Recently I was at a group function and I got sandwiched between two C-section Mamas – that is, women who’d delivered their first babies this way and were planning / had planned future births to be surgical ones – who related their experiences. One of them professed a preference to repeat surgery should she become pregnant again, and by partial way of explanation said, “I’ve already ruined this part of my body [gesturing toward abdomen], I don’t want to blow out, you know [gestures toward crotch] … too!” This gave me a giggle, although part of me wondered if a great deal of people really believe your vagina blows out if you give birth through it. I’m picturing something like a tattered fruit rollup or one of those tire fragments you see on the freeway (and in case you were curious, mine seems to have held up rather well – in fact, has even sustained some improvements). I was content to listen for a while without comment – but the “birth choices” conversation carried on long enough that I eventually weighed in with my own experiences and opinions.
One thing I’ve learned from new Mamas is that the subject of birth can be controversial. Even among good friends, the tension in the room can amp up a bit when the subjects of labor, the use of medicine or drugs, safety issues, and pain tolerance comes up. I think this urge to discuss and defend fades with time, since I do not hear too many detailed birth stories from women in my mother’s generation (some of them are quite dismissive that we care as much as we do, damn their eyes). I’m guessing that usually by the time your youngest child is in primary school your birth story / stories have been alloted to a Cliff Notes version and you’ve made peace with how it all went down. But in my microcosm these last few years I have heard birth stories told back to back for hours on end at these functions.
Women aren’t silly, though, to care – whatever differing opinions they may have and however passionately (and occasionally ignorantly) they may hold them. Birth is as major as death and as universal, and how we give birth effects every aspect of how we nurture. There’s also the subjective experience itself. Honestly, birth can feel empowering and life-changing like nothing else (it can also feel like a drawn-out, confusing torture session; a clinical procedure softened by narcotics and culminating in a pink baby swaddled in arms; or a horrible nightmare suffused with deep strains of anger and mistrust). It can feel like you climbed a mountain all by yourself – a spiritual, emotional, and physical ordeal that you kick the ass of on your own terms and under your own power. Not all women are fortunate to have this kind of birth – but I’d like all women to get a shot, a truly informed choice, in the whole business, and our culture is nowhere close.