One of my areas of interest within childbirth education is about the importance of birth as an experience. I know this isn’t necessarily a popular approach—more popular is to focus on evidence-based care, because using the dreaded “experience” word implies something too esoteric or “woo-woo,” OR it implies that women value the “experience” over a healthy baby (the very notion of which is so insulting to mothers that I can hardly stand it). However, I tend to think that an overemphasis on evidence-based care simply isn’t enough to explore and describe all that birth means for women. Women deserve even more than evidence-based care! (I actually have an article brewing that addresses this subject.) All too often women’s plans for beautiful births are dismissed with comments such as, “all that really matters is a healthy baby,” or “birth is just one day in a woman’s life.” I believe that wanting a healthy baby is a given and that giving birth is also a transformative rite of passage and life experience that has value in and of itself.
In the textbook Childbirth Education: Practice, Research, & Theory the concept of birth as a peak, or “flow” experience is addressed several times:
The joy and personal growth that can result from successfully meeting challenging experiences has been described as ‘flow experiences’…such experiences are generally better understood in athletics than in childbirth because the public understands athletic events to be character building and an effort or a struggle that requires skill, practice, and concentration and is not without pain. As such, athletic accomplishments are widely recognized for both the product and process…Society focuses the celebration of birth almost totally on the product–the baby–and is rather neutral about the process as long as the mother emerges healthy.
The book also shares the research that when mothers were interviewed postpartum who had had epidurals, their comments following birth focused almost totally on the baby. Women who had relied on relaxation and other non-pharmaceutical coping methods talked about the baby AND about the emotional and psychological benefits of their birth experiences. Women in both groups expressed satisfaction with their birth experiences, but for those in the epidural group “the element of personal accomplishment or mastery was missing in their comments.”
I believe that starting out the parenting adventure with a sense of “personal accomplishment and mastery” is a tremendous gift and I wish all expectant couples had the opportunity to experience birth in this way. In my classes, I strive to emphasize that both process (giving birth) and product (healthy baby, healthy mom) are important, and indeed, are inextricably linked.