My first baby was born “naturally,” but just barely. I had done all the prep— “natural” OBGYN practice, deep breathing exercises, prenatal yoga/massage, three page birth plan. I had watched the enlightening and terrifying “The Business of Being Born” and I knew I didn’t want the big bad hospital corporations stealing my beautiful, instinctual motherhood experience. So I felt like I failure when I was induced and then threatened with a C-section twenty-two hours later for non-progressing labor. Luckily, my baby finally came out on his own just in time.
But this time around, I’m already scheduled for a C-section. Two years ago, my Crohn’s disease flared and ravaged my insides in a way that would make natural birth very risky. Yes, I’ve gotten countless opinions on this. If this had been my first pregnancy, I would have felt devastated. But this time I don’t. Not one bit. This time I am so grateful for that highly politicized surgery, because without it I might not be able to have another child at all.
One of the catch-phrases of the natural birth movement is, “The woman’s body was made to give birth.” This reminder is certainly a revolutionary response to the bizarre history of obstetrics, in which labor and delivery has often been treated as a primarily negative experience, meant to be slept through and forgotten. But there’s a huge difference between that catch-phrase and it’s oft assumed conclusion, namely, that “Every woman’s body was made to give birth.”
Before our modern era, birth was done more “naturally.” Babies were often born at home and women were assisted by midwives and sisters and mothers and friends. No stark hospital rooms or interferences in the beauty of birth. But that didn’t mean things always ended well. Part of the reason anyone ever got the idea that birth was so dangerous and scary was that, for many women, it actually was. Many women and many babies died.
And of course they did.
If nature is our mother, then she’s a harsh one. Just look at the animal kingdom. If you aren’t fit to survive then you simply don’t survive. Evolution knocks you out. Call us humans delusional or idealistic, but we don’t accept nature’s harshness. We act as if we deserve better. If nature says we aren’t fit to survive then we fight nature. Sure, fighting nature always has repercussions. But can our souls handle the alternative?
Mine can’t. I want to live. I want to live, despite nature seeming to say that those with autoimmune diseases shouldn’t. I want to have children, even though nature probably wouldn’t let that happen if it was all her choice. Is that naive and foolish? I like to think that fighting to live despite nature is essential to my humanity.
Certainly, “natural birth” is best for mothers and babies. Just like “breast is best” and organic foods are best and wearing your baby is better than pushing them in strollers, etc. But what if your natural body is made wrong? What if nature fails you and your baby? If breastfeeding means fifteen different contraptions and pumping every fifteen minutes, should the mother insist at the expense of her sanity and her relationship with her baby and family? Should I risk losing my intestines so my baby can get some extra probiotics and oxytocin? I should hope the answers are obvious.
People within the natural birth movement need to be more upfront in admitting that bodies and nature are imperfect. Sure, it is our moral duty to try fixing these imperfections as holistically as possible, but a person’s inability to reach bodily perfection should not be treated as a moral failing. Treating imperfect health as a moral failing alienates the afflicted and makes them feel helpless. It makes them less likely to try the many “next-best” holistic options. It makes them more likely to quit trying all together. It crushes the spirit of motherhood and a mother’s hope and faith in her ability to love. And, in the end, depriving a child of his mother’s faith, hope, and love is far more tragic than depriving a child of his mother’s colostrum or cervical bacteria.