Some of us have failed at birth even when we ‘succeeded’. Many women who wanted a natural, unmedicated birth (and got it!) feel that they failed to have the experience they wanted.
Women are set up for feelings of failure in their births–especially first births–when they don’t get wide enough exposure to the literature, philosophies, and education available in natural childbirth. Some women who seek unmedicated births find themselves lured into a certain method or way or thinking about how they should handle birth. Then when they finally have their birth, things don’t go the way they did for the women in the videos and stories. Birth doesn’t feel the way it did in those books.
A woman who practices hypnosis faithfully gets into the throes of labor and finds that she just wants to moo like a cow, swear intermittently, and rock back and forth. She thinks: “This is a total failure. I can’t keep it together. This is not the birth I wanted. Why can’t I melt into this bed and see the colored light radiating?”
Another woman who read extensively about the possibility of orgasm and the spiritual transcendence sometimes available at birth gets into it and finds that birth is actually really, really hard for her. And it hurts like hell. This was not in the books. She thinks, “I feel like I’m being beaten up in an alley and no one cares. This is not a special experience. I don’t even care about the baby right now, much less feel a connection to it. What’s wrong with my body? Maybe those fears I wasn’t able to release are causing me to believe I am in pain but I am not. If only I wasn’t so weak-minded.”
Some women even find that they don’t want help. A couple prepares extensively, practicing coping techniques and comfort measures together. They hire a doula. In labor the woman finds touch and even encouraging words very annoying. She just wants to be alone. She thinks, “I’m such a bitch. They’re going to hate me. Why isn’t any of that helping? I like sitting on the toilet, listening to my headphones and staring at my watch. What a waste all that was. I’m so messed up.”
Yet another woman has been surrounding herself with positive energy and stories of the power of her body. In pregnancy she felt strong and capable, sure that since women have been doing this for millennia, her body would surely deliver, without much preparing. She trusts birth. In labor, labor happens. She finds that birth really tests her and thinks, “My body is failing me. I’m not ready for this. I don’t know what to do. What do I do? This is much harder than I envisioned. Maybe something is wrong.”
These thoughts are often emotionally damaging. Thoughts affect her self-image and confidence during labor, recovery, and her transition into motherhood. Since the body is connected to the mind, all the emotional stress creates bodily tension. Tension in the body makes birth harder, longer, and more painful. This in turn serves to reinforce the woman’s negative thinking. She thinks she’s not handling it or something is wrong. Sometimes a woman who feels this way wants to be saved and ends up with interventions she didn’t need or want.
Everyone’s best birth is different. And we all handle it different ways. Some luck out and prepare extensively with a method, philosophy, or mind-set that works quite well for them. Others are either lulled into a false sense of security by the natural birth community or they just don’t realize the great variation in the ways a woman’s body and mind reacts to labor. You kind of have to be prepared for anything, especially your first time around.
I am so happy to be teaching childbirth education and helping women find their own best births. I love Birth Boot Camp because it doesn’t focus on any one usual or appropriate response or method of coping. We try to cover all the varied ways women and their partners work through labor, and prepare them for the many things they could feel and do. Especially if you are having your first baby (or labor), please find a childbirth class that gives you many options.
However you end up working through your labor–by using hypnosis, making art, listening to a doula, crying, swearing, floating, moaning, mooing, chanting, breathing, counting, loving, kissing, orgasming, rocking, swaying, dancing, walking, staring, showering, complaining, roaring, grunting, praying, meditating, or performing complex algebra–it worked. You did it. It matters not how other people birth. You did it.