Maria had a successful VBAC! Awesome! Bekka didn’t. Bekka tried but had an unsuccessful VBAC. Her birth was a failure. Bekka failed.
Although “successful VBAC” or “successful natural birth” or even “71% of women who planned it were successful in having a vaginal breech birth” sounds like positive language, it’s actually fraught with emotionally damaging implications. Even if you were successful in your aims, if you got the birth you wanted, it implies that you could have failed. That some people do fail. That it’s entirely possible that your birth, your giving of life to a child, could be a failure.
This is not good. It’s bad for the winners and the losers–for those who are successful in their aims and those who aren’t. Sometimes women do feel that they failed, and while we would never say that a woman “failed” when she wanted a homebirth, an unmedicated birth or a vbac, we imply it every time we say that someone else was successful. Maybe we wouldn’t feel like failures if we didn’t use that language. Competitive language has no place in birth.
Birth is a mystery, a many-splendored and supernally powerful life event. There is no bigger deal. Like all other big life events, and probably all of life in general, you cannot always control what happens. It’s the big ones we really want to control though.
We like to tell ourselves we can because it’s useful and reassuring to prepare in the face of so much power and mystery. In giving birth we are playing at godhood, and in the face of that terrifying prospect we want to do what we can to keep it from spinning wildly out of control. Often we can, and do. But like all aspects of parenting, too often and too soon we get into it and find out that we are but penguins at a polar bear parade.
I do not mean to imply that preparation, desire, and willingness to work for the birth you want is futile or arrogant. On the contrary, it’s such a big deal that not preparing and developing preferences is relatively foolhardy and ignorant. You must think about and prepare for birth. It will overcome you either way, but the fact is that if you prepare, you are more likely to get what you want in the process.
We respect birth. We revere and celebrate and honor birth, and for many reasons. One is that nobody respects things that they believe they have full control over. Our lack of control is why we plan what we can. But a woman whose birth does not go as she planned is not a failure. The only fails in birth are the doctors, midwives, mothers, partners, doulas, books, blogs and posts that make women feel like failures. I am guilty myself. It’s often not something we realize we’re doing.
A woman who wants a vbac to prove to herself that she is not broken, while admirable, is barking up the wrong tree. She’s not broken. Not now, not then, not ever. No matter what happens at her next birth. Her heart may be broken, but she is not. Help her plan for a vbac, but help her heal her heart as well.
After my second birth, a cesarean, I saw a shirt that read VENI VIDI VBAC. I wanted one really bad. I still want a vbac enough to fight for it. Really fight. But if I end up needing another cesarean, will I think VENI VIDI DEFECI, I came, I saw, I failed? Though it’s not easy, especially in the often hostile obstetric climate, I really don’t want to think about birth in terms of winning or losing.
No one deserves that. Especially not someone who is willing to open up their body, wherever necessary, to bring a baby into the world.
Special thanks to Robyn Morgan for the picture and accompanying hashtags. You’re awesome.