The other day, on the train on the way home from work, I spotted a link in my Twitter newsfeed for a photo gallery of women’s birthing experiences in countries that would probably be described in that classic Western imperialist terminology as “developing.”
Countries where medical care was, at best, patchy, and where, for a poor, rural woman, they may well be non-existent.
Oh great, I thought. Another uplifting gallery of photos showing the beauty and joy of childbirth, and how even in situations of adversity, women birth their children, without intervention, and pain relief, and all those apparently unnecessary evils foisted upon us by the men in white coats.
The first few pictures were setting the scene, a few rusty beds here, a labouring woman there, a cute newborn there.
And then I chanced upon a photo of a young woman with her newborn lying next to her, swaddled in blankets, and apparently healthy. The woman was, the caption explained, in the process of giving birth to twins. One had already been born, and she was waiting for the other one to come out.
Waiting for the other one to come out.
Now admittedly I have never given birth to twins, so I’m not one hundred per cent sure of the protocol, but I figure that in a modern hospital, they come fairly rapidly one after the other. I don’t imagine that there’s much of this waiting around nowadays. They’d be whipped out with forceps, or a scalpel. And yet here was this woman, apparently calm and serene, waiting for her twin to be born, looking for all the world like it was in no hurry. Is this better, I wondered. Is it better to do things naturally, and just wait for them to come in their own time? That’s what my hypnobirthing books told me, after all. And if so, why was I induced, when I was only expecting one baby, he was only nine days overdue and I only had one teeny weeny pregnancy complication which no one could even be sure definitely posed a risk to the baby? Why, modern medicine why? I did hypnobirthing, I’ll have you know. I knew my body could birth that baby. I told myself that over and over again by listening to a CD of an Australian woman telling me so while the sound of waves lapping on a beach played in the background. And yet here is a woman having twins, au natrel and apparently without incident?
I flipped to the next photo in the gallery, feeling like a hopeless failure that I couldn’t-or wasn’t allowed to-birth my baby naturally.
The next photo popped up, but the scene this time was very different. This photo showed a midwife holding a recently delivered baby-not such a healthy-looking one this time, sadly. The midwife was trying to resuscitate the baby, the caption said. It was the second twin.
Whether or not the baby had indeed been successfully resuscitated was unclear, but the fate of its mother was not. She died shortly afterwards from a post-partum hemorrhage.
I was angry. Angry that this should happen, in 2016, when both mother and babies would almost certainly have survived if they had access to the medical care that I had, but also that there are people who glorify the process of natural birth. Who claim that everyone can birth their baby naturally, in any circumstance. Who make women like me, who take the medical intervention on offer, feel like failures because we cannot do what we are supposedly designed, as women, to do. Who make us second-guess our circumstances. If I had only been younger, if I had had children in my twenties, or teens, as nature intended, instead of waiting until 34. If I had not accepted that induction, if I had not had that epidural. IF, IF, IF.
Well how about let’s get angry about the woman in the picture. IF she had had access to decent medical facilities. IF she had been able to have a C-section. IF she had lived in a country where she wasn’t giving birth to her second and third children (at least) at eighteen after being forcibly married at fourteen. IF she lived somewhere where women’s rights, their rights to decent medical care, their rights to choose who, when and if to marry; to control their own destinies, had been respected.
If your natural birth worked out well for you, then I am happy. If you managed to get through it with no pain relief and it took two hours from start to finish, then I am happy for you, but please know that you are LUCKY. Not all of us are. But I know I was. Lucky that I am not the eighteen year old girl being buried in the final photo of that gallery.
39 Comments Add yours
Lovely post. This is why I always find it so odd when some women tour their births over another. We are SO lucky to be in a country where things like epidurals and ceasareans exist. People spend ages here writing up birth plans and birth wishes, when I would imagine in some countries it’s just a hope that your baby and you will make it through birth.
Thankyou for sharing. You’re doing a great job
Thank you. Yes, it is shocking that there’s so much inequality. My birth plan went out the window as soon as I arrived at the hospital. Partly because I felt a bit silly having a plan about something that I ultimately had no control over, but also because the first thing on it said I didn’t want to be induced-and I was going in for an induction!
This is really interesting. It’s horrifying when you think what people go through, and what happened in the past – so many women died in childbirth. Occasionally I would have a panic about that during pregnancy after reading a historical novel and just thank my lucky stars that I was giving birth in 2015. I had ‘intervention’ (I think that’s what they call it?) by way of forceps but I don’t see it as a negative thing or feel bad about it. It helped me out, I was struggling and who knows how long I would have had to push for if they hadn’t intervened? The bastards wouldn’t let me have pethidine and claimed it was going too quick for an epidural so I was in a lot of pain and ready for it to be over, haha. #bigpinklink
I find it frankly quite bizarre that even in this day and age, when we have wonders such as the internet, and space travel, we still can’t quite work out how to give women adequate pain relief in childbirth. If it’s any consolation, I had pethidine and it was rubbish.
Gosh this is so sad. There is so much pressure on so many parts of birth and parenting. Love your message that we are lucky to have our children at all really #bigpinklink
Thank you! It is devastating.
Ah wow, well said. This is so sad. I do believe that people can give birth naturally BUT not all people and, as you have described, that’s why women die. And that’s why so many women died in this country before we had proper healthcare. Some women need help. Giving birth can be dangerous…the past in this country proves that, any death record of a period in time shows it, and as your post highlights, maternal death rates in some countries right now are not good.
I was lucky too, so lucky because I had and have the luxury of opting for a homebirth, safe in the knowledge that I have two wonderful midwives with me (who believe in natural birth too but are NOT natural birth/homebirth fascists) and a hospital five minutes down the road. After my very positive hospital birth in the end (with all the gear – epidural, squeegee thing – can’t remember its name, embarrassing) I asked my lovely midwife what my fate would have been if I had lived in the medieval times. It’s fair to say she was sensitive & diplomatic but I wasn’t left in much doubt. Luckiest day of my life I’d say.
Thanks for sharing this. Lucy
P.S. (Sorry!) I also just want to clarify that I believe natural means with help or without…I don’t really hold sway by the idea that if you’ve had ‘intervention’ you haven’t birthed naturally. No, someone with medical experience has helped you which is, I would argue, entirely ‘natural’. But I know natural is the term for no meds etc so hence why I’ve used it here. Going now.
Yes, we are definitely all lucky to be living in these times. I just find it so horrific that there are women in 2016 who are still giving birth in conditions akin to medieval times. Thank you for your lovely comment.
Brilliant post and I agree whole-heartedly. Society has a lot to answer for in terms of what it expects of the ‘ideals’ of motherhood and childbirth. There is pressure about absolutely everything. Stories like the girl in that gallery should really put into perpective for us all how futile those ideals and pressures are. Live, love, do your best and be kind – those are pretty much the only expectations we should all have to live by. xx #bigpinklink
Completely agree! Thank yo for commenting. x
Wonderfully said. There’s a lot of pressure to have a “good birth” and a lot of hot-headed opinions about what constitutes such a thing, and I find it baffling. There are many women who do not have options to squabble over, and don’t have the assurance that they or their child will more likely than not be safe and healthy in the process. Really makes you think about the privileges we have and the duty we have to help close this gap for other women.
It certainly does. Thank you for commenting.
Really good point. It’s so easy for ‘natural’ birth and breastfeeding proponents to look at the third world and say, hey, look they do it naturally and without complaint, but it’s like going through the looking glass without the backstory, the death rate, the misery, the poverty and the necessity of having to just let things happen to you rather than having any choice or power – particularly as a woman. By the way, I am interested in your perspective that 34 was a bit over the hill maternity wise – I was 41 when I had EJ and I had a totally uncomplicated pregnancy and a completely natural water-birth (having said that I had every drug under the sun with JJ when I was 38 including an epidural but I think that was just fear of the unknown and being so much less in control of the situation as a first timer). I know my experience may not be the norm but the hospital sonographer told me that it wasn’t uncommon for them to be seeing 49 year old expectant mums these days. I know someone who wanted to have a child and not miss out on that experience but unlike you she waited til she was 42 and then got herself pregnant by a man who she was just casually seeing. I’m not sure if she ever told him about it (this was years ago – a friend of my best friend’s mum). You probably have the moral high ground on that one 😉 Thanks for linking up to #thetruthabout
I’m really glad you told me that you had a lovely natural birth at 41 actually. Going through the process of IVF and sperm donation I felt as though everything I read was telling me to hurry up and get on with it, that I was getting on a bit, etc, and now at 35 and single, I feel as if there’s literally no hope for a second child, so I love hearing about people who had babies later than me as it makes me feel as though maybe I still have a chance to meet someone and have another! 🙂
Totally agree. If you and the baby are okay, then you are truly blessed and we are fantastically privileged to have the NHS.
We are. Let’s hope the NHS is with us for many more years to come.
I was so interested to read this post. I’m 8 months pregnant right now and feeling all of this: I really want a less medicalized birth, and I do want to trust in my body. My last baby and I would have certainly died without a C-section (I had placenta previa so he would’ve been stuck and I would’ve bled to death) but I’m hoping to do things differently this time around. I’d go through the C-section with my last again if I had to, but it was a physical and emotional trauma that I don’t want to repeat if there’s any other way.
I would feel the same if I had another baby. I would definitely still want my birth to be as intervention-free as possible. Part of me still-stupidly-feels disappointed that I didn’t get to experience birth the “natural” way, but I’m probably being irrational there, but you are right, clearly it’s better if you don’t need the intervention.
Yes, I totally agree!! This, like the breast/bottle debate (which isn’t even a debate,) is one of my biggest bugbears! My birth plan was always ‘do what you need to get the baby out safely.’ I was willing to take whatever intervention I needed. And as the sobering images that you saw suggest, before modern medicine, it was hit or miss whether women survived childbirth, so ‘natural’ isn’t the be all and end all. I had friends who really pushed the home, hypno, no pain relief message, and like you, I’m happy if that’s what you choose, and that’s what you get, but I don’t want those messages pushed on me, or to be made to feel guilty for my choices! Someone I know, announced her birth on social media, and all she mentioned was the fact that she’d done it with no pain relief, and that it was all natural and ‘as it should be.’ There was no weight, no gender, nothing to say they were over the moon about the baby. I found it really quite sad that the ‘natural’ part was the only thing they seemed to care about! I say do what you need to do, you wouldn’t ask for an operation with no anaesthetic would you?! Take the interventions if they’re needed, and be grateful they exist!
Thanks for sharing with #bigpinklink!
Completely agree-operation with no anaesthetic is a very good analogy! By all means be pleased if you have managed to have a natural birth, but bragging about it on Facebook is a bit much!
I am not sure that it matters whether we had an epidural or forceps or a C-section or the ventouse, or a bucket load of drugs that made us high as a kite on a windy day. What matters to me is that I had a healthy baby and I am healthy afterwards (bar a bit of scar tissue and haemorrhoids). I am so lucky.
I second that! I now also feel very lucky to have escaped haemorrhoids!
This oneupmanship over birth stories is something I really dislike. We nearly lost my son to a mystery illness in his first 24hrs so I never really felt this need to parade my birth story around. It lost significance. The significance of what happened to this woman in todays modern world however, is not lost. The photo obviously had a massive impact on you and well done for writing about it and highlighting this issue. TY for linking up with #FamilyFun ?
Thank you. Sorry to hear that about your son-it must have been so stressful. They are so tiny and fragile as newborns. It must have been terrifying. Thanks for hosting and commenting.
Awww, how horribly sad. 🙁 That poor mama! What a heart-wrenching reality.
I completely agree with you — it is SO WRONG for people to judge other people’s medical decisions. I’m so sorry if people have made you feel badly about your baby’s birth! Health mama & healthy child = completely successful birth in my book.
You’re an amazing mom!
Thank you. To be honest, the only person who’s judging is me. I think I just had unrealistic expectations, which was good in a way because at least I wasn’t worried beforehand!
So sad that she passed away :o( but you are so right. I think no matter how you give birth be it naturally, caesarean or with pain killers the bottom line is as long as both mummy and baby are healthy and happy by the end does it really matter. We’re lucky to have the option to have a ‘birth plan’ and if that doesn’t go accordingly the fact that we can have a plan b is amazing because clearly not everyone does x #FamilyFun
We are lucky to be able to have birth plans, and yes, the main thing is that both mummy and baby are healthy. I do think there needs to be more realism around the whole situation as well because mental health matters as much as physical, and it seems that so many women are left disappointed or even traumatised by their birth experiences. I don’t have any answers to that really!
As a twin mum who delivered via the old fashioned method, I can promise you that the best practice is not to just wait for the second twin to appear. There are 45 minutes between my girls, and in the UK the docs like it to be less than 1 hour – they were starting to get twitchy. We are so lucky that the vast majority of mothers come home with a live, healthy baby(babies). There is no way that is ‘better’ to birth, only relatively more pleasant.
I thought that would be the case, which was why I was surprised that this mother appeared to have been left to do just that. Clearly there was no alternative, and you’re right there is no better way to birth, only whatever results in a healthy mother and baby.
I had a home birth for my second but I was only 2 minutes walk away from the hospital. IF something did go wrong I was just 2 minutes from it. My home birth went to plan accordingly, but yes – for those that need medical intervention then – go ahead I fully understand and that shouldn’t be underestimated that the doctors are there to help you through it. That’s what they are there for isn’t it. Thank you so much for linking up with us – I feel your pain if I had read/ see that gallery I would cried out the same. Some needs medical attention/ intervention more than others. #FabFridayPost
I’m totally jealous of your home birth. Even though I keep telling myself I’m being silly, I still feel like a massive failure for the way things turned out. It’s bizarre isn’t it. Thanks for commenting. x
I am 36 and had my first baby this year in April. I am lucky. Lucky to have been able to have a natural birth and a very healthy baby. I am lucky I could have access to all medical technology just in case something would have been wrong. I am a million times lucky and grateful.
Congratulations on your baby, and thanks for commenting!
I love your anger, it’s correctly placed and I’d love you to promise me you will never feel guilty for YOUR story ever again. The ending was awesome 🙂 you are fab
Yay your comment is here! Thank you for reading, and not guilty, I promise!
How sad. All births are different. My first I had gas and air and pethidine and it hurt! My second I was expecting to have the same but it was painless. Totally painless except the head. I had her quickly on my living room floor. That wasn’t planned of course! The difference between me and that poor woman was the NHS was there, ready and waiting for meif I needed it.
I am jealous of your painless birth! I thought such things were a myth!