The most important thing every women needs to know about the philosophy of natural childbirth is that it romanticizes birth. It romanticizes birth in the same way that countless generations of men have romanticized war. And it does so using similar language and for similar reasons.
General Sherman said, “War is hell.” It’s an accurate description, so it’s surprising that very few people said it before the 19th Century. War is about maiming, gutting, killing other human beings. and potentially being killed oneself. It is horrifying in every possible way, yet that is not how it has traditionally been portrayed. Young men were (and in some places still are) taught that war is about courage and honor, that it is the highest pursuit of “real” men and that success in battle is the ultimate achievement.
For most women, childbirth is hell, replete with agonizing pain, blood and bodily fluids. Traditionally it has been portrayed as excruciating, life threatening and a punishment administered to women by God. But in the mid 20th Century, natural childbirth advocates decided to romanticize it. They romanticize the pain by minimizing it, attaching spiritual significance to it, or by claiming that it is “good” for mothers and babies. They romanticize the dangers by pretending they don’t exist, and they romanticize the death toll by ignoring it altogether. Natural childbirth advocates go so far as to appropriate the classic exhortations of war mongers. Indeed, they refer to women as “birth warriors.”
What’s the worst thing that a man can be in society that values war? A coward. There is nothing worse than refusing to fight, particularly if it is because of the fear of being killed. Cowards are vilified in societies that value prowess in war and brave men receive medals. Natural childbirth advocates have appropriated the same reasoning, even if they express it slightly differently. What’s the worst thing that a pregnant woman can be in a subculture that romanticizes birth? Someone who does not “trust” birth, but “fears” it, i.e. a coward. Natural childbirth advocates teach women that birth is about courage and honor, that it is the highest pursuit of “real” women and that “success” in birth is the ultimate achievement.
The natural childbirth literature is filled with claims about the pernicious nature of fear in childbirth. It is considered the ultimate put down of doctors, who supposedly have created a “culture of fear” around birth. Fearing pain, and abolishing it with pain relief is derided as the province of weak women who are unwilling to fulfill their true function in life. Being alert for complications is asserted to cause complications. Most importantly, just as men who fear war are shamed with the appellation ‘coward,’ women who do not subscribe to the romantic idealization of birth asserted by NCB advocates are also shamed. They are portrayed not merely as cowardly, which is bad enough, but as bad mothers who care more about themselves than the well being of their babies.
Why did generations of men romanticize war? They did so for a very simple reason, to get other men to follow them into battle. Who would want to go to war if they knew what it was really like. Why do natural childbirth advocates romanticize birth? To get other women to validate them by following them and mirroring their choices.
The most important thing that every women needs to know about the philosophy of natural childbirth is that it bears as much relationship to childbirth as army recruiting posters bear to the reality of war. Both are all about hiding the grim and painful reality because very few people would willingly choose either war or natural childbirth if they knew the truth.