I met a woman at the park here in England and we chatted while our kids played. She pushed a sleeping baby in a stroller, so talk naturally turned to babies.
“He is adorable! How old is he?”
“9 months. He was premature, so he’s growing well!”
“Really? That’s great. I would never guess that he came early.”
“It happened so quickly – (Proceeds to detail birth story of surprise labor, no time for an epidural).”
The Birthing Story Olympics Commenced. Except I was already at a disadvantage.
3 births, 3 epidurals.
“You couldn’t handle the pain, huh?” This was straightforward, but not said unkindly. Bluntness has a different tone here.
“Well, I was induced.”
“Oh, induction. I had to do that once, but wouldn’t do it a second time.”
“I had gestational diabetes the first time. Labor is intense with induction.”
“Yes, and the others?”
“Um, I was open to natural labor each time, but ended up choosing differently.”
Kind of quietly, by way of shameful admission, she says, “Yes, I want to have lots more, but not without an epidural.”
I sigh and say something about how all labor is amazing, no matter what you choose.
And we’ve both lost.
It seems these days that labor stories become an unintentional ranking of labor and delivery practices, with the highest score looking like this:
Woman has baby at home. 10 points
The birth is videotaped for posterity. 30 points
She is supported by a doula. 40 points
A midwife delivers the baby. 50 points
No complications. 60 points.
She delivers in water. 75 points
Her labor is long, but not difficult, because she knows her body. 100 points
She tandum nurses post delivery. 150 points
No medication is used. 5 bazillion points
And I get it. Oh, how I get it. I watched The Business of Being Born and cried at the majesty of it all. I was moved, inspired, and outraged. The film informed my future choices. I felt like I was better for watching it.
I ultimately made what I consider informed birthing decisions – Ones that took the needs of me, my baby, my spouse, my family, and my sanity into consideration. I learned something new each time and it was never “perfect,” but it was my own majesty.
When it comes to sharing this intimate part of ourselves, the story of “How I Became a Mother,” no ranking is necessary. There’s a rainbow of ways to become a mother – international adoption, hospital birth, surrogacy, c section, medicated, natural, and on and on and on. We’re all human, so we’ll have opinions on best and ideal. We get into tricky territory, though, when we veer into right and required – for ourselves and others.
There is a time and a place for education and advocacy, but no room for judgement. The moment when another woman opens up about one of the most intimate, intense experiences of her life might not be the time to tell her how she could have done it better – even (and especially) if she reveals her own insecurities and uncertainties.
Just listen. Commiserate. Celebrate. Honor.
I left that day’s conversation, primarily shaking my head at the judgments I placed on myself. I’ve given birth to 3 babies and I’m gestating a fourth. I share my experiences with pregnancy and delivery because there’s a lovely solidarity in it. I listen eagerly to “How I Became A Mother” stories from other women because we relive together one of the most incredible moments of our lives- frightening, exciting, emboldening, painful, sweet, and a million other emotions all wrapped in one.
That day, I committed to leaving behind the hierarchy, the rankings, the rights and requireds. Instead, I wrote an invitation to all mothers and I’m giving it to you today:
Tell me your story
and I’ll share mine.
I’ll listen intently, perhaps laugh, maybe cry.
A sigh of understanding might escape.
I’ll nod and tell secrets of solidarity.
We’ll complain about postpartum pads and surgery scars,
always returning to the wonder of holding a newborn.
And I won’t remind you how it all could have gone differently,
or imply that you could have done it better.
There’s no judgment here. Not for you. Not for me.
Come tell me your story of motherhood
and I’ll honor it;
marveling at the majesty.