I have written before that every woman has the right to define her own experience—a phrase I first remember hearing when used by an ICAN volunteer. I was cleaning out a pile of stuff by my computer this weekend and found I’d marked a related quote in Education and Counseling for Childbirth by Sheila Kitzinger, so it obviously caught my eye before hearing it from ICAN, but hearing it is what fixed it into my own personal philosophy of birthwork. With regard to what good childbirth educators need to know/how they should approach teaching:
…nothing can replace the experience of having joyfully born one’s own babies in full awareness and of having had to face and cope with some of the psychological and social problems which confront most women in childbearing and child rearing. But simply having given birth happily oneself is inadequate as a basis for good teaching. Too often then a woman has a very one-sided picture of labour, and merely superimposes on other women ideals of how labour ought to be.
Labour is a highly personal experience, and every woman has a right to her own experience and to be honest about the emotions she feels. Joy tends to be catching, and when a teacher has enjoyed her own births this is valuable because she infuses her own sense of wonder and keen pleasure into her relations with those she teachers. But she must go on from there, learn how difficult labour can be for some women, and develop an understanding of all the stresses that may be involved.
I’ve noticed that women come into birthwork for a variety of different reasons (okay, that is a very obvious statement!) and two of the big ones seem to be either that she had a wonderful birth herself and wants to “share the light” or, she had a disappointing birth herself and wants to help prevent other women from having the same experience. I came from the first camp—my first birth experience was tremendously empowering and I couldn’t wait to share the joy with others. My second was even more triumphant and powerful and really lit my fire to finish my certification process and to start teaching in earnest. I feel like I have always been compassionate to that fact that not all women DO feel a sense of triumph and joy in birth, even if they do everything “right,” and I read plenty of books and articles on “unexpected outcomes” and about birth trauma. Additionally, as I’ve noted before, I also feel like my birth-miscarriage experience with my third baby more fully opened the complete range of experiences of the childbearing year to me and gave me a deeper sense of compassion and heart for all women.