Since I’m pregnant and on baby forums a lot, I hear a lot of stuff along the lines of this article. That birth can be a natural, empowered process. That there is too much fear out there. That there is too much medicalisation of what is essentially a “natural” process.

Coming from India where birth is actually as ‘natural’ as it gets for most women, I have a less rosy view. The majority of women in India have no choice but to go natural and give birth in a non-medical set-up. The result is our appalling infant and maternal mortality rate.

I know I’m courting controversy here. I just wish the propounders of this natural philosophy would qualify what they mean by ‘natural’ and how ‘natural’ they are recommending. There is an assumption that they are only speaking to people in the developed world where natural would be assisted in your own home in hopefully sterile conditions with midwife and hopefully attendant medical equipment standing by and the option of calling an ambulance if anything goes wrong. Wish they would say so.

For every bit of research that comes up about current medical practice is not ideal, I wish they would have an explanation from those in favour of that practice on why they are continuing with it. Instead, all we hear are polarized views. For example, someone recently posted research on why doctors should wait before cutting the chord. What I’d like is for this very useful piece of information to be weighed up against research which tells us the benefits of not waiting to cut the chord. And then let us decide.

Similarly, there’s research on how inducing labour by drugs generally leads to use of more drugs (epidurals) and sometimes c-sections. But the articles I read concerning this research don’t square off against other research which justifies the current practice of inducing if contractions aren’t regular 12 hours after water has broken to prevent infection.

At the time of labour, one must be able to trust one’s doctor – who one assumes has read both sets of research – to make the right decision. That is what the doctor is for. That is why the doctor comes in to take a decision if there are deviations from the standard delivery. Yes, we need to empower ourselves with information and ask questions. And the doctors should answer them, which doesn’t happen enough. But sometimes there is no black and white answer and someone has to take a call. If you want it to be you to take a call going against the doctor’s advice, then do you waive the right to blame the doctor if something goes wrong?

I also have a problem with this nothing-to-fear and empowerment rhetoric. I’m pretty sure it’s impossible to have a pain-free labour. One may be able to control this pain through breathing, meditation or medication. Regardless, there will be pain. To fear pain is a human instinct. Isn’t that the most ‘natural’ reaction? Why fight it? Why this fear of fear?I’d rather acknowledge that I’m afraid than pretend I’m not. To fear something doesn’t necessarily mean we don’t face it. “Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the judgment that something else is more important than fear.” Why not teach women to be courageous instead of telling them not to be afraid?

I hear so much about how images in the media make women afraid of labour. Actually, I feel the images in the media provide a very hunky-dory view of what labour is. It is far more gruesome and generally a longer process than the images in the media. I hear very few detailed accounts of labour and that’s why I appreciate when birth stories are shared.

[Read GB’s birth story here, R’s Mom’s here and mine here]

I don’t find these stories to be scaremongering. I found them useful to have a realistic picture of what lies ahead. I was lucky that my sister gave me as honest a description of the process of labour and the kind of pain to expect before I went in. I’m also glad that through my sister I got more than an inkling of how hard the first three months of being a mom are.

Frankly, I’d rather know the worst case scenario and prepare for it mentally. That’s me. There are people for whom putting a positive spin on things works. I’m not one of them. I’d rather call a spade a spade.

I didn’t find labour particularly empowering or beautiful. Of course, for some women it might be. But I don’t see why it should be. All this talk about empowerment sounds like a PR exercise.

For me the aim was and will be to get my baby out into the world safely. This was not one of those ‘the journey is more important than the destination’ trips. I didn’t want to linger to smell the roses or savour the process. It was brutal and if there was an easier way I’d love to take it. People eulogizing about labour sounds to me like women who say their period is a privilege because it allows them to have babies. Right, but if you could have a baby without sitting on a pile of blood and cramping every month wouldn’t you rather? Is there anything empowering about a period?

Yes, it is empowering to know what you can withstand. But I would hope one choose ‘natural’ labour because it is generally the healthy choice for mother and child and not to test the limits of one’s pain tolerance or to be empowered. Having a baby is like running a marathon but it’s not the same.

My problem with all this talk of empowerment and beauty in childbirth is that it will work for only those women who need to talk up an experience, who need to see the positive in it. And for some women, expecting labour to be a rosy experience is going to end in nothing but tears and disappointment and a sense that they weren’t good enough because they didn’t enjoy it. Many of us are okay with it being the pain in the ass and thereabouts that it is, given that we have no choice in the matter, and would rather not call it anything else. This does not in any way prevent us from choosing to go through it or being awestruck by the beauty and miracle that our babies are when they do arrive.

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