due to her daughter's awkward positioning. Labor was intense and painful, but she made it through, in the end, without drugs and without sleeping for nearly two days. She is so brave.
I have a friend who fought long and hard to labor without drugs. Her labor was difficult, and painful, and lasted more hours than her body could stand. She was eventually transferred to the hospital, and had a c-section at the last minute to save her baby's life. She is so, so very brave.
I have a friend who found out at a prenatal ultrasound that her baby had a serious heart condition. She had a c-section at 34 weeks and her daughter was rushed into the first of many surgeries. She is, perhaps, the bravest of all.
Birth is hard, no matter how you choose to go about it. It is harder if the ways you choose do not work and you are forced to consider other options. I believe absolutely in the power of women's bodies and the beauty of birth. Women have been doing this awesome thing for centuries, millenia. But women have been dying of it too. It takes courage to face, courage to perform. With or without drugs, knives, midwives, doctors.
When I hear the story of a baby's birth, the last thing I am doing is comparing (or even thinking about!) pain tolerance. Everyone's story is different. Everyone makes the choices they make. Just because my choices in that one area happened to be higher on the natural spectrum doesn't make me better. Natural doesn't equal better. Natural is an option. With advantages and disadvantages. Like any other option.
So here's to you, receptionist with the nice smile who let my kid flirt with you and play with your cell phone. Here's to you, birth-er of a beautiful little girl. You know what? You are so brave.