It seems there are few skills that human beings feel more qualified to judge than parenting. Maybe it’s because so many of us do it at some point in our lives, or because all of us have at least SEEN parenting and seen parenting mistakes. And somehow this fondness for judging parents extends right back to before the baby is even born, when parents are deciding what kind of birth experience they want.
We live in a time of tremendous choice when it comes to birth*, though it doesn’t always feel that way and sometimes it takes an outside voice to remind us just how much choice we have. We can choose home birth, hospital birth, birthing center birth. We can choose to manage labor in so many medical and nonmedical ways, choose who is there to support us during birth. And while all the choices in the world don’t give us actual control over how each birth unfolds, it’s empowering to make those choices and own them, to feel some agency in this primal and all-consuming process of birth.
That’s why it tugs my heartstrings to hear expecting parents immediately go on the defensive about their birth preferences, as if there is some ideal birth plan that they SHOULD have, but they don’t, because they’re deficient in some way. Read some of these quotes I’ve heard from parents and see if they sound familiar:
“I want to get an epidural. I know that makes me weak or whatever, but I hate pain so much!”
“I want my older child to be there when the baby is born, even though that’s really strange. . . I just feel like it could be such a special experience as a family.”
“I know it’s mean but I don’t want ANYONE in the room with me except my midwife and my husband, I know I won’t be able to relax if my parents or in-laws are there.”
Now let’s take a look at these statements with no justifications, no defensiveness, no expectation of criticism:
“I want an epidural.”
“I want my older child to be there when the baby is born.”
“I don’t want anyone in the room with me except my midwife and my husband.”
These are strong, reasonable, statements. They are normal preferences and deserve respect. These, like dozens of other preferences I could list, come from a good place: a desire for feeling safe, secure, whole, and supported during birth.
In bygone years, I heard certain preferences that totally baffled me. I couldn’t see why parents could ever want certain things, when other, “better” options were available. But with experience, I’ve realized that nobody arrives at birth as a blank slate. Every parent comes with their own background that influences what makes them feel safe, secure, whole, and supported. There is no ideal birth plan that all parents SHOULD want. It’s up to care providers to meet parents where they are, and respect the individual needs behind their preferences.
As for parents, I encourage you to own your birth preferences without fear and be open about them with each other and your providers. It is no one’s right to judge you. If you don’t know your birth preferences, that’s whole other thing! But if you know what you want, and you need someone’s blessing to just be blunt about it, rest assured you have mine.
And as for everyone else, how about we stop judging parents and start supporting them, mmk? Mmk.
*Not all choices are available to all parents, of course. Complicated pregnancies come with a lot less freedom, which deserves and will get its own blog post.