Letting Go of the ‘Perfect’ Birth
I’ve listened to a lot of women tell their birth stories over the years. Some are joyful, some are tragic, some are traumatic, all are dramatic and moving. Every woman has her own perspective on what happened to her. I love hearing birth stories.
I do NOT love hearing a woman blame herself for her birth or describing her birth as a “failure”.
Newsflash: Birth is not a pass/fail proposition. There is no guarantee that if you do this list of things, you will get the birth outcome of your dreams. The outcome of the birth is out of your hands so you can’t possibly “succeed” or “fail” at it. Birth is a gamble. It’s risky. Moms may look at the different methods and settings and providers and philosophies and choose which set of risks she wants to play. She may even be able to stack the deck in her favor, but she still has to play whatever hand she’s dealt when the labor starts.
Add to that: there is no perfect birth. The birth I would deem ‘perfect’ would not necessarily thrill the woman next to me. Birth has a wide spectrum of possibility. One woman’s ideal is an unattended homebirth. Another woman’s ideal would be a scheduled cesarean with all the logistics planned out in advance. Both are aghast at the other’s opinion. This is a bit like weddings. Some want a giant extravaganza event, and some want an intimate elopement in the mountains. Why the huge difference? Because they are different women with different stories and values and concerns.
And, much like weddings, it is likely that something will not go as planned during the course of a birth. Regardless of the ideal the woman is striving for or the particular outcome of the birth, how she is treated at these times becomes, I believe, the seeds of the failure/success complex. A woman who feels like she is being treated honestly and that her choices are being respected is much more likely to come out the other side calling her birth a “success” whether it ended in a vaginal birth or a cesarean. A woman who feels blindsided, manipulated, and her wishes ignored will more likely call her birth traumatic or a “failure”.
So much about the actual birth is out of your hands. You can’t control when the labor starts or how much traffic is on the road at the crucial moment. You can’t control whether your water breaks before contractions begin or not. You don’t get to decide in advance whether it’s an easy five hour labor or a grueling 45 hour marathon. What you can control is how you prepare your body, how you educate yourself, and who you hire to assist you. You can only do what you can do. Educate yourself, treat your body right with good food and exercise, make the best decisions you can with the knowledge you have at the time. Give your best birth your best shot and don’t have regrets about the stuff that’s out of your hands.
It may be dubious comfort now, but trust me that every birth is a growing experience for the mom. Even moms who have several births under their belts learn something new from a new arrival. We learn about ourselves, about our partner, about power and vulnerability, about safety and sacrifice. So try not to get hung up on a having a ‘perfect’ birth or the ‘right’ birth. Birth is not right or wrong, pass or fail. Birth is a process, an experience. And that’s more than enough.