The Myth of the Perfect Birth

What is “the perfect birth”?  Does it exist?  I’m a birth doula and in the doula-ing (not a real word) community and in Seattle and even amongst friends in other cities, there seems to be a hierarchy of birth stories.  Certain ones are better than others.  In some ways it’s unspoken but we certainly all know what it is.   You know what I’m going to say, right?  The best birth is the all-natural birth.  The birth without any interference.  The birth where you just went with the flow, trusted your body and the birth process, and it was empowering and euphoric and transcendent.  Yes?   Still with me?  And, if, for whatever reason, you did not have the above experience, you feel… what?   Guilty?  The need to explain why you didn’t have that experience?  Weak for getting an epidural?  Like a failure for needing a C-section or unable to have that VBAC?  The need to justify the choices you made?

Chatting with Jason about it, we batted around various reasons for this myth of the perfect birth and we came up with a few feasible ideas;  what might be called the cult of perfection or the cult of purity chief among them.  We discussed our propensity for “pure” things, especially in a climate like Seattle.  Our desire for only organic foods, the money spent on “age-defying” tips and tricks, full-body cleanses floating around pinterest, and so on.  Is that it?  Is that how we got here?  I don’t know.  I’m not really certain why we’ve done this but we have, perhaps unwittingly, created and perpetuated a culture of comparison and judgement surrounding birth.   So in an effort to reframe how we think about birth, here are a few of my thoughts on having babies, in no particular order…

  1. If you have an “all-natural” birth at home that is empowering, euphoric, and transcendent, that is truly incredible and something to be cherished.
  2. If you have a birth with an epidural that is empowering, euphoric, and transcendent, that is also truly incredible and something to be cherished.
  3. If you have a C-section, you absolutely, without a doubt, will be able to bond with and breastfeed your baby.
  4. Even if you have that “all-natural” birth, you might have trouble breastfeeding.
  5. Conversely, if you have a C-section, you might have so much milk that you are able to donate the excess.
  6. If you have a traumatic birth, for whatever reason, whether at home, in the hospital or in a parking garage, I am so very, very sorry.   You will, however, still have the capacity to be an amazing mother.  It’s important to process your experience, seek help or counseling, but you are no less a mother, no less a “rock star” than the woman who powered through with relative ease to the home birth of her dreams.
  7. We need to change the way we speak about labor and delivery.  The “all-natural” movement came about to debunk the over-medicalizing and the fear surrounding birth  and for GOOD reason.  It revolutionized and changed the way our country thinks about birth and I am so grateful.  But somehow, I think we got de-railed and have lost our way.  We’ve made the un-medicated, home birth the only way to have a satisfactory birth experience and that is absolutely untrue.  We refer to the women who labor without any medical interference as “rock stars” or “bad ass.”  But when you talk about getting an epidural or having your membranes ruptured, it’s often met with questions, tight-lipped nodding and the sense of inward, silent judgement.
  8. There are so many women who dearly want to have a baby and cannot.  Let’s keep perspective, shall we?

I’ve mentioned it on my work site but I think it’s worth repeating. Studies have repeatedly shown that the way a woman feels about her birth experience, the way she perceives it in hindsight, has a direct impact on her confidence level as a parent.  And I think parenting is hard enough, without starting out in the red.  So let’s celebrate women giving birth, period.  Let’s rejoice in the fact that we sustained and grew these babies inside of our bodies and have brought them out into the world, one way or another.

Jason and I on the day I gave birth to Gryffin, 2008

Share it!
Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on LinkedInPin on PinterestShare on Reddit