The outsize sense of entitlement behind the quest for a “healing” birth

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When my children were small, there was rarely a day that passed without someone whining, ”It’s not fair!”

I would inevitably respond with some variation of, “Who said life was fair?”

Believing you are entitled to a “healing” birth makes as much sense as believing you are entitled to a “healing” diet that will finally make you thin.

Sometimes I would expand on that admonition by explaining that anyone who expected that everything would always be fair was destined to be sorely and repeatedly disappointed. The difference between a happy life and an unhappy life is not whether you experienced unfairness; everyone does. The difference is how you deal with it. You have to learn to accept it and move on. That didn’t mean that you have to be happy about it, just that you can’t let yourself become weighed down by sadness and anger.

That’s how I explained it to children. The adult version is this: you have to be unbelievably entitled to imagine that you are owed fairness.

I am reminded of this whenever I read about a woman’s quest for a “healing” birth, as I did yesterday. Joni Edelman wrote:

His birth was supposed to be peaceful, swimming into the world in our kitchen, surrounded by his family, welcomed with cake and champagne. He was supposed to come out easily and heal me from the trauma of my previous labor and dystocia. His birth was supposed to be a lot of things that it was not.

This birth was supposed to “heal” her from a previous disappointing birth?

Where did she get the idea that she was entitled to the birth of her dreams? Where did she get the idea that if she didn’t get that ideal birth the first time, she is entitled to get it on the next go round? I’d be willing to bet she acquired that outsize sense of entitlement from the natural childbirth industry.

It surely wasn’t from an obstetrician; obstetricians don’t care about how a baby is born just that a healthy baby is born to a healthy mother. I suspect it wasn’t her partner; he was probably thrilled to be a father and considered the method of birth to be irrelevant (to the extent that he considered it at all). I doubt it was her parents or in-laws who were disappointed with her either.

The natural childbirth industry sold her (through their books, websites, childbirth courses, midwives and doulas) a birth that would make her dreams come true and then it didn’t happen. That might have made her question whether giving the industry so much money for promises they couldn’t keep was really worth it.

How convenient (and profitable) for them that they could double down and offer her more books, websites, childbirth courses, midwifery care and doula services to help her “heal” from the disappointment of her first birth, the disappointment that they themselves caused by convincing her that she was entitled to the birth of her dreams.

How convenient for them that at no point are they (or she) forced to re-evaluate validity of the books, websites, childbirth courses, midwifery care and doula services from which they earn their income. They are always correct. She can just try again and this time it will happen!

It’s like the fashion industry. The same people who spend millions marketing the idea that thin women are better, make millions more by marketing the products that will supposedly make you thin. And if a woman’s self-image and self-confidence are undermined because she failed to achieve the ideal weight, it’s her fault for failing, not their fault for creating an unrealistic sense of entitlement.

The idea that a woman is entitled to a “healing” birth makes as much sense as the idea that she is entitled to a “healing” diet that will finally make her thin. Not everyone can be thin and imagining that you are entitled to be thin will just make you miserable. Not everyone can have the birth that midwives, doulas and childbirth educators promise; imagining that you are entitled to such a birth will just make you miserable.

Life isn’t fair. Those who are mature enough to accept that reality deal with their disappointment and move on. Those who aren’t have another baby hoping they will finally get their “healing” birth.

  • Thomas Shelton
  • Mel

    Like some other NICU moms, I have a lot of positive and negative emotions surrounding the birth of my son. He’s freaking amazing while having managed to terrify me at level I couldn’t fully comprehend before I met him. He’s been more work than all of my previous careers combined but watching him master some skill that has been a slow slog is rewarding in a new way for me, too.

    Here’s the thing, though. Having a perfectly healthy term baby wouldn’t magically undo the mess of sadness, anxiety, heartache and anger I picked up along with a snippet of a Spawn. The only way out of these feelings is through them and I’m grumping, grumbling and dragging myself through it with the help of a therapist.

    My therapist is an adult woman who has studied for many years in the field of counseling. We work together well and she’s got lots of tricks up her sleeve to help me get in contact with the emotions I didn’t have time to unpack while trying to keep my baby alive and my sanity intact.

    Expecting a newborn to take on the work of an adult therapist is blatantly unfair – but especially unfair to the newborn. A kidlet who cannot move independently, is non-verbal, can only see 24 inches or so, and doesn’t understand object permanence shouldn’t be given the task of healing the emotional wounds of their parents.

    • It’s a guaranteed recipe for parentification is what this is. Either the kid is “my healing baby” who they rely on for their emotional needs, or the kid “owes” them emotional support for failing to provide the healing birth. The child is EFFED either way.

  • EllenL

    The natural birth industry has sold women a set of unrealistic expectations about birth. This wasn’t the case even a generation ago. The idea that you can conjure up the exact birth you want is a new one. And it’s ridiculous.

    It occurs to me that a woman who has had one difficult pregnancy and/or delivery is at increased risk for having another. I wonder how many times some women have to be hit over the head with reality before they get this.

    • Ozlsn

      Yes, totally in agreement. I find it so hard to understand why a first birth where scary and traumatic things like PPH or seizures happened seems to cause some women to go “but that was because I was in a hospital! If I go outside the hospital system it won’t happen again!” It’s the weirdest form of magical thinking. For me scary and traumatic things made me much more likely to go back to hospital, just to increase my and the baby’s odds of survival.

  • fiftyfifty1

    “Not everyone can be thin…”
    Actually everyone can be thin. In famine situations it is guaranteed. Some live to tell, some don’t.
    Likewise, everyone can have an all-natural labor. Such a labor was guaranteed throughout most of human history, and is still guaranteed in a few places on earth. Some live to tell, some don’t.

    • Who?

      This.

      It’s a variation on ‘be careful what you wish for’.

  • Daleth

    To me the biggest problem with the “healing birth” types is that they’re expecting a baby to solve their emotional problems. It’s not the baby’s job to do that. If you need emotional healing, go see a therapist or shaman or whatever floats your boat–and do so BEFORE birth so that you can really be “there” for your baby emotionally after they’re born.

    • Zen

      Agreed. A mother feeling that she’s owed a “healing birth” by her baby is simply the epitome of selfishness.

  • Cartman36

    Semi OT but you know what bothers me. These crunchy women, the ones who want a “healing” homebirth (i.e. Giving birth in a kiddie pool in their living room) and encapsulate their placenta, and use their iPhones to join crunchy mama facebooks that share anti-vax nonesence I mean “research”, are the same ones that would smugly lecture another Mom about how breastfeeding is the “biological norm”. I think of all the foolish things I have heard about since finding Dr. Amy the most foolish of all is the women who have the balls to say “breastfeeding is the biological norm” as if that matters at all. Human beings have spent the last 10,000 years using our incredible brains to make life better than the “biological norm” and the “biological norm” was scary, cold, and deadly. perhaps next time the woman from the original article could find a cave to give birth in. That would be more “natural” than what she is doing.

    • Zornorph

      Oh, let’s get back to the cave
      No-one ever told us we had time to waste
      Oh, let’s get back to the cave for a little while
      Ah, yeah, for a little while

    • The Bofa on the Sofa

      I like to post, “Get off my lawn” on SnapChat.

    • no longer drinking the koolaid

      There is also the new revelation from the CDC that the Russians have been spreading the anti-vax propaganda.