Thursday, November 15, 2007


In the introduction to Ina May's Guide to Childbirth, she writes something that I don't think I'll ever forget:

"So many horror stories circulate about birth- especially in the United States- that it can be difficult for women to believe that labor and birth can be a beneficial experience. If you have been pregnant for a while, it's probable that you've already heard some scary birth stories from friends or relatives. This is especially true if you live in the United States, where telling pregnant women gory stories has been a national pastime for at least a century. Now that birth has become a favorite subject of television dramas and situation comedies, this trend has been even more pronounced. No one has explained the situation more succinctly than Stephen King in his novella "The Breathing Method." Commenting on the fear many women have of birth, his fictional character observes, "Believe me: if you are told that some experience is going to hurt, it will hurt. Most pain is in the mind, and when a woman absorbs the idea that the act of giving birth is excruciatingly painful- when she gets this information from her mother, her sisters, her married friends, and her physician - that woman has been mentally prepared to feel great agony." King, you may not know, is the father of several children born at home."

This struck me so completely when I read through her book for the first time (when I was 2 months pregnant). Now that I've picked it up again at 5 months, it resonates even more. People love to tell you horrible stories about birth, as if scaring the pants off a pregnant woman is fun for those who have never been pregnant. The strangest thing for me, though, is that I spent my younger years very afraid of pregnancy and birth. It was only when I became pregnant that I felt this eerie calm come over me. After reading and doing research, I feel totally at peace and excited about the birth, not afraid at all. (though I'm conscious I sound a little bit like Luke in this scene, I hope I don't run into Yoda any time soon).

The way that Ina May counteracts this culture of horror stories is through telling positive and happy birth stories. Her books are filled with telling after telling of mothers who felt fulfilled and happy throughout and after the birth of a child. It's difficult to change my thinking to believe that labor and birth are not horrible, painful experiences. That perception is so pervasive that even after reading these stories and talking to people who enjoyed the birth of their children (a number of whom delivered at home) it's hard to fully believe that birth will be anything other than excruciating.

It is only when I'm defending our choice to try to give birth without intervention, at home, that I find that I must actually believe in some of the natural childbirth hokey-pokey. I remember my sister telling me after the birth of her son that "you wouldn't expect to be up and walking around after a car wreck, and that's essentially what your body has gone through." Just recently, talking to my brother about birth, he shifted uncomfortably in his seat and said that it sounds "traumatic." My response was that no, it's not a trauma - a woman's body was designed and intended to give birth. It is only bringing birth into hospitals in the last 50 years that has created the illusion that this is "like a car wreck." In the same book mentioned above, Ms. Gaskin states the same sentiment: "Birth is a normal physiological process...It is important to keep in mind that our bodies must work pretty well, or there wouldn't be so many humans on the planet." I, for one, am a believer.

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