Looking for something? Start here.
Custom Search




« BIRTHQUAKE! | Alaska Cesarean Rates by Hospital, 2008 »

Birthsnarkers: Wiser or Wiseacres? 

Bookmark and Share



by Courtroom Mama


Why are women so darn mean to each other when it comes to birth?

That’s the question posed and answered in a blogversation between Colleen Oakley at Lemondrop and KJ Dell’Antonia at Slate’s XX Factor. The very abbreviated version is that Oakley is planning a hypnobirth and wonders why the hell people can’t keep their derision to themselves, and Dell’Antonia, a mother of four who has had a variety of birthing experiences, thinks it has something to do with having seen the view from beyond the veil. This conversation was interesting to me on a few levels, but I’ll start with the totally ego-centric.   

I never really wanted an unmedicated childbirth.  My mother gave birth to me and my siblings without medication, just like her mother gave birth to her, and on and on through the generations, so just I set about preparing to do the same. It never really occurred to me to do it any other way, and until people started asking me about my birth plans, it certainly never occurred to me that anyone would give two hoots. Ha, ha, right?   

For some reason, one of my coworkers, about six months ahead of me in gestation, just couldn’t seem to stop asking about my plans. In retrospect, I probably shouldn’t have answered the persistent questions, but in my naïveté, I shared the new-to-me information about how to increase the chances of an uncomplicated vaginal delivery without a need for pain relief. Once she delivered, a difficult albeit vaginal delivery, they eyerolls started. Why the questions didn’t cease, I’ll never understand, but I just tried to avoid her as much as I could.

When I returned to work after my own birth, she asked me how it went. Short version: nicht so gut. I did everything “right,” but when it started taking too long for their taste, instead of supporting me and changing things up, the hospital cut. The surgery was scary, I was unnecessarily separated from my infant, I was treated like meat by the doctor (not my regular doc) and a handful of other folks. Most human beings, upon hearing something like that, would probably try to say something nice. Instead, her words will ring in my ears and pound in my brain forever: “I knew it!!”  She could hardly contain her schadenfreude.    

This wasn’t, as Dell’Antonia suggests, the voice of one who has been-there-done-that and knew that I was now “a little wiser.” This was someone who straight up scoped me out, labeled me too big for my britches for having the audacity to attempt an unmedicated birth, and delighted when I was unable to fight the tide. To her, it was a little off-the-cuff statement, but to me—still sorting out what the hell happened to me and what I had done “wrong”—it was deeply, wrenchingly hurtful. And she’ll never know that, because I frankly don’t want anything else to do with her.

Really, though, betting against an unmedicated birth, or even a vaginal birth would have been the smart money. Not because I’m a candy-ass or anything, but because the “advancements in medical technology” that Oakley credits with allowing us to “choose…what kind of birth experience we want to have” are often our undoing. Because too many practitioners have simply never seen a birth without intervention and can’t keep their hands to themselves when things are happening along a variation of normal that they don’t care for. Because people like my coworker want to take other women down a peg for some perceived hubris.

There’s a lot I learned in giving birth and becoming a mother. Like Dell’Antonia, I learned that none of the “three ‘p’s”* are any more important than another, and that the best laid plans can be thwarted by other ‘p’s like pitocin, an unfavorable presentation, inability to get into a good position, or an impatient provider. I learned about the institutional and societal factors that stand between women and healthy births in which they have agency and the respect of the people around them, and that many of us end up with the birth we want in spite of, not because of, the new birth technology. I learned that all those things aren’t a reason to forego preparation, planning, and hope. The 1-in-3 chances of a cesarean surgery doesn’t really apply evenly across the board; there are things women can do to try and nudge themselves into the two who got away. If I could distill the lessons of my birth history into one lesson, it would be this: Birth plans are like international law: mostly aspirational, largely unenforceable, and easily derailed by a party who won’t listen to reason.

Maybe more importantly, I learned not to crap all over women’s hopes for their birth with my commentary. Nature and society and unsupportive providers do enough crapping on women’s birth plans. I don’t feel the need to add to it.

So, to continue the blogversation (like they’re actually going to read this):

My message to Oakley: Colleen, I wish you the very best, and I hope you have a beautiful birth. I don’t think that you’ll change your mind about hypnosis once you get to active labor. But if you do, I hope you won’t be too hard on yourself. I hope you’re treated with respect by the people who attend your birth and the people who hear about it. Illegitimi non carborundum.

My message to Dell’Antonia: KJ, as someone who had a birth derailed by an ‘uncooperative’ baby, I know what you mean about feeling wiser for the (literal) battle scars. I try to tell the people who will listen about my birth story so that hopefully they can avoid the same, and I have no problem taking people out for judging or armchair quarterbacking another woman’s birth. Nevertheless, I deal gently with the chirpy cockeyed optimists, because they represent the hope and possibility of what birth can be. Fate might knock them upside the head, but it also might not. But “poorly hidden snorts” can lead to broken hearts: if folks don’t have anything nice to say, they should freaking stop asking other people about their births.  

What would you tell each of them?


* For the uninitiated: the powers (contractions), the path (pelvis and vagina), and the passenger (the baby).


PrintView Printer Friendly Version

EmailEmail Article to Friend

References (1)

References allow you to track sources for this article, as well as articles that were written in response to this article.
  • Response
    Response: No More Snarking
    Think twice before you snort at a mother, first-time or otherwise, who believes in herself. She just might be right. And you know what? If things don’t turn out as planned, she’s still right to believe in herself. The point of planning a birth is not that everything goes exactly “perfectly” ...

Reader Comments (18)

Great post. I need to go read the original conversation.

I think it's awful to be snarky in all issues from conception and fertility to pregnancy to birth. How much more intimate (and complicated) can you get. Yes, we will always have judgments and opinions on controversial and important issues, but when it comes to someone's actual experience, a little empathy and no rude "I told you so!" moments would be nice.

There is a small body of research on how women with birth plans are more likely to end up with cesareans and other interventions. I hate to think it's a "too big for your britches" issue, but it's hard to avoid the theory.

There was a few women at my work who were pregnant when I was pregnant the second time around. We talked, and I hope that I was very empathetic. One woman had a instrumental vaginal delivery that was very difficult on her, physically, and I tried to fight for more flexibility for the new moms in working from home, partially to help her in her recovery. (I ended up fired, and there was more than one EEOC complaint against them, but that's a whole 'nother story.) I am lucky that we were all very supportive of each other. If I was a first time mom, or didn't have the birth experience I had hoped for, I don't know if any of the women would have thought I had it coming, however. I was lucky enough to have a fairly uneventful delivery at a free standing birth center.

April 25, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMomTFH

It took 7 births, each of them as different as the children that birthed them, to wise me up. Now I just tell expecting mothers that they are strong, and their bodies know what to do, and that they are amazing, and that each birth is perfect.
As a doula I've seen life, death (of mother and baby), joy, love, sadness, incredible strength, experienced awe, and the biggest thing I have learned is that the birth process is a friggin miracle. As women we need to be way more supportive of each other.

April 25, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJulia

having had two Hypnobabies births at home and with my third I went 36 hours on pitocin using only hypnosis and movement, and water therapy (in an rv sized shower ugh) it is ENTIRELY possible!! With my last I did opt for a lo dose epidural so I could sleep - she was born 6 hours later. Not sure I would have done at if I were home, but eh. no regrets.

I completely encourage her to find positive sources of information, to contrast any negative remarks she'll receive.
My sister even said with my first home birth "i'm going to call, and hear you screaming for drugs." well.. she was wrong, and right. I didn't scream for drugs.. I asked for an advil. ::snicker::.

Anyway. I hope all the best for her!!

April 25, 2010 | Unregistered Commentermommymichael

People are constantly trying to justify their own life choices (or lack of choice, as the case may be) in every arena, it's just so emotionally charged regarding parenting. I think it's legitimate to say "look, I wanted things to go X way and they went Y way," but it's also legitimate to say "hey, maybe don't be dismissive of other peoples' goals and choices." I just wish that that were more likely to be possible in the real world. Instead people often take any difference in parenting style as a judgement on their own choices which is harmful not only personally but also culturally - if we all should just suck it up and deal then the culture (surrounding whatever, birth/breastfeeding/women's rights/individual autonomy) won't ever change.

April 25, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterLeah

I would tell Oakley that there are always people who will roll their eyes at anything outside the mainstream. If your spouse/partner, family, and care provider are on board with your plans, then you have a great shot at getting the birth process you hope for.

I would tell Dell'Antonia that the fact that women with birth experience have reason to be smug about a first time mom believing that her care providers will respect her wishes and autonomy for how she'd like to birth is SAD. Of course birth is not an event that can be planned, but the fact that your care providers would not respect your autonomy and request for medication is something you should be MAD about, not resigned to! Being subject to the unpredictability of labor is to be expected; being subject to care providers that do not respect women's informed choices is a travesty. And we shouldn't look down on first time moms to be as "naive" just because they think that their care providers will/should listen to them and help them have the best birth experience for them.

April 25, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterEmily

I actually lost a friend over unmedicated childbirth. When she first found out I was pregnant, she told me not to take it the wrong way, but "I wish you a C-section! They're so easy." She herself had been scheduled for a C-section around 32 weeks (yes, you heard me) for a breech birth. She didn't believe I could successfully have an unmedicated birth, and would always ask questions like "So are you still sticking with that crazy plan to go drugless at the birth center?" I always went out of my way to not take the bait and just say something rather vanilla like "Yup, that's the plan."

Well, I did. I had a great birth, and in the birth write-up, I did make mention that my daughter was born according to plan, unmedicated, in water, at the birth center. It's been two years since my daughter was born, and I haven't talked to this woman, who used to be one of my closest friends--I was the MOH in her wedding, even--in almost two years.

I've just had to move on and realize that the problem lies not with my birth experience, but hers. She was talked into a C-section waaaay early on by a doctor she trusted. I think that deep down she knows she got bullied into an expedient birth experience for the doctor with the only child my friend will ever have. And I think the fact that I had a natural birth, according to my plan, was hard for her because it made her realize how much was taken away from her.

I'm fortunate in that the people closest to me--my husband, parents, in-laws--supported my decision to use Hypnobabies at the birth center. I worked hard in studying and doing all my preparations and picking my provider and location so that I could be in the best possible decision to have the birth I wanted. I think another reason it is easy for people who abdicate the decision making process to the doctors to deride women who are preparing for a natural birth is that outsiders don't see all that hard work. I honestly had some of the ugliest things said to me when they heard I was planning to use Hypnobabies and use a birth center. Luckily, Hypnobabies teaches students to create a "bubble of peace" and it helped me to remember to just let the expectations of others roll off me so that I could focus on the important work of preparing for what I wanted to achieve.

April 25, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterKristen

I LOVE this. "f folks don’t have anything nice to say, they should freaking stop asking other people about their births."

Isn't this the lesson we were taught WAY back in kindergarten? My husband calls people with this kind of mouth diarrhea, nay-sayers. I have been totally blessed with my three births, and they have gone, more or less, exactly how I'd "planned". (ie vaginal deliveries, no pain meds, and this last one in my home)

Before my last birth about 2 weeks ago, I about drove myself crazy worrying that I had my fair share of success in the birthing, and that I was tempting fate by attempting to deliver our third at home. I avoided discussing a choice I was proud we had made because I was afraid to be met with negativity, and was trying to avoid any "bad vibes" that I may encounter.

Now that the birth is behind us, and was an amazing success and experience for our family, my knee jerk response is STILL to avoid the inevitable standard questions about my daughter's birth for fear of MORE eye rolling. What is sad, is that I am SO proud of myself for all my births but especially this one. (DISCLAIMER: something akin to bragging up ahead) My labor was 31/2 hours, and my "little" girl was 9lb 4oz, which is 2lbs bigger than my middle daughter. I had no tearing, and my baby was born in our guest room in the presence of my husband, midwife, and other two daughters! YES I AM PROUD! Unfortunately many women do not want to hear what I have to tell them when they ask how things went. I shouldn't feel ashamed, or "pea cocky" for sharing my beautiful birth with fellow women, but I do. Maybe it's silly. maybe it's all in my head, but intuition and experience in the birth community tell me my instincts are right.

Birth has become an experience that is scarred for most women(and even men) in this country, regardless of the outcome. We can put it in to the pot with race and religion, it is tabooed. Better not talk about it because someone might get offended.

Sadly the only way to change this is for judgment to cease on both sides. For me that means we reevaluate what a "successful" birth looks like, and realize that that picture will vary from woman to woman. The goal needs to be a healthy baby, and a mother who is proud and happy with her birth experience, regardless of the road that got her there.

April 25, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterKM

Instead people often take any difference in parenting style as a judgement on their own choices

I actually think this is exactly what this is. There are times when we've been discussing parenting decisions that we've made with my family and I've found that my Mom can get very defensive. I don't think it's always intentional...it's just that parenting decisions are by nature full of angst. Are you making the right decision? Did you wish you had done something differently? The fact that your children are grown and have children of your own doesn't mean all those little worries go away. I'm sure if the experiences/decisions are a lot more fresh in your mind the angst is amplified.

April 25, 2010 | Unregistered Commentermamaraby

The hard thing is that failure begats (ha) failure. I had a c/sec; but then, my mom had 4 twilight sleep births (just as bad or worse), my sister had 3 c-secs, my sister in law had 2 c/secs, and so when I ended up with one too, well, there was definitely a "told you so" vibe in the air, and also a confusion over the depths of my depression. And I think some definite desire for me to just suck it up and admit that birth is about getting your body torn to shreds, stop whining about what birth "should" be like.

Which, as I still maintain today, is a crazily dysfunctional attitude. It's like being in a family full of women married to abusers--just because it keeps happening, doens't mean it's normal or ok.

April 25, 2010 | Unregistered Commenteremjaybee

My jaw literally dropped at the "I knew it" line. Who in their right mind would say that to someone?

This is going to be unpopular but... we all judge and I don't think that's wrong. Judgment is what pulls us to educate ourselves, to form opinions, to learn, to avoid, to raise awareness or to become humble. We also use judgment to separate ourselves from a reality that may be too difficult to process at this time. I do not think there's anything inherently wrong with judging another's experience.

What I do think is not okay is to USE that judgment to berate or belittle someone, like in the above example. That's NOT cool.

April 25, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterHeather
Comments for this entry have been disabled. Additional comments may not be added to this entry at this time.