Can we please stop using the term “natural birth,” and while we’re at it can we get rid of the “birth plan” too?
Honestly, I’m not even sure what a natural birth is, and if there is such a thing as a “natural birth,” then what is an un-natural birth? I’ll tell you what an un-natural birth is…
A unicorn is an un-natural birth. Unless you birthed a unicorn, you had a natural birth. Side note: If you did give birth to a unicorn please contact me, because my four-year-old daughter would love to have a playdate with your new bundle of joy. Ok, back to what’s natural and unnatural.
I know what people mean when they say they had a “natural birth”. It means that their baby was born with little to no medical intervention. This can mean everything from having a home birth to delivering in a hospital without the assistance of pain medications. There are a multitude of reasons why a mother would want to deliver her baby this way, all of which are incredibly valid. I’m not writing this to debate if delivery a baby without medical intervention is a good thing or a bad thing. In fact, I have no opinion on the matter. I’m writing this to shine a light on the damage that can be done to a mother’s mental heath when we use terms like, “natural birth” and “birth plan.”
As a volunteer with PEP, a non-profit based in Santa Barbara, CA that helps families from pregnancy to 1 year, I have heard literally hundreds of birth stories. The mothers who cry the most when sharing their experience, who are most at risk for mental health issues, are the ones who had very specific, very high expectations for how they wanted their birth to go. I hear them talk about what they imagined childbirth would be like and when things didn’t go the way they planned they are devastated. It breaks my heart when I hear them say they didn’t get to experience a “real birth.” It infuriates me that something that was so completely out of their control could make them feel like less of a mother.
These women are at greater risk for postpartum depression, anxiety, and PTSD and its’ effects can last months and even years.
I’m writing this as a plea to childbirth educators, OBGYN’s, labor and delivery nurses, postpartum nurses, lactation consultants, doulas, and midwives… Please stop using the term, “natural birth” and “birth plan”. Inform women that though success rates are very high, there is a very real possibility that she will have to let go of all her plans and expectations so that her baby can come into this world safely and that she can live to hear her first cry.
For the mothers who were able to deliver their baby without medical intervention please stop using the term, “natural birth.” I know what you mean, and I know you don’t intend to hurt people when you say it, but those words can hurt. Be proud that your body was able to deliver your baby in the way that you wanted, but also be sensitive to the fact that not every mother was able to have the experience they wanted.
For the mothers who needed/and or wanted the help of medical interventions please know that you are allowed to mourn the loss of the experience you so desperately wanted. It is ok to be sad or disappointed even if you have a happy healthy baby in your arms. Trauma has nothing to do with what actually happened and it has everything to do with perception. If you perceived your birth as traumatic, then it was traumatic. Ther are resources out there that can help you.
For mothers to be, please know that you can plan and expect all you want and I hope and pray that everything will go exactly the way you imagined it to be, but if it doesn’t it will be ok. You will be ok.
I’d like to offer up some serious and some not-so-serious alternatives to the term “natural birth.”
1. Vaginal Birth
2. Home Birth
3. Water Birth
4. Medically Unassisted Birth
and my personal favorite…
5. Non-Unicorn Birth
Lastly, if you are struggling to find your way as a mom and you don’t feel quite right. Or if you are unsure if what you’re experiencing is more that just the Baby Blues check out this self-assessment. If you are answering yes to more than a few of these questions. Tell someone! If you are local to Santa Barbara call PEP’s warmline or if you are not local call the warmline at PSI.
Monday Musings is a weekly(ish) post where I turn off all distractions, set my timer for 60 minutes and write. It’s a little peek inside my crazy brain. I hope you’ve enjoyed your stay. If this post speaks to you and makes you feel less alone share it!