Natural childbirth is a form of play acting

Pheidippides giving word of victory after the Battle of Marathon. Artist: Merson, Luc-Olivier (1846-1920)

Whenever I write about the history of natural childbirth, a cultural construct created by men to control women’s bodies, someone (or several someones) inevitably drop in to comment that natural childbirth is nothing more than childbirth in nature. They probably even believe it.

But the truth is that natural childbirth is a form of play acting. It bears as much relationship to childbirth as Civil War reenactments bear to the actual war. Merely dressing up to superficially resemble the soldiers in a battle does not recapitulate the death, destruction and suffering of the battle let alone the long war.

As with contemporary marathons, a decision has been made to substitute something different for the original while continuing to call it by the same name.

But wait, I hear you say, natural childbirth is much more than dressing up as if you were giving birth in nature. In natural childbirth, you are actually giving birth. True, so Civil War enactments aren’t quite the correct analogy. It seems to me that natural childbirth bears as much relationship to childbirth in nature as a contemporary marathon bears to the original Greek marathon.

Contemporary marathons reference the original run to Marathon that took place in Greece.

In 490 B.C., the Athenian army defeated the invading Persian army in a battle in the plain of Marathon, located roughly 26 miles north of Athens. According to legend, the Athenians then ordered the messenger Pheidippides to run ahead to Athens and announce the victory to the city.

Pheidippides raced back to the city in intense late summer heat. Upon reaching the Athenian agora, he exclaimed “Nike!” (“Victory!”) or “Rejoice! We Conquer” and then collapsed dead from exhaustion.

Contemporary marathoners copy the original in that they do run 26.2 miles just as Pheidippides ran from Marathon to Athens. But in all other respects, they are strikingly different. How? Let me count the ways.

1. The original marathon was not a competition, it was a military order. Pheidippides was a soldier; he had no choice in the matter. He didn’t decide to run to Athens in order to self-actualize.

2. He didn’t run on smooth roads; he ran on unprepared ground.

3. He probably didn’t wear shoes. His feet were undoubtedly torn apart by the run.

4. The route wasn’t laid out; he had to find it.

5. There were no refreshment stations along the way.

6. There was no medical tent filled with doctors, nurses, IVs and other medical equipment.

7. He dropped dead at the end.

These changes are deliberate in order to make marathons easier and safer than the original. It’s not that Pheidippides’  run from Marathon to Athens couldn’t be copied; it could be. It’s that a decision has been made to substitute something different for the original while continuing to call it by the same name. The only thing the two have in common is that they both involve running the same distance.

Contemporary natural childbirth resembles childbirth in nature as much as contemporary marathons represent the original. The only thing natural childbirth has in common with childbirth in nature is that they both involve women giving birth. The similarity ends there. How are they different? Let me count the ways.

1. Contemporary natural childbirth is at its heart a choice to forgo medical and comfort interventions that are available. You have to have easy access to these interventions in order to give meaning to refusing them. In contrast childbirth in nature does not allow for any choice at all.

2. Natural childbirth includes all sorts of unnatural components. There’s nothing natural about giving birth on a bed or in a plastic kiddie pool, in a home or hospital complete with heating and air conditioning.

3. Natural childbirth requires “educating yourself” by taking classes and reading books, websites and Facebook pages, none of which exist in nature.

4. Natural childbirth almost always involves a support person.

5. Contemporary natural childbirth always involves easy access to medical intervention. It’s always possible for a woman to call an end to her natural birth and ask for an epidural. That changes the dynamic dramatically from knowing that there is no alternative to enduring from beginning to end.

6. Although death of the mother is routine in childbirth in nature; it is neither expected or countenanced in natural childbirth.

So natural childbirth bears only the slightest resemblance to childbirth in nature. Just as in contemporary marathons, everything is made easier and safer and it is entirely a matter of choice, not necessity.

But marathons are closer to the original marathon for the simple reason that running 26.2 miles is still an achievement; very few people can do it no matter how hard they train for it. In contrast, natural childbirth is not an achievement since any woman can do it and most women who have ever existed have already done it. The value attributed to giving birth without pain medication is entirely culturally constructed and has nothing to do with reality.

Natural childbirth is a form of play acting in which adults pretend to themselves and each other that they are recapitulating childbirth in nature. It’s like imagining that dressing up as a soldier at the Battle of Antietam makes you a Civil War hero; it’s nothing more than make believe.

  • Roadstergal

    “something that is weirdly over valued and undervalued all at the same time” – I think you nailed it…!

  • KeeperOfTheBooks

    Heh. Same thing here, down to the brand. Diaper folding is when I catch up on whatever show I’m watching at the moment.

  • Lifetime Original Movie

    Are you also a shill for Big Pharma? Because I sure am! (kidding)

  • Caylynn Donne

    Thank you. Glad to hear you have your miracle son. I’m 45, and it’s only now that my gyn (who specializes in endometriosis and minimally-invasive surgeries for any gyn condition) has finally agreed that a hysterectomy is the next step, having tried everything else. While I know there are good reasons for not doing a hysterectomy younger (no guarantee that it will get rid of the endometriosis pain, the need to take replacement hormones until the typical age of menopause, etc.) living in daily pain for the past 8 years, while we tried everything else, hasn’t exactly been fun. Thankfully I have a very supportive and understanding husband, and four cats who are our “children” (yes, I know pets aren’t the same as human children, but they mean an awful lot to us).

    • Emilie Bishop

      I hope your surgery goes well and that you’ll be on the road to healing. I’m glad you gave a good doctor too. I hand-picked my surgeon because I knew my regular ob didn’t use the da Vinci robot or specialize in that type of surgery, so I went to the nearest big city and found one who did. After surgery, I found pelvic floor physical therapy with lots of deep tissue abdominal massage helped a lot to keep the scar tissue from taking over. My 1-year anniversary of the surgery is this week, and my body isn’t where I wish it were, but it’s a lot better than it was before surgery. It was a hard decision, but it was the best one in my situation. (Also, as I type this, my two cats are cuddled on my lap. They were our “babies” for about six years before our son. Love them as hard as you can!)

    • Mel

      Man, that’s quite a line-up of crazies – and Hollywood actresses who couldn’t quite convert from “lightweight rom-com lead” to “mature actress”…

      My dad does a lot of high school theater and occasionally has a student with strong enough talent to potentially earn money professionally. His two cents is to attempt to get a college degree while starting their career if possible. Entertainment is a crowded field and having a back-up career makes a difference.

    • MaineJen

      “Goop summit?” Tell me that is not a real thing.

      • EmbraceYourInnerCrone

        Oh it’s real and apparently a lot of her Hollywood pals have swallowed the holistic bullshit whole: https://www.vanityfair.com/style/2017/11/gwyneth-paltrow-goop-summit-new-york-drew-barrymore-chelsea-handler

        “Paltrow has assembled an intriguing group of celebrities to participate in the day-long event: Drew Barrymore, Chelsea Handler, Meg Ryan, Bryce Dallas Howard, Laura Linney, and more. The focus of the summit, per Goop, will be “illuminating new philosophies, hosting thought-provoking discussions, and showcasing bespoke activations that speak to our emotional and physical health.”

        Oh barf!

        “She will be leading a discussion at the end of the day in which she will, per Goop, “discuss reinventing the female archetype and the evolving interpretation of femininity,” with Barrymore, Handler, Linney, Ryan, Gone Girl author Gillian Flynn, and Teen Vogue editor-in-chief Elaine Welteroth.”

        I’m really disappointed in some of these people, she is pushing people like Kelly Brogan who are actively, horribly wrong about things affecting peoples health:

        http://www.newsweek.com/hiv-doesnt-cause-aids-according-gwyneth-paltrow-goop-doctor-kelly-brogan-735645

        • Zornorph

          Will there be a special on vagina steams?

        • kilda

          ah, the great thinkers of our times.

        • Roadstergal

          I mean… most of those folk are people I’m not really surprised to see have bought into the Goop. :p Wasn’t Barrymore anti-vax already? With the exception of Laura Linney, none of them are even particularly good actors.

          The Teen Vogue editor, though – they’ve been doing some good journalism, so that is some straight-up bullshit.

      • I wish I were being satirical.

  • Lifetime Original Movie

    In my “journey” from NCB cultism to common sense, I’ve realized a core truth. There’s a central reason that the NCB community exists aside from profit that few people want to broach because it’s seems, well, mean. YOU DON’T HAVE TO BE GOOD AT ANYTHING TO BE GOOD AT NCB. You don’t have to be intelligent, you don’t have to be educated, you don’t have to be wealthy. Your house can be disgusting, you can have poor hygiene, you can have a terrible personality. You don’t have to have accomplished anything that requires diligence over time (like, I dunno, a medical degree), you don’t have to earn the right to speak as an expert. You can bypass every one of society’s markers of success so long as you have a body that functions somewhat. I noticed as time went on that I didn’t enjoy the company of my “community”. I realize now that it’s because they had absolutely no interests or aspirations aside from having “good births”, breastfeeding their children until they got their first full time jobs, and doing value signaling “mama” things (think cloth diapering, baby wearing, cosleeping, not vaccinating, amber teething necklace making etc). If there was an inkling of drive, it was expended towards more crunchy mama shit, essential oils sold via MLM, classes that required no expertise to teach, becoming doulas, or, in the case of the most invested, leaving their families for months and years at a time and taking on incredible debt to become CPMs while living at International School of Midwifery. There was nothing else. I was chided for working, I was asked if my relative success and financial security were “really that important”. (Yes, and uh, yes) Told that I could sacrifice things like a second car and good credit and the ability to actually do things with my children in the service of staying home indefinitely to scrutinize my child’s facial expressions for signs of a bowel movement.

    In the NCB community, the smallest, weirdest, things are treated as though they are the result of years of work and struggle. Breasts exposed at a bowling alley? Revolutionary goddess! Breastfeeding a child during an orthodontia appointment? Warrior Mama! Never working or accomplishing anything outside of being a human jungle gym for children? An inspiration! Taken a weekend course (pick doula, lactation guilt person, essential oil MLM sales)? Guru! It’s a fucking barrel of lowered expectations. It’s a system that loves to reward mediocrity.

    Take “baby wearing”. Baby wearing, in my community, requires “classes”. $30-$75 a session “classes”. In these classes, you’ll learn to differentiate between different pieces of fabric (some have rings and straps, BREATHE DEEP), you’ll learn how to hold your baby (not by the head), but mostly, you’ll learn how to buy overpriced bolts of fabric from the people who are teaching you about baby wearing. (In case you’re following along, I’ll give you the entire class here, in one sentence, to “wear your baby”, place your baby into some sort of carrier, and walk away.) Don’t get confused, it’s okay, holding your baby doesn’t come naturally. You’ll need to make sure that the scarf you’re wrapping your child in came from a “certified” baby wearing person who “creates” them in their not so clean kitchen. Otherwise you are derelict. Does your child not like to be bound to your body? Obviously your child was damaged because you failed to cloth diaper them. You’re a failure, you’ll need several private sessions at the low price of $150 an hour. Susan is a convicted felon who uses a rock in lieu of deodorant, but she’s WONDERFUL and she has some great info about vaccines that you should definitely ask her about. She’s had seven children and met Bob Sears once. She’s a guru.

    In all seriousness, I was in the NCB community for six years. I chose homebirth three times. I bought in to everything that I was sold because I believed, having taken complete leave of common sense, that what I was doing was not only safe, but THE SAFEST. I disregarded information that I didn’t like, I endangered myself and my children in a way that’s just horrifying to me now. We are lucky to have survived my hubris. That’s shitty to admit, but it’s the truth. Was I conned? Surely. But I conned myself. It’s EASY to be stupid. It’s EASY to listen to someone who tells you that they have all the answers. It’s EASY to be embraced by a community that has no barrier to entry save a uterus and a working breast. It’s EASY to pretend that science and common sense are out to get you. But what’s easiest is believing that by doing all of these (ultimately meaningless) things, that you are BETTER. Smug is it’s own drug. Fortunately, my family escaped relatively unscathed and have healthy, vaccinated, thriving, children. We were so lucky.

    • aurora

      So well written. Thank you!!

      • Lifetime Original Movie

        Thank you so much!

    • Anna

      This. 10,000%. Sadly I didnt emerge unscathed. Its not much fun admitting that you were just an ignorant cunt basically who felt smug and superior because of her biological functions. Its only been the friendship of other loss Mums and the advocacy of people like Gavin Michaels Mum that have kept me from destroying myself with guilt. May I share this comment? Its too good not to be shared?

      • Lifetime Original Movie

        Of course you can. I’m so sorry for your loss.

    • KeeperOfTheBooks

      I think I may have cracked a rib laughing at the babywearing bit. 😀 Totally worth it. Thank you!

      • Lifetime Original Movie

        Thank you!

        • Petticoat Philosopher

          I had no idea there were classes! Just…wow.

          • Lifetime Original Movie

            It’s really bizarre, there are classes for everything and they are EXPENSIVE. Cloth diapering classes, classes about how to clean cloth diapers, essential oil classes, amber teething necklace classes (you get to MAKE the choking hazard for your baby), herbs classes, stretching classes, hypnobirthing classes, and a myriad of classes that aren’t classes in the sense that you learn anything, rather you are encouraged to buy the services of the person leading the “class”. The babywearing thing was always so weird to me because there are multiple classes, and I always thought, this seems kinda like it should be a pamphlet? Like this is info you could easily find on the packaging for the carrier? But they have beginner, newborn, intermediate and advanced classes, classes for specific carriers and on and on. I have no idea what “advanced” baby wearing is, but I like to imagine it involves fire dancing or acrobatics or something.

          • KeeperOfTheBooks

            The cloth diapering thing…argh!!! I do use cloth diapers, becauses SAHM + cheaper (more spending $$ for me!) + lower environmental impact (in our swamplike environment here, water is cheap and plentiful) + I kinda-sorta enjoy it. My SIL, when she had her first, was considering using them but eventually texted me to say “IT CAN’T POSSIBLY BE THIS COMPLICATED” after reading a few cloth diapering websites.
            If you read those sites, you can’t POSSIBLY wash your kid’s diapers in anything but $5-per-scoop Sooper Speshul Diaper Detergent at the full of the moon with some herbal tinctures added to the rinse cycle, then dry them in some-sun-but-not-all-sun-and-never-mind-that-would-take-five-days-since-we-live-in-the-humid-subtropics. I gave her a summary of a wash method that actually works with, y’know, normal detergent and–gasp!–a clothes dryer in a short text message. Ain’t nobody got time for all that crap, pun intended.
            While I don’t breastfeed, I should add that if it worked for me the way it does for her, I would give it a try: kid eats every few hours for 10-15 minutes, she pumps once or twice a day ditto, and it’s all straightforward and smooth and cheap. Which I’d totally go for, and, frankly, I think ought to be the ideal for most baby-related stuff.

          • Lifetime Original Movie

            I didn’t cloth diaper (to much consternation from my mom friends at the time) because it was so confusing. I’m college educated, I run my own business, I run a household, and I could not, for the life of me, parse cloth diapers. The washing, the sizing, the inserts, the fact that you cannot just buy a set and use them, you need a franken-diaper, the fact that you have to buy the right diapers and covers and snaps and inserts from the right Etsy store, whatever the fuck “stripping” is, I gave up before I even began. In my group, the cost was also insane.

            Breastfeeding with my first was an absolute nightmare, come to find out years later that my horrifying first birth was due to the fact that my idiot midwife had given me cytotec without my consent, I was far more traumatized physically and mentally than I ever would’ve been in any hospital (so much for informed consent and an intervention free birth amirite?) and my body was just like, yeah no. I gave the baby formula and it was legit the best parenting decision I’ve ever made, hands down. I breastfed the other two with little trouble but had formula at the ready because I wasn’t doing that crazy dance again. I only did it because it was easy and cost effective, and continues to be.

            Totally agreed that straightforward, smooth, and cheap are the ideal for everything parenting. The baby doesn’t give a shit so long as he/she lives and is fed and loved. The rest is for you.

          • KeeperOfTheBooks

            Right. I am so freaking tired of people making things harder than they have to be, and glorifying the process over the result. I grew up with that nonsense, and it was as exhausting as it was totally inefficient and ineffective.
            Figure out what balance of straightforward/smooth/cheap works best for you and the kid, and if the kid has a dry butt, a tummy full of appropriate food, a safe place to sleep, and non-crazy parents, you’ve got the bases covered.
            I tried to BF my first (total nightmare), didn’t try with the second (see: first was a nightmare, why would I want to replicate that?), and might try with this one now that I’ve had a chance to talk to non-crazy nursing moms. If I can breastfeed this kid, pump enough so that I can go for a run a few evenings a week/meet a friend for dinner occasionally, and it all goes smoothly, I think I’ll give it a shot. If it turns into anything approaching my experience with the first kid, I’m breaking out the formula I’ll already have stashed just to be on the safe side, thankyouverymuch.
            IBCLCs, lactivists, etc make breastfeeding out to be some sort of nightmarishly hard thing that you have to do anyway. When talking to SIL, a delightfully sane person, and describing the nurse for an hour/pump for 45-60 minutes/wash-rinse-repeat schedule the LCs had me on, her response was “are they insane?! If I pumped for an hour, I couldn’t have put a SHIRT on!” “Wait, you don’t?” “Oh, HELL no. 10-15 tops, 1-2x/day, and he got the occasional bottle of formula, too.” Whoa. Wait. It doesn’t HAVE to be a full-on crazy train? Who’da thought?
            (Cytotec without consent, informed or otherwise?! WT everloving F was that midwife thinking? And please tell me that there was someone you could report her malpracticing self to?! I’m so sorry!)

          • Lifetime Original Movie

            Unfortunately, I didn’t find out about the cytotec until she admitted to using it on me and others to another midwife, who is a close friend of mine, five years after the fact. (Worth noting, my friend has suspended her practice because she now knows that homebirth is incredibly unsafe and that her credential isn’t worth the paper it’s written on, she’s a good person who bought in just like I did) It was a bizarre thing, there were so many things about that birth that never made sense to me, and now they do and I’m horrified. We could’ve died. Unfortunately it’s widespread. Dr Amy, the honest midwife, and the navel gazing midwife are the only places online that have even mentioned it, but it’s literally what they train them to do at ISOM. People don’t think that these midwives are bad people, just misguided, and I’m here to tell you that that is false. Some of them are just idiots who function emotionally, but there’s a large portion who are in this for the money and they simply do not care what they have to do in order to make that birth happen so that they can get paid for it, deadly consequences be damned.

          • KeeperOfTheBooks

            That is absolutely horrifying. I am so sorry.
            I know that locally, some of the CPMs get their meds by driving down to Mexico, buying them there, and then bringing them back here once or twice a year because, of course, they don’t have access to a lot of the “good” stuff legally here. Completely insane. And yes, you’re right: some of them are misguided, others are idiots, and there are plenty who are just plain out to make a fast buck.

          • Roadstergal

            The hypocrisy is breathtaking. “Induction is Evil and Bad if trained OBs do it under controlled conditions, but it’s Nacheral if I drive to another country to illegally buy and administer it.”

            That’s just on top of “Induction is good if it’s castor oil or nipple twiddling, but bad if it’s a specific dosage of something well-characterized and highly purified.”

          • KeeperOfTheBooks

            Oh yes. And induction is bad enough, but these midwives are also telling moms not to worry about postpartum hemorrhage cos “we carry Pitocin, just like at the hospital!”
            Except that one can reasonably expect that a hospital’s Pitocin procedures do not include “purchase from sketchy pharmacy in another country, store in the back of an SUV for the ten hour trip back through 100+ degree outdoor temps, and then store under questionable conditions for months (see SUV, 100+ degree local temps, etc) until it might need to be used in a serious medical emergency by someone who isn’t actually trained in its use.”

          • Empress of the Iguana People

            we’re working on the non-crazy parents 0.o :-p

          • KeeperOfTheBooks

            Also wanted to add: I refused to screw around with fifty-seven varieties of cloth diaper. Got one brand that are all-in-ones–apparently no longer a “cool” brand, and you can imagine how many fucks I do not give about that–used ’em for two, soon to be three kids, no modifications beyond adding an extra layer in there when they started wetting through around 12 monthsish. Again: ain’t nobody got time for that crap.
            Last thing, and then I promise to shut up, and I’m only sharing this because I wish I’d figured it out on the first CD go-round and saved my sanity. If you live in the humid subtropics (I do), line-drying cloth diapers outside just won’t work in under 3-4 days for 10 months of the year. Hang the shells inside your laundry room (your house, unlike outside, shouldn’t have 90% humidity going on), and chuck everything else in the dryer. Boom. Done. No futzing with clothes lines, sun angles, or whatever the Latest Thing (TM) in cloth diapering nuttiness is. That way you can save time for important stuff that you actually enjoy–in my case, MMO gaming. 😀
            (There is also a tiny bit of me that enjoys blowing the occasional mom acquaintance’s mind when it comes out that I have C-sections, I formula feed, and I’m downright rude about organic anything except on grounds of flavor, but I cloth diaper. Apparently this Doesn’t Fit The Profile, and I’m Not Supposed To. But I am. Or something.)

          • Lilly de Lure

            “franken-diaper” – I’m almost afraid to ask but what the heck is that? Maybe it’s my fondness for old horror movies getting the better of me but I’ve now got a horrible image stuck in my head of a huge diaper crawling around the floor under its own steam lugging the crying baby it’s attached to along in its wake whilst the mother maniacly cackles “It’s alive”!

          • StephanieJR

            *drag* *thump* “Waah!” *drag* *thump* “Waah!”

          • Roadstergal

            I’m falling out of my chair over that mental image.

          • Lilly de Lure

            Fire-dancing babywearing, definitely worth a chuckle!

    • kilda

      this comment was one of the funniest things I’ve read in ages. Especially Susan the convicted felon who uses a rock in lieu of deodorant. 😀

      and you’re right, it really is bizarre to invest so much self-esteem into one’s bodily functions. I mean, my hypothalamus does an excellent job of keeping my body temperature right around 98, just like nature intended. So, should I bask in that achievement? And my heart – that thing has been beating over and over for nearly 50 years now without ever taking a single break. I’m so proud.

      If our idea of an achievement is “body successfully does natural bodily functions,” we’re setting the bar pretty damn low.

      • Lifetime Original Movie

        It’s… based on a real person. I’m not even joking.

        I also don’t understand the whole “congrats on your bodily functions” thing. Honestly. And that some are natural, and others aren’t? What does that even mean? If you use a laxative, was that an unnatural bowel movement? Is that not as good as trusting your low colon to shit on it’s own time? One is inherently better? It’s utter madness.

        I think the low bar is of great appeal to the women who are really true believers. Mosts of us understand that in order to be taken seriously, you have to demonstrate some level of competency or expertise, and this is a movement entirely governed by feelings. “I feel”, “I believe”, those statements are taken with equal weight to, “here is a peer reviewed study”. So you trust convicted felon baby wearing guru Sharon over the research that says that baby wearing has no net benefit when it’s not actively dangerous because “you feel” that it’s a better choice.

        I just, I’m so glad I’m out of it.

      • Sarah

        I dunno, I’ve had some shits that I think were pretty impressive.

        • Lifetime Original Movie

          What breathing method did you use? Was there low lighting? Did you have a doula? Did you allow your body to do the pushing? Also, if you don’t share multiple process photos on all social media platforms, it doesn’t count.

          • Sarah

            You mean a poola.

          • Lilly de Lure

            We really need a laughter upvote on this blog sometimes!

    • Petticoat Philosopher

      Oh man, the rage I have inspired when I say that giving birth is not an “accomplishment.” If your body manages to carry a pregnancy to term–not a thing you can take credit for–that baby is coming out some how, whether or not either it or you survives. A profound experience for some, sure. An accomplishment, no.

      • Lifetime Original Movie

        The level of narcissism on display is staggering. The kids are so secondary to the “philosophy” and the “experience” and the “accomplishment”. On Facebook, they celebrate “mamaversaries” and “BIRTHdays” rather than, you know, the child’s birthday, where they relive the birth experience to fawning approval from friends.

        The posts always read like “On this day, I recognized my one true power as Wombyn, and became a mama! (prattle on about surges) I had to dig into my core being to birth (bonus points for mention of pooping yourself, tearing, or the near death of anyone involved) and brought this child earthside! (tell horrifying pain story with maximum graphic detail and then remark that it was the most peaceful experience ever) Welcome Ulysses Hoboken! (or whatever ridiculous name, more bonus points for multi word biblical names and Norse gods, double bonus point if your kid is named after a municipality) Heart emojis (Tag midwife, tag doula)

        • Empress of the Iguana People

          urgh. I’d joke to my mom when she’d call me for my birthday and I’d say happy mother’s day (i’m her first living child), but everybody’d be looking at her weird if she’d made it all about *her*

      • Lilly de Lure

        Yeah – it also S**ts all over women who have fertility issues or have suffered miscarriages – since they have failed at this “accomplishment” so are inherently inferior to women who get/stay pregnant easily. We have several women in my family who tried to start families but for whom it didn’t happen (but for ivf I’d also be in that position – even then I only got pregnant on the last egg of the last round we could get) I know them very well (obviously) and know that as people they beat the hell out of the smug “warrior mamas” who take dumb risks with their kids for natcheral brownie points.

        • Cynthia

          I think my miscarriage experience stopped me from buying into the whole natural thing too much. I couldn’t stand to read sappy stuff about how the wonderful intelligence that allowed my body to know how to gestate a baby would allow it to know how to give birth, because my body had fucked up pregnancy and was clearly a bit stupid.

          After struggling with almost a year of grief and depression fueled in part by guilt and shame, I said screw that, I am putting zero expectations on myself other than hoping the baby and I are okay. My c-section birth was the most awesome moment of joy, and fuck anyone and anything who would rain on my parade or take any of that joy away.

          • Lilly de Lure

            Are we actually the same person? Granted I was struggling with infertility and endometriosis rather than miscarriage (sorry as hell to hear that happened to you) but otherwise you have just described my experience of pregnancy and childbirth to a tee.

            I know exactly what you mean about the “your body knows what to do” thing – throughout my pregnancy I was told that I needed to get to know and trust my body which drove me potty, in my case I did know it very well, which was why I absolutely did NOT trust it (I always said that other women might be lucky enough to have a body that was a symbiotic whole working towards a beautiful goal and yada, yada, yada but mine is more like a loose coalition of mutually warring tribes none of which have anything more than the vaguest of notions of what the hell they are supposed to be doing – basically I inhabit the biological equivalent of the UK Tory party, which is not a great position to be in when a whole new baby is trying to gestate in there).

          • guest

            Thank you for this. After years of struggling with infertility and then a number of late miscarriages, I gave zero cares about my pregnancy and birth experience as long as the baby made into out safely.

            And honestly, I could not be happier with the outcome. Birth experience was 10/10, got to meet my awesome daughter at the end of it, would birth in hospital with cranky interventionist OB again. 😉

      • Roadstergal

        I went to see a friend of mine last night, and we were talking about Life Changes (I am currently contemplating two big ones). I was sighing over the fact that I really want these two things to happen, but I have such a hard time getting them moving. She said she felt just the same way when she was pregnant with her first (OMG, things are going to change, not sure if I’m ready for this, not sure if it’s the right thing), but it was self-limiting because the kid was going to come out eventually!

        She talked a lot about how being a mom changed her life. Nuttin’ about how giving birth did. :p

  • Mel

    I don’t begrudge anyone a straight-forward pain-killer free childbirth – but I don’t have that much patience for hearing how great of an achievement it was.

    For me, giving birth was the least impressive accomplishment of the year that Spawn was born.

    I do have sympathy for people who were expecting NCB to give them a feeling of accomplishment – and instead it was miserable or even just ho-hum.

    • EmbraceYourInnerCrone

      I don’t begrudge anyone a straight-forward pain-killer free root canal or passing of a kidney stone either ….but they better not expect me to emulate them and I am not a “failure” if I don’t.

      So glad for you that Spawn is doing well!

    • Who?

      I clenched everything at ‘pain-killer free root canal’.

      It’s hard to even imagine finding a dentist who would do such a thing: thanks for the nightmare!

    • HailieJade

      I agree. I don’t begrudge them either.. until they start bragging about it! I also have zero sympathy with anyone who willingly chooses to forego pain relief for no reason. To me, it’s no different to bashing yourself repeatedly over the head with a hammer and then expecting people to admire and feel sorry for you. No, you’re not “brave”, you’re an idiot!

      • Merrie

        What’s “for no reason” mean? Do people who have unmedicated births really do it for no reason whatsoever, or is it for a reason that they think is good, even if it’s not one that you’d agree with? I do think it’s worth discussing the pros and cons of different pain relief options, and what various reasons might be to make one decision or another, but at the end of the day it’s going to be up to the individual. If you wouldn’t want someone trashing you for your choice, I don’t think it’s really right to say their choice is for no reason just because you don’t agree with the reason, or to call them an idiot.

        I’ve made the choice to not get pain relief at different times and for different reasons that may or may not have been good ones in hindsight. In my most recent birth, it just plain didn’t seem worth the hassle since I did not expect the birth to last that much longer. Someone else might not see that as a good reason and make a different choice if they were in that scenario. That’s fine if that’s what they want to do but different people make different decisions.

        • HailieJade

          Well I did say I don’t begrudge anyone making that choice, as long as they don’t use it to brag. It doesn’t affect me in any way, so I’m certainly not going to be losing any sleep over it. The reason you gave I wouldn’t consider a stupid reason- you obviously decided that the convenience or lower cost of a drug-free birth outweighed the benefits of pain relief, and that’s fine. I would also have sympathy for someone who gave birth drug-free in the car on the way to the hospital, or is allergic to the anasthesia used, for example, as these are not freely chosen. Who I have zero sympathy for and consider stupid is women who have every opportunity to have an epidural, but still choose to birth drug-free because they want to prove to the world what amazing warrior mamas they are, or because they think it’s a superior form of birth based on nothing but propaganda and junk science (which could be debunked easily by simply listening to an actual doctor instead of their yoga instructor)

          You also say, “is it for a reason that they think is good, even if it’s not one that you’d agree with?” This very same argument could be used for an anti-vaxxer refusing to vaccinate their child. I mean after all, in their mind, the risk of their child dying of measles is outweighed by the entirely non-existent risk of their child living with mild autism. That’s their reason, and they think it’s a good one. I’m still going to think they’re an idiot!

          • Petticoat Philosopher

            It’s not the same thing as anti-vaxx “arguments” because those are based on beliefs that are demonstrably untrue, whereas the decision to forego an epidural isn’t (necessarily). Some women don’t want them because the idea of not being able to feel part of their body freaks them out. That’s not right or wrong, true or untrue, it’s just a subjective feeling about one’s own body. It’s not for someone else to say that the pain of childbirth is worse than the fear of being unable to feel parts of your body because the only person who can make that judgment is the person whose body it is. It’s not going to make much sense to someone who doesn’t have that fear but people’s feelings about their own bodies are really personal and often play into decisions like this. But, of course, people who forego epidurals because they just freak them out or are unappealing for some personal reason are generally not the ones bragging about it.

          • Sarah

            Yes, not having pain relief because you just don’t fancy it is a perfectly valid decision. Maybe the pain of childbirth bothers you less than having to tolerate someone messing with your back during it. It’s completely different to vaccination because whether pain relief during labour will help the woman feel better is subjective.

          • Merrie

            Agree. The idea of someone sticking a needle in my back really does not appeal to me. I’d rather put up with a certain level of pain. With the benefit of hindsight, I now think that I probably should have gone ahead and gotten an epidural with my first, but my second and third births were so quick that it didn’t seem worth it. I have heard of people being induced and requesting the epidural be started at the same time as pitocin or right before. If I do have another (not planning on it) I might go that route, since I for sure don’t want a 2 hour labor and a mad dash to the hospital after scrambling to get a sitter for 3 kids, and judging by my last two births I’d probably be in for that.

          • Merrie

            That is different, though, because if you refuse to get an epidural (as long as you otherwise accept medical intervention in birth if needed), it’s only yourself that you are hurting. I certainly wouldn’t say that anything is okay as long as the person feels they have a reason for it, but that does go for some things.

        • J.B.

          I have reasons – not natcherel ones, but really bad history with anasthesia (I know that the dura matter is different, but still.) Drug free worked out for me largely because I have wide hips and a high pain tolerance. I would trade that in a heartbeat for hips that let me walk without pain!

  • Gene
    • Mel

      Poor woman – that sounds hideous.

    • Ozlsn

      That sounds horrific. I really hope she can get some help.

  • HailieJade

    I enjoyed this. I have always noticed a kind of smug performance surrounding natural birth (and indeed natural mothering in general) The expensive “organic” food in their pantry, the $200 baby sling made in a sweat shop in China, and of course, the 100% natural, organically sourced plastic kiddie pool in which they birth. The complete lack of self-awareness and misplaced pride in their non-achievements makes me want to throw up. I will never give birth, but if I did I would be sure to distance myself as much as possible from the toxicity of the NCB cult!

    • guest

      Conspicuous consumption is definitely a big part of it.

      Most “natural mothering” and “natural childbirth” options are neither truly healthy nor natural, but they are exclusively available to the wealthy and privileged.

      • EmbraceYourInnerCrone

        I especially side-eye the celebrities that have home births and then make a big deal of them in the gossip magazines. Jennifer Connolly comes to mind, Yeah you are 40 years old, you live in an apartment in NYC and you have a home water birth with a midwife. What could possibly go wrong?

        She got lucky but if anything had gone wrong do you know how hard it is to get an ambulance through New York traffic in the middle of the day? Seems like a pretty stupid risk to take with your baby’s life, never mind the added risks of water birth…

      • Lifetime Original Movie

        i think that that’s kind of a misconception, it’s far worse than most people think.

        I have met mothers on Medicaid who home birth (Florida covers it) and they spend just inordinate amounts of money on bullshit. I have met women who live in hovels who have $400 baby slings and $60 amber necklaces. I have met mothers who do not pay their utility bills with any degree of regularity who have spent thousands on essential oils and chiropractic care and craniosacral release (aka, a scalp massage). I know this because they’ll bemoan their finances and brag about how they’ve prioritized “what really matters”. (To be clear, I’m not bagging on anyone who is on Medicaid, I’m just saying that if you meet our state guidelines, a $400 piece of fabric really should not be in the budget)

        What people who have never done home birth don’t get (and I don’t know if you have, but if you have I’m sure you’ve had the experience) is that everyone in a local NCB community has a symbiotic relationship. The midwife calls for chiropractic care (Webster method, she knows an AMAZING doctor!), she hooks you up with the essential oils person, who recommends the vax free pediatrician at $450 a visit (no insurance), who then sends you to the integrative physician (lolololol) who replaces those vaccines with homeopathic nosodes. That person sends you to the lactation consultant who directs you to buy her literature and equipment. Then your doula (a requirement per your midwife, $500-$1000) recommends a baby wearing class ($50-$100 per class) who directs you to a “certified” baby wrap Etsy store. Everyone is getting a kickback except for you. And all of this is leaving aside the regular stuff you’d buy for a baby if you weren’t in this community.

        So these women, who begin as we all do, with the best of intentions, will prostrate themselves to afford things that have absolutely no value because they’re being told that there’s no such thing as “can’t afford”. I have heard midwives say to women, “well, if you don’t have a doula, who knows if you’ll be able to cope, you’ll have to transport”, or, “Webster method could save your baby’s life!” or “If you don’t have that SNS you’ll have to formula feed, which causes brain damage and SIDs.” So it’s very much drilled into you that these things aren’t luxuries, they are literally life and death.

        I wish it was contained to people with more money than sense, but sadly, in my experience at least, it preys on those who hurt the most monetarily.

        • Empress of the Iguana People

          Meanwhile, quilters are lucky to get 400 for a queen size quilt.

          • Lifetime Original Movie

            It’s absolutely insane! For a piece of fabric with some appliques sewn to it!

        • Lilly de Lure

          And I suppose the old “the more you invest in the con the less willing you are to admit that you’ve been had” factor kicks in so they’ll double down and spend more as time goes on rather than look at the state of their finances and pull back. Nasty web to be in.

        • Who?

          There’s a good reason that here in Oz doctors aren’t allowed to own the local pharmacy.

          One of my little rules for life is don’t buy off the person doing the recommending, especially when what they are recommending is their very own brand. Can I say this is more than a little punishing in the cosmetic section of a department store.

          But I do understand the impulse to ‘do the right thing’ and to fit in with what seemingly kind people want for me.

        • Anna

          Bang on again. I know of NCB types that can’t afford to pay the car rego or are behind on rent but they spend $200 a month on supplements for their numerous imagined ailments, $60 a go for chiro adjustments – in a family of 5 thats gonna get real expensive, real quick, $300 a session for a holistic dentist who is sooooo great because he does nothing! Yay! Then you have the ones whose husbands earn really big incomes so they have no concept at all of the sacrifices others make to afford this crap when they suggest a kinesiologist appointment or a $250 homeopathic first aid kit. I’ve seen first hand the angst some Mothers feel that they can’t afford organic everything. It was actually the final straw for me in leaving the groups when a woman who had her Mother move in with her so she can use her for free daycare and not have to get her kids vaxxed berated the other Mothers for “giving in” so they could get affordable daycare. The worst insult you can give an AP natural Mama Bear type is to call her privileged LOL.

  • Caylynn Donne

    As someone who runs marathons for fun (yes, I’m probably slightly insane), I don’t really think of it as an achievement – just about anyone without any health conditions precluding running could run one, if they put in the requried training. If I can run a marathon (albeit slowly), given my knock knees, splayed feet, super-wide but high-arched feet, and permanently compressed L2 vertebra thanks to a compression fracture from falling off a horse while jumping, anyone can run one. Giving birth, on the other hand, is something that I would never be able to do, even though I am a married, heterosexual woman. I can thank extremely severe endometriosis for that. (And yes, I’ve had numerous laparoscopies to treat it, and we are finally moving to hysterectomy in an attempt to control the pain at least, having tried just about every other evidence-based treatment available).

    • KeeperOfTheBooks

      I will say, though, that the putting in of the required training is itself an accomplishment. I can’t imagine that you WANT to go out and run X miles at Y pace every single time that you do, but you get out there and do it anyway, which likely translates to increased self-discipline in other areas.

  • Emilie Bishop

    At first I took slight objection to your line “any woman can do it.” But then I realized that having been infertile and then giving birth myself proves your point more than counters it. Yes, I conceived my son after a miscarriage and years of infertility. I even did it the old-fashioned way–no drugs, no ivf, nothing but myself and my husband. But neither of us see that as an achievement at all. It was a gift. Our son is a gift, the brightest spot in an otherwise demoralizing “journey,” to use yesterday’s euphemism. We did nothing to “earn” him, nor would we have been either better or worse off if we’d adopted him or conceived through fertility treatments, both of which we attempted. Conceiving him, birthing him (vaginal with epidural), breastfeeding for the little while we did–this is just our story of how he came to be. None is an achievement or demerit for me or my husband as parents. Natural parenting folks need to get over themselves.

    • Allie

      I think there’s a distinction to be made, as well, between an achievement in your own personal sphere and an achievement the whole world should be impressed with. Hubs and I struggled with infertility and pregnancy losses, and it was a long, difficult road to get to where we are today – our healthy, IVF girl is about to turn 5. As between ourselves, we do consider her drug-free, vaginal birth and extended BF to be “accomplishments” of a sort, but only in relation to our own personal struggles, hard work, and sacrifices (financial, emotional, and physical). But that’s just between the two of us. I certainly don’t consider these things to be “achievements” in the larger scheme of things, and I recognize that my “accomplishments” were fueled by large doses of pure luck. I am grateful every day.

      • Allie

        I feel compelled to add that the drug-free, vaginal and EBF were not by choice. I would have liked drugs, was seriously praying for a CS after 5 hours of pushing, and would happily have formula-fed if the BF wasn’t working. But that’s just how things went down for us, and in retrospect, we’re proud of each other that we got through all of it. We just don’t expect anyone else to be impressed or even the least bit interested.

      • Empress of the Iguana People

        At the moment, I consider washing dishes an accomplishment, but I know it’s a lame one and thus I only “brag” once in a while to my spouse and a couple friends who’ve been there. Depression sucks. sigh. I’m doing a little better lately, though.

        • I’m glad you’re feeling better. Many years ago, a friend of mine was in a (pretty useless) group therapy session for depression. The therapist was asking people for short-term goals to make and accomplish. One person said, “My goal was to eat a biiiiiiiiig burrito!” (She gestured with her hands to show how big the burrito was.) The therapist asked, “And did you achieve your goal?” “No,” said the participant sadly.

          So, great job washing dishes!

        • Christy

          Yes, depression suuucks! I’m so glad to hear you’re feeling a bit better now.

        • EmbraceYourInnerCrone

          It’s not lame at all!!! Getting out of bed and getting dress can be an accomplishment, getting the dishes or laundry is an accomplishment. I hope you are doing ok. Depression really sucks…

          • kilda

            seconded. When you’re depressed those really are accomplishments, and not at all lame.

        • KeeperOfTheBooks

          ((Internet hugs)), and wishes for healing and chocolate. Depression does, indeed, suck, and when you’re in the midst of it, getting the dishes washed or yourself showered is a damn HUGE accomplishment.

        • Who?

          Be kind to yourself, glad to hear you are doing better.

        • Amazed

          It IS an accomplishment. Brag to us all you want. When I was in the midst of my hormonal disorder, I rarely achieved the accomplishment to walk the 20 meters to the tub station and go to the university. Good news it, when healing comes, you wash the dishes and run to the station without even thinking about it.

        • Sarah

          No it isn’t. It’s an impressive one. Brag away.

  • KeeperOfTheBooks

    Heh. DH is a born long-distance runner–like, has been known to just go out and run a half-marathon with no prior training and still come in in the top 25% of his age group. (Yes, this is obnoxious.) Nonetheless, he draws a firm line at marathons on the basis that “I refuse to participate in an event made famous by the first person to do it dying in the process.”

    • Tigger_the_Wing

      I’m also married to one of those unbelievably lucky people who is naturally fit*, although he has actually run a few marathons. He once – in his forties – found out about a local ten mile race when he was chatting in the pub the night before; he won, beating a couple of local lads in their twenties who had been training for weeks; when they asked him what his training regime was, he said “What training regime?” and thereby no doubt made them feel even worse!

      I told him that was unfair; his entire life is a constant training regime. He is never still for one moment.
      __________________

      *We joke that I’m his Picture of Dorian Gray; he’s still running up and down mountains in his sixties, whereas barely a year goes by for me without a diagnosis of yet another serious health issue; and I’m happy if I can propel my wheelchair from one end of the house to the other by myself.

  • Nice analogy. I like it. The main difference, of course, is that while today’s marathoners do expose themselves to risks of injury and even death, it is only themselves whom they are putting at risk; also, I would say that most people running a marathon have been adequately informed about these risks. In natural childbirth, the possibility of anything less than a magnificent experience culminating in perfect outcomes is actively silenced, and the risks are disproportionately borne (no pun intended) by the party who has NOT consented to any risks.