Scary birth stories

Since I quoted Ina May Gaskin in a post earlier this week, her words have been resonating in my head. She's so right about the "scary birth stories" pregnant women hear. I was told two more today, by someone whose opinion I respect, who cares for me. This person was a bit wary about my decision to have a home birth and wanted me to know the frightening things that can happen in birth.

As if I hadn't thought through those possibilities. As if I haven't heard hundreds of those stories, not just when I became pregnant but for the years and years prior.

It's an odd experience, hearing these stories. I feel myself reacting from multiple parts of my identity at once: there's the caring friend part of me, that hears that this person is telling me this story from a place of compassion and concern. I knew today that this person was sharing a meaningful life experience, and I appreciate that effort at communication and connection. I want to validate that.

And there's the part of me that's a pregnant woman, thinking about my own upcoming birth experience. From that part of me, I want to say, "This is not helpful! What benefit do you think you'll get from making me afraid?"

There's the academic part of me, too--I've done quite a bit of reading about the medicalized birth industry, as this is something that's been fascinating to me for years and years. It's one component of my larger interest in reproductive justice. I know the statistics. I know that 33% of births in this country are C-sections--and it isn't statistically possible that all of these are legitimate emergencies, because these rates are radically higher than in any other country in the world. (And, really, because if 33% of births HAD to be done by C-section or else the mother or baby would die, then humans wouldn't be so vastly overpopulating the globe.) I know, too, that C-section rates are higher if the woman has better insurance. I know that the US has the worst infant and maternal mortality rate of the industrialized world, and happens to have the most thoroughly medicalized childbirth practices of any industrialized country. And that the labor and delivery practices of hospitals are designed for the convenience of the medical practitioners and to ward off malpractice lawsuits, not for the comfort or safety of women or babies.

But this information isn't what you want to rattle off to someone who's just told you a harrowing personal story. I remind myself of this information, in my own head, because it helps to counteract the fear that scary birth stories can induce, but it doesn't seem appropriate to tell someone, "You know, my research suggests that if you hadn't been in a hospital setting to begin with, your birth experience might not have been so frightening."

I guess the scary birth stories are particularly troubling when they're being told as a judgment on my decision. If someone is just sharing, that's one thing--but sometimes they're told as warnings: "Don't you go thinking that birth is some natural process--horrible, horrible things can happen!"

Of course they can. But does that really need to be our overriding approach to birth?


The Dad said...

Yea Alison

When you start hearing these "stories" even from a good friend, you need to say "NEE, NEE, NEE..." Positive thoughts and attitude are important.

If you want to get a good perspective, talk to The Mom. See was a gound breaker for alot of things back when they were not so mainstream (quite the determined mother bear).

The Dad

Aaron Piepmeier said...

Your last statement is interesting. "'...horrible, horrible things can happen!' Of course they can. But does that really need to be our overriding approach to birth?"

you're right about not taking that approach to birth. It falls in line with some of the recent martial arts/sports psych readings I've been doing... don't be afraid of the bad. instead, strive for the good.

you're striving for the "good" birth. the birth that you know will be best for you and your new kiddo.

M.P. said...

Y'know, the increase in C-sections seems to be about making pregnancy more convenient to the couple/family's schedule, also. I recall finding my cousin's pragmatic statement, "Well, I'll have the C-section on the 3rd so that it'll coincide with the weekend and extend my leave time...," very incongruent with my ideas about childbirth. It seems to be a very "unplanned" thing (Ah! My water broke, let's go to the hospital!) and yet people can schedule their C-sections like they do their vacation time. Of course, that's coming from my dearth of knowledge of pregnancy, babies and childbirth...but I find the contradictions interesting.

nashvillemidwife said...

I do a lot of smiling and nodding.

You might be interested in this comprehensive summary of home birth safety studies I published this week.

Syd said...

Horrible things can happen at birth and during life. Statistically though most births aren't "horrible". I think that as a group, we academics tend to over analyze everything. And sometimes that means that we focus on the worst case scenario. When I'm in a situation that has a sliding scale of outcomes, I try to tip my mind towards the positive side. Hope that works for you too.

Alexandrialeigh said...

Coral at UNCC (I think you know her) and I had a really good discussion about this same topic when I first moved to Charlotte, and coincidentally I had just interviewed a FANTASTIC midwife in Savannah for Skirt!, and had decided that if I ever had kids, I would want a midwife, and possibly a home birth, although if there was a midwifery center nearby, that would be another good option. I am so in agreement with you on this post. If you for any reason want to chat with that really wonderful midwife in Savannah, I can definitely get her contact information for you. She may know some good people in Charleston if you're interested.

Anonymous said...

I wouldn't pay the storytellers much heed. my mother has always told me that everyone has their own unique birth stories. nut what could be frightening for one person, might be a breeze for someone else. you've got to what is right for you and the baby. if that means, having a home birth and forgoing drugs more power to ya!

Keith said...

Telling pregnant women birth horror stories is definitely one of our more bizarre social customs. Though it might just reflect a broader American social value that paranoia is good for you.

Hazel Ketchum said...

Birth stories are like war stories told by old soldiers - part reliving, part therapy, part remembering something you will never forget ( which is easier if you didn't have any - I mean any meds ) sorry, fell into my own birthing story.... Soon you will have your own story and you can make it as dramatic as you wish!!! Think elevator, NY cabs, snowed in mountain cabin, etc.

Anonymous said...

I am surprised by how mean this post seems. Do victims of other traumas have to be silent for fear of scaring others? And are you kidding about birth being less traumatic if you are in a hospital? I would have died without one, and if the rates from the 1800's are right, so would more than 10% of women. Birth is dangerous, as dangerous as being shot at, if you do not have medical care. I'm sorry to not understand why such cruel intentions are being attributed to women who have escaped the "natural" risks of birth. This is just mean, pregnant or not. Please read Mother Nature by Sandra Hrdy. And stop being mean. Sorry, but this post was mean.

Crittle said...

So glad to have another person added to my list of people I can talk to when/if I have another baby because there's no way I'm doing it in a hospital. Period.