Recently, this quote from a Midwifery Today blog post came to my attention: “your birth is the most important event in shaping your life as a mother.” It has generated some pretty heated discussion and negative feelings amongst some writers in the blogosphere. Despite my intense commitment to birthwork, I stumble over the quote a bit as well. I would venture to guess that if phrased in less black-and-white terms, it would not have caused such an angry reaction in some women. Perhaps, “your [child’s] birth is a very important event…” or “…is ONE of the most important events…” would have been better received, while communicating a similar idea. While I understand the sentiment and deeply agree that birth matters, the sweeping assertion of the phrase “the most” doesn’t leave a lot of of room for personal experiences and individual variation!
I have a lot of my own thoughts based on both the original quote/blog post and on the responses from other bloggers.
It is well documented that birth is NOT “just another day in a woman’s life” and that giving birth does have lasting impact on women’s memories and quality of life. Those day-to-day moments with your children that several bloggers mentioned as more appropriate representations of “most important event shaping my life as a mother” are certainly important too and are the makings of a “real life,” but they don’t necessarily stand out in the memory as transformative events. Kind of like your wedding day stands out as very significant—it matters and is important and is not “just another day”—while simultaneously it is clear that the day-to-day life and love with your husband is actually more important than the wedding day. So, while I would agree that “ultimately” speaking, your marriage is definitely more important than your wedding, I would also put forth that you are much more like to remember your wedding specifically and clearly and with specific emotion than you are to remember what you ate for breakfast with your honey-pie last weekend and that is one of the reasons why the wedding matters. Perhaps it is an issue of the mudane vs. the miraculous…
I believe you can hold the two experiences simultaneously—you can enjoy the wedding memory, while cherishing your regular old daily husband AND you can enjoy (or suffer from) the birth memory while also cherishing the daily life with the little ones. One doesn’t have to trump the other or to be “what really matters.” There’s room for lots of mattering in an every day life 🙂
I think another key is that birth is (or can be) a “peak experience” for women (and families). I want all women to have a chance to experience that. I certainly do not want her to feel diminished, unworthy, inferior or lacking if birth is not a peak experience in her life, but I also want all women to certainly be given a reasonable opportunity to let birth unfold in all its power and be treated respectfully and humanely by those around her—regardless of what is going on or the eventual outcome.
I love birth and cherish my memories of my sons’ births and consider them to be some of the most transformative, empowering, and significant single days in my life—peak experiences, powerful memories—and I also feel that birth matters as a distinct (and relatively rare) occurrence in a woman life. I believe birth has inherent value and worth on its own terms. I also believe that your feelings about the birth and the baby can most definitely be separated—you can feel pleased as punch with your delightful, precious baby and also be disappointed (or super thrilled with) your birthing. One does not take from the other—you can hold the reality of both and a breadth of feelings about them. And additionally, it is not wrong to want both things—a “good birth” and a “healthy baby.” The two go hand in hand and are not mutually exclusive concepts at all (see links to previous posts below).
All that said, however, I also do not feel that my children’s births were the most important events shaping my life as a mother. They were important, yes, but I think stating with finality that the event that shapes us is definitely X—or putting a finger on THE most important event is NOT something that can be pinned down by any one person or imposed from someone on the outside of yourself. I think it varies by woman and mother and there is room for many things to be true and valuable and okay. So, perhaps your important life shaper is seeing your children decorate the Christmas tree (though I still submit that “peak experiences” carry more emotional and psychological weight that everyday occurrences). For another mother, it could be the day she gave birth to her child. Those are both okay! One woman’s feelings and reality do not invalidate or dismiss another’s.
For me, the profound shaping event was the experience postpartum with my first baby. I have never had an experience that shaped me and impacted me and SHOOK me more profoundly than adjusting to life with my newborn son. That was my journey. That was my struggle. That was my challenge. That is what dissolved me and burned me into ashes and let me rise again as someone the same but also brand new—a mother. I was not “born” when my son was born, I was forged. Made, in the intense weeks that followed his birth.
If another mother states that her postpartum was full of “babymoon bliss,” do I need to dismiss her as deluded, lying, and or possibly perpetuating a myth? No! I can hold both in my awareness—my postpartum experience was my most significant life challenge. Hers was not. Both truths are FINE! Likewise, if I decide share that my sex life post-kids is better than ever before, is that dismissed as “couldn’t possible be true? MY sex life was ruined by kids!” or that I’m somehow lying or misrepresenting the truth? No, both can be true, because we are all different women with different lives and experiences and “realities.” So, if a woman feels like her birth experiences were the most important events shaping her life as a mother, that is totally okay—and, it can be true, without making a woman with the opposite experience diminished or “less than.” Of course, the logical extension of this train of thought, is whether I (and other birth activists) can hold our birth matters truth alongside the realization or acceptance that for some women birth IS “just one day” or that it is not an important event in their lives?
I also think we can draw on powerful memories for present strength—I remember my “birth warrior” feelings and it helps me with other tasks or with day to day life. I remember the laughing, crying, “my baby, MY BABY!” moments of triumph and bliss and ecstasy immediately postpartum and it buoys me with a fresh charge of love for the little ruffians leaping off the couch in front of me or throwing crackers all over the house.
Since the “birth experience vs. healthy baby” argument is of special interest to me, I’ve addressed it several other times on this blog: