The Hierarchy of Labor

I don’t know when this started, but if you’re pregnant for more than 10 seconds you start to realize how much people make a big deal about how your baby enters the world. It’s really the oddest thing.

Have you ever had the unfortunate experience of being judged because of your birth story or even just your birth plan? I’ve had someone tell me I wouldn’t be in “the club” because I wasn’t going to have a vaginal delivery. (Ouch!) I’ve also had someone insist that I don’t get an epidural or at least wait as long as physically possible because I would be stronger than I think. She also went on to tell me that she assumed I probably had a low pain threshold. (She herself had an epidural).

It seems that everyone and their grandmother’s friend’s aunt’s florist feels a need to weigh in on your birth plan – solicited or not.

At the heart of it all, I want to believe that these kinds of comments simply stem from pure curioristy and a love for mamas and their growing babies. Unfortunately, I think what happens is these questions and opinions only continue to fuel the ever growing culture of mom-shaming we find ourselves in.

Here’s what I’ve seen. There appears to be this unspoken “ladder” of types of labor experiences that ultimately gives a measurement for how valuable your birth experience either will be or was. The higher up on the ladder, the more valuable and impressive your birth experience is. The very top of the ladder is reserved for the all natural home birth experience, below that is an all natural birth center birth, and following those is an all natural hospital birth (sans drugs/epidural). Then we move away from the completely drug free deliveries and get to the vaginal delivery with an epidural or some sort of drug assist, a rung lower on the ladder would be a similar birth experience but perhaps your labor was induced or your delivery was vacuum or forceps assisted. As we approach the bottom of the ladder we have the deliveries that maybe started as an attempt at a vaginal delivery but perhaps resulted in an emergency c-section. At the very bottom is the elective c-section (where a mama has decided ahead of time that c-section would be the route she would go).

This ranking system isn’t real. You won’t google it and find it or see it pop up on your pregnancy apps. But somehow, despite its physical presence, we can still feel the weight of its existence when it comes to talking about birth plans or birth experiences. You’re praised when you have an all natural delivery but not when you have a planned c-section or even just an epidural. The reality is, it shouldn’t matter how a baby is brought into this world. The simple fact that a life was created is cause to celebrate. Every baby is different, every mama is different, and so it makes sense that every birth experience is unique and different.

Not only is this ranking system flawed but it can cause a lot of women to struggle when it comes to enjoying her birth experience. It doesn’t take into account personal preference or experience let alone the labors that don’t go “according to plan” or even babies that are welcomed and loved through adoption or fostering. Feeling judged for how your baby was born can leave you feeling even more isolated as a new mama in the trenches of the already hormonal and sleep-deprived newborn phase.

Side note – let’s do all of us a favor and stop believing the lie that “our bodies were made to do this naturally”. We live in a post-fall world where the mark of sin has stained every aspect of life since Adam and Eve were tempted by the serpent and ate of the fruit. We don’t live in a perfect world that follows God’s original design. Things go wrong all the time and fertility, pregnancy, labor, birth, and babies are not the exception to this reality. When we tell other mamas that “our bodies were made to do [ ] naturally” it places judgement on any mama whose experience is different from our flawed perception of what perfection is. We don’t need that mamas.

I had an unplanned planned c-section. It wasn’t my first choice. I initially anticipated having a vaginal delivery with an epidural – but I had developed gestational diabetes plus Olivia was breech and there was little hope in flipping her before her birth. So we had planned a c-section at 39 weeks with our high risk specialist and then I unexpectedly went into labor before our planned date and time – hence the unplanned planned c-section.

The truth is, our birth plan and our birth experience was the result of a lot of things that happened during our pregnancy. After conversations and ultrasounds with a high risk specialist, we came to a decision. I had to accept that a c-section was the best and safest way to bring Olivia into this world. I had to learn how to not let it decide my worth as a mother.

Having a planned c-section wasn’t my initial choice but I wouldn’t have changed that experience for anything. Why? Because that was Olivia’s birth story. It was special simply because it lead to her and the value of that experience can never be measured by whether or not it was medicated or based on the location I had her in. I still gave birth and, while I may not have had to endure hours of painful contractions or pushing, I still went through a vulnerable and messy postpartum phase. I still had bleeding and a several inch long incision through multiple layers of tissue and muscle that had to heal. And it was completely worth it. To top it off, I think if we had attempted to flip her it would have resulted in an emergency c-section because her head had molded to the shape of my uterus. That girl wasn’t going anywhere.

A birth plan is just a plan. It doesn’t mean everything will happen that way no matter how prepared you think you are.

I don’t know your birth plan or experience and, the reality is, I don’t need to. It’s YOURS and yours alone. You don’t need anyone else’s opinion on what you should do or should have done. We don’t know your unique situation or challenges or preferences. You do you mama. And the rest of us should surround you in love and support and celebrate you and the new life of your child – no matter how you welcomed them into this world or into your family.

Your birth experience is no more or less valuable than anyone else’s. It is not a measure of who you are as a woman or a mother. Yes, different scenarios give us different experiences but there is no right way to have a baby. A vaginal delivery is no better than a c-section or adopting or fostering. You are just as much of a mama as the rest of us.

This article by Jenni Naselli is a great read for anyone who has struggled with not having a natural birth.

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