Competitive childbirth - it’s ‘mum-upmanship’
Nicole Kidman has welcomed a new biological daughter via a ‘gestational carrier’, Princess Mary had her twins in a natural, four-hour birth and Miranda Kerr released a statement that she gave birth to her 9 lbs., 12 oz., baby in a long, arduous and difficult labour ‘naturally, without drugs or painkillers!!!’.
As a mum of three who has been through labour twice, I fully appreciate Miranda’s use of three exclamation marks to describe her drug-free birth.
Gosh, I give myself three for enduring it with drugs and scramble to find enough punctuation to describe the caesarean. One way you can’t sit down. The other way you can’t stand up.
There’s no point comparing births, yet many women can’t help themselves. From the moment you see two lines on a stick, you step into a parallel universe inhabited by competitive busy-bodies who think there’s only one way to do things.
Vaginal birth versus caesarean.
Hospital or birthing centre versus homebirth.
Drug-free versus pain-reduced.
And it doesn’t stop there. Surviving Birth Choices 101 is merely a pre-requisite for the bigger maternal battles ahead: Breast versus bottle. Work versus staying home. Private versus public versus home-schooling…
With every baby step that a new mum takes, there’s a fork in the road and a knife at her back. The latter is often wielded by some woman in a parents’ room or playgroup who wouldn’t know you again if she fell over you but knows this much: you’re doing something differently from her.
Get a group of mums discussing childbirth and the playground-ish ‘mum-upmanship’ is palpable:
‘I was in labour for 18 hours!’
‘I was in labour for two days, and had a c-section at the end of it!!’
‘I did it without drugs!!!’
‘I did it without pain!!!!’
‘I did it in half an hour and only just made it to the hospital!!!!!’
‘I didn’t make it to the hospital at all!!!!!!
‘I did it with triplets!!!!!!!’
Apologies for all the exclamation marks.
Some women recognise how fortunate they are when their uncomplicated births go well. Others leap over the unused nitrous-oxide machine like Supermum and tweet about their drug-free deliveries faster than you can yell, ‘Get me the epidural!’
“Look at moi, look at moi! No drugs!”
Is this a cue for the rest of us to throw ourselves on the floor amidst the discarded pethidine syringes and epidural drip stand and proclaim them stronger women? Better mums?
Over-the-top reaction, you think?
I wish it was. A friend with a medical condition could only have caesareans and was crushed by an unthinking: ‘Too posh to push? I was drug-free, you know. I’d suffer any pain for my child…’
Another was snubbed by her pre-natal yoga instructor who – on discovering epidural was involved - quipped, ‘Oh, so were you happy with that medicated birth?’
Then there’s that old chestnut familiar to many a c-section mum: ‘Are you disappointed not to have had a real birth?’
Seven layers of your body are sliced through in a caesarean and you’re expected to breastfeed within hours. How much more real does it get?
Induction and elective caesarean rates are high in Australia, for a mix of medical and ‘social’ reasons. Inducing to fit in with work commitments and holidays (or, dare I say it, scheduling intervention around parental leave schemes) is playing with fire.
Whether I was a victim or a beneficiary of intervention, I’ve been hauled over the coals for both of these birth choices by other women:
‘You know it’s possible to have a breech baby vaginally, don’t you?’
‘Sure, there’s a higher risk of stillbirth, but not all insulin-dependent mums have problems with the placenta. Why be induced? Don’t you want to wait and see?’
Ah, no – I’d rather follow my obstetrician’s advice, thanks. And why am I being called upon to justify my decision to a complete stranger, anyway?
Speaking of justifying decisions, I can only imagine the flack women must get over ‘lotus birth’. The theory is that the baby lets go of the placenta, and its maternal attachment, at its own pace – so the cord isn’t cut until it detaches naturally within about a week of the birth.
Sometimes the placenta is wrapped in a blanket and enveloped with the baby - other times you carry it around in a bowl. In a water birth, you can float it in the bath in an ice-cream container. While the organ is drying out, you dress it in salt and lavender oils (and try to keep it away from the cat, according to Lotus Birth forums). I know a woman who buried hers (placenta, not cat) on her child’s birthday, and opened a bottle of Grange.
A little ‘out there’ as birth choices go? Perhaps. But if you’re not the one doing it, why does it matter?
As for me, the first time I went through a VBAC (vaginal birth after caesarean), I wanted to implode and take the entire hospital with me. The midwives had given me sleeping tablets the night before, so every contraction shattered me from the depths of sleep until I begged for an epidural and proposed to the anaesthetist.
Next time, I prepared with pre-natal hypnosis and acupuncture. When the day came, we listened to the CD of hypnotic relaxation music on continuous loop for the first ten hours of an unrelenting medical induction. It was fantastic pain relief, until the doctor announced that I wasn’t half-way there yet, which is about when I propped myself up on my elbows and started eyeing off the drugs trolley.
Meanwhile, the woman in the next room gave birth in under an hour to her seventh child - breastfeeding her three-year-old between contractions.
I will never be her, and she will never be me. So, how about playing nicely, mums? We all converge on the same finish line – having each run our own race.
Surely what matters most isn’t how our child arrives, or how this compares with the mum-next-door’s experience, but what we do with our baby when it gets here.
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