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Monday
May102010

Moving beyond "Healthy Mom, Healthy Baby"

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Posted by Jill—Unnecesarean

 

Reader Larissa asks for help with her new project…

With all of the attention paid to the birthing process and the over-interventionist strategies of many caregivers, something sometimes gets lost: hundreds of thousands of women are giving birth each day, and all of them must live with the consequences of their experience. Examining, questioning, and improving the birth experience for tomorrow is absolutely critical, but in the meantime we mustn’t forget the women who are dealing with what happened today.


Online mothering forums have no doubt improved the post partum period for many women. In the anonymity of cyberspace women can ask deeply personal questions, and the reservoir of support and knowledge that responds runs much deeper than any single woman’s network of intimate friends and family. How long will my stitches hurt? Is how I feel normal, or is this post partum depression? Everything looks different “down there.” I’m concerned about having sex even though my OB/MW says it’s fine. I’m not sure why some of this information isn’t more readily available – or perhaps it is, but it is presented too clinically. I know I’d read about the possibility of incontinence after giving birth, but it wasn’t until I was brave enough to share with some friends that I realized how incredibly common it was. While knowing this didn’t change the reality of my situation, it changed how I felt about it. In the highly emotional aftermath of giving birth, women need not only information, but support and encouragement that they are not alone, that things will be OK again. And that’s one of the reasons the refrain, “healthy mom, healthy baby” only hampers women – it negates the fact that we’re experiencing anything other than pure bliss.

We know we should be grateful for our healthy child, but there is more to the experience of giving birth than the little person who comes out of our body. There are the physical consequences of pain, incontinence, sexual dysfunction; there are the emotional consequences of mood swings, grief, or trauma; there are relationship consequences as the family adjusts to the new baby; there may even be long-term consequences that a woman must learn to manage. Certainly some of these things are caused by, or exacerbated by, medical intervention in birth, but some things are circumstantial to our personal lives and the physical reality that pregnancy and childbirth change a woman physically, emotionally, and socially.


To this end I would like to collect and publish writings from women with diverse experiences after the birth of their child or children. Stories of the many ways that birth can affect women, and how they cope. Stories to make other women feel less alone. Stories that reinforce the idea that while everyone wants a healthy mom and healthy baby, we also realize that the true definition of a “healthy mom” is more complex than surviving the birth. That’s what I’m hoping to create with this project - not a side-show of horrors, but a real collection of the changes, challenges, and joys that result from birth. I encourage all of the readers and contributors to this blog to think back to their post partum days, or to reflect on the impact that giving birth may still have on their daily life, and to start writing. I will be accepting submission through July 31, 2010.

 

Contact Larissa at postpartumessays (at) gmail (dot) com.

 

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Reader Comments (9)

"there is more to the experience of giving birth than the little person who comes out of our body." I haven't had the pregnancy/postpartum experience yet, but this statement makes me think back on my days as a dietitian. So many people in my discipline were fond of saying that weight loss is simply a matter of calories in vs. calories out. Eat less calories than you burn, and you'll lose weight. But that neat, logical equation failed to account for whether the weight loss was muscle or fat, how your arteries fared through the process, and how much energy you had at the end of each day. Weight loss is more intricate and complex than that. Likewise, birth ending with healthy baby and healthy mom = the goal, but there's more to it. Of course a healthy baby and healthy mom is fantastic, but it can be an overly simplistic perspective.

May 10, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMelissa

There was a great essay I read once upon a time in a natural birth magazine, titled "You Should Be Grateful", which basically expressed the same sentiment: that telling women they should ignore their own feelings simply because they and their baby happened to come out of a traumatic birth physically healthy, ultimately does women a huge disservice. We should all be willing to acknowledge that our births and our babies are two different things, and we can love our baby while still being miserable and even angry about our birth. Too often I think people get uncomfortable with the idea that new-motherhood is anything BUT fulfilling, and we try to shove women into little "blissful" boxes when in fact what they need is to break out and tell the truth about themselves and their experiences. I wish you all the luck in the world on your endeavor, and I look forward to reading it when it's complete.

May 10, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJen

"We know we should be grateful for our healthy child, but there is more to the experience of giving birth than the little person who comes out of our body"

So true. Instead of "healthy mom, healthy baby," it need to be something more like "healthy mom, healthy baby, good birth experience, good transition into motherhood, good support from family and friends, thriving family, etc." I've been blessed enough to have two healthy babies AND two wonderful birth experiences, and I feel like so many people dismiss the birth part as inconsequential because the baby and I are fine. But the births, along with outside support, were my ticket into being a thriving, confident mom and wife. LIkewise, I hate to hear anyone's bad birth experience dismissed because "at least you and the baby are healthy." It is more than just a birthday. It is a (sometimes years long) transition into being a new person and a new family.

May 11, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJCF

Too often I think people get uncomfortable with the idea that new-motherhood is anything BUT fulfilling, and we try to shove women into little "blissful" boxes when in fact what they need is to break out and tell the truth about themselves and their experiences.

You said it. Sometimes it isn't even that things are so bad as a new mom, but sometimes you just weren't expecting certain things, or you thought your recovery would be faster or easier, or you're suddenly ready to quit your job for good even though you'd planned to go back to work as soon as possible.

I was struck by the incredible number of books available on pregnancy, and the multitudes of books about getting your kid to sleep/toilet train/behave....but even for such serious topics as PPD there is very little help available. Thanks for the encouragement, and please help me get the word out so we can make some of this information available to the moms (and moms-to-be) who need it.

"healthy mom, healthy baby, good birth experience, good transition into motherhood, good support from family and friends, thriving family, etc."

Oh, wouldn't that be lovely?

May 11, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterlarissa

I really see a disconnect between "healthy mom" and PPD/PTSD. It seems that even though women can come through their births w/psychological disorders (which in the case of PPD is a cause to Rx meds.), they are still considered healthy. I'd have to find the studies again, but the rates of PPD/PTSD were on the rise. So is "healthy mom, healthy baby" just code for PPD/PTSD, scars, and asthma are OK in comparison to death? I think so.

May 11, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAndAnon

Or, alternately, we could demand that the "Healthy Mom" part includes a mom who is doing well emotionally, too. I guess that's how I always see it.

May 12, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterVeronica

I *always* ensure that when I hear someone say "healthy mom, healthy baby" that I mention mom's mental health matters too because if a mother is mentally incapable of caring for herself and her baby because of severe and ongoing PTSD, that is NOT healthy for anyone involved.

It makes me sick to my stomach because I bought into that for so, so long. My original birth story said "but at least the baby is ok!" and then morphed into "we are ok" when clearly (clearly!) "we" were not. I was a flippin' mess and anyone who disputes that fact can have the phone number to my three counselors who treated me.

May 12, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMonkey Mama

<<So is "healthy mom, healthy baby" just code for PPD/PTSD, scars, and asthma are OK in comparison to death? I think so.>>

AndAnon, I think yes it *is* code. Because we can't charge a dead mom for more drugs, but we sure can make LOTS of $$ off giving them to a living mom with mental health issues brought on by how she was treated during her birth...so living but mentally damaged and in need of drugs in actually probably the best outcome, don'tcha think?

(Hopefully people catch my sarcasm here.)

May 13, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterRachel

The problem I have with "healthy mom, healthy baby" is that a woman with an infected cesarean scar ISN'T HEALTHY. A woman with a fistula isn't healthy. A woman with a prolapse, or who needs medication, or has part of her body not functioning, isn't healthy. So those people saying "healthy mom, healthy baby" aren't paying attention. A baby with a slice from the OB's scalpel, who is premature because mom was induced do to failure to wait for labor to start, etc., IS NOT HEALTHY. And when THESE ladies and babies complain, they STILL say the same thing. It's not anything but a brushoff. It's cruel, dismissive, and demeaning.

May 29, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterStaudtCJ
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