Helen Reddy and Lesley Gore couldn’t have sung more dissimilar tunes about the woes of womanhood. Miss Reddy’s declaration, “I am Woman. Hear Me Roar,” is a steady, strong, talkin’ ’bout a woman’s unshakable ability to stand solid as a rock through whatever life hands her, song. “It’s My Party and I’ll Cry if I Want To” is exactly what it sounds like. It’s whiny, it’s pitiful, it’s a sad excuse for “womanly” behavior on your worst, most woeful day… *Sally said from atop her soapbox.* Before I had my son, if I had to assign a background track to being in labor and giving birth, my default choice between Helen & Lesley’s songs would surely have been Helen’s. What’s more womanly and strong than giving birth? Besides, I’m really tough. I have an extremely high pain tolerance. I’m not afraid of the pain. I am WOMAN, am I right? Turns out, I was right! I was strong. I was tough. I was focused. Ya know what else I was? In pain… and in tears. That’s right. This was my labor and I’d cry if I wanted to.
Early in my pregnancy I naively (if not a little arrogantly) thought there were two exclusive kinds of women when it came to becoming a mother. There was the home birth/natural labor end of the spectrum (The Helen Reddys) and the epidural/induced/cesarean crowd at the other end (The Lesley Gores), with a big, fat, bold line separating the two. I knew which side of the line I was on and even though logically I knew that every woman and every delivery were unique, somewhere deep in the depths of my ego was that girl on the soapbox, looking down her nose at the women on the “other side of the line.”(Judgy Wudgy was apparently not a bear, but a pregnant woman.)
Judgy Sally Soapbox got taken down a notch around 22 weeks when I decided to switch my care from what turned out to be a sub-par Midwife to my stellar OB/GYN. I was surprised to find that my OB was actually more supportive of and open to the full range of labor and delivery options than the Midwife had been. After that humbling experience I decided that I’d plan on laboring and delivering sans drugs, but promised myself to be open to changing my mind in the thick of it. Still, Sally & her murmurings lingered quietly in the background. She was hard to shake, but somewhere around hour twenty five of my labor the wise, humble woman in me took a swing at her and knocked her squarely on her ass. That big, fat, bold line separating the Lesleys from the Helens dissolved (or was, perhaps, blown to smithereens by the sheer force of my contractions), and I realized two things: 1. I wanted an epidural. NOW. and 2. There’s no wrong way to become a mother.
Subscribing exclusively to one way of thinking about childbirth turned out to be… well… really dumb. There’s nothing wrong with having a plan but it’s okay to change course if that’s what your baby and your body demand. (In fact, it’s really dumb not to!) I labored naturally for twenty hours before asking for pain meds, and went another five before asking for an epidural. It was another six hours before my doctor and I made the decision together to deliver my son via cesarean. ME? Pain meds? Epidural? Cesarean? Yep. It wasn’t what I planned but I know without a doubt that it was the right way for me to become a mother. I also know how foolish it was for me to judge, however subconsciously I may have done so, any other woman’s choices about her path to motherhood. There is a birthing spectrum, but no matter where on that spectrum you fall, the colors are just as rich and beautiful there as they are at the other end. As long as you honor your body and your baby and have a healthcare provider that supports you in that journey, then your path is the right path. Shed your preconceived notions. Abandon your expectations. Embrace your experience, whatever it may be, and if you meet a mother to be whose birth plan seems like it was written by Sally Soapbox, don’t judge. Just turn up the volume on the mash-up of “It’s My Party” & “I Am Woman,” and smile. Besides, we all know that Sally gets hers in the end.
“Whatever way birth happens, it is your rite of passage into motherhood, and
that passage is to be celebrated.
Natural childbirth is a passage, cesarean birth is a passage, and birth with an
epidural is a passage to be celebrated.
That passage cannot be taken away from you. Every mother’s birth experience is
valid, and an act of courage.”