I came across a blog post the other day on a site called “The Truth About Traumatic Birth.” This particular post, which I thought was very well-written, talked about the damaging effects that certain “birth quotes” have on women recovering from traumatic births. The quote in question was this:
“We have a secret in our culture, and it’s not that birth is painful. It’s that women are strong.” (Laura Stavoe Harm)
The criticism of this quote was that women who have had traumatic births are going to feel undermined and defeated by it. A woman who has had a difficult birth will read the quote and think she either missed what the “secret” was, or that she is for some reason, not strong.
Hmmm. Well, as usual, I have something to say about it.
Let me start by saying that having a birth that is traumatic, or even not what you desired–sucks. That’s all there is to it. What makes a birth “traumatic,” though, really can’t be determined by someone else-anyone else-looking in.
Sure, some are more obvious than others. A mama that has her baby die in birth, or who undergoes an emergency c-section–many would agree and assume that those births are traumatic. But there is so much of a gray area. I’ve seen a woman traumatized by her home birth because it just didn’t meet her expectations. And I’ve seen women with interventive hospital births not be at all affected. We cannot make assumptions about what makes a “good” or “bad” birth for another woman.
So, what gives?
The thing is, I don’t disagree with one word of this article. I have felt “traumatized” by a few of my own births, for many reasons and on several different levels. I have felt trauma around other women’s births that I have witnessed. I know that every emotion surrounding these experiences (both mine and the experiences in the other blog post) are real and heartfelt. And my heart goes out to these women that are still holding onto emotional pain.
But I think we create our own reality.
We can label our own births whatever we want. And that is what they will be. We are the only ones that have our own “truth” about our experience, and it hardly matters what anyone else says. I can understand being offended by that quote, but my reasoning is not the same. I can only see being offended, if, on some level, you think you really are weak or have your own critical feelings about how your birth went, or what you could have done differently. It is simply the reflection, or the mirror, of self-doubt and self-disappointment that quotes like this may bring out in someone.
This pain is real. But a lot of it comes from outside of us-trying to follow someone else’s “truth” or version of how things should have gone. But I believe that the healing is inside of us. We can’t expect the healing, or lack thereof, to come from a quote about birth, of from what anyone else thinks about our experience.
We cannot take one word from anyone else to equal our own truth. Our own truth comes from inside of us, and it is there that we must face whatever it is. Lack of control, disappointment, poor prenatal care–whatever it is that contributed to the birth being the way it was. It hardly matters in the end.
It’s your birth, your experience, and your issues to deal with. It’s your responsibility, and for better or worse, you have to own that. Feeling “blamed” or like a “failure” is a label that you accept for yourself; no one else can truly do that. Why would you waste time allowing a static quote from someone you don’t even know to keep you from facing what you really need to face? Why give that quote-sayer the power to determine or criticize your birth experience? You are the only one who can determine if you were “strong.” What if being “strong” wasn’t how you set out to experience birth? What if you birthed with the intention of being open, or loving or intuitive? Who said we had to be “strong,” and then who said we should be disappointed when we didn’t live up to someone else’s expectations?
When we take beliefs about birth (or anything) that are not our own, we lose the opportunity to hear our own truth. And then we have trouble dealing with the aftermath of what everyone else thinks, and everything becomes personal.
As hard as it is to accept sometimes, there is only one truth. And that is the one inside of each of us, deep, deep down. If we can hear that voice, and not the myriad of others around us, telling us how to birth or live or mother, then we will be that much closer to self-healing. Having a “conscious birth” does not mean we are in charge of the outcome, or that we can control our experience. But it does mean that we do the best we can with what we’ve got, and look for the truth within ourselves, and not outside. It also means we accept the lessons we are taught, and we attempt to learn from them.
I think this is the message we should be empowering women with as they enter motherhood; traumatic birth or not. Instead of spending precious energy feeling hurt by what others think, we should help women see their own power, whatever that is, and that they truly are the only ones who hold the answers for themselves. What is inside, no quote and no person can undermine. The minute we start looking outside ourselves to see what anyone else has to think or say about our experience, we give away our power. And while we may not always be “strong,” we are powerful.