As I sit here, my 37-weeks-pregnant feet propped up on pillows and computer perched precariously on my ever-disappearing lap, the imminent arrival of this squirmy first baby of mine is clearly top of mind. Every few hours, a bubble of fear-laced excitement rises up hard in my throat, accompanied by a simple mantra: “You will meet the baby soon.” Somehow, these words never manage to truly sink in, no matter how many times this same thought paces back and forth inside my brain.
When my husband and I found out we were expecting our first child last July, we faced many of the same questions as other first-time parents: Can this amazing news be real? Is everything okay? Are we ready? Will we be the parents this tiny, wonderful new person deserves? But one question I didn’t need to ask myself was how I hoped to bring this child into the world. I have long dreamed of having a natural, drug-free childbirth. I want to share in the raw, primal experience of birth undergone by countless generations of womankind before me. On the practical side, after watching The Business of Being Born and learning more about the United States’ rapidly-rising C-section rates and surprisingly concerning maternal and neonatal mortality numbers, I knew I wanted to prepare for the most natural birth experience possible within the boundaries of safe medical care.
In December, my husband and I embarked on an eight-week class on The Bradley Method of Natural Childbirth, a husband-coached approach to drug-free birth. We met for two-hour classes each week with our wonderful instructor (Dana Goot, who operates a Bradley Method education center out of her home in Carmel) and four other couples. The Bradley Method focuses on educating parents-to-be on the natural stages of pregnancy, labor and delivery, encouraging deep relaxation techniques to help manage the pain of birth without drugs and training husbands/partners to fully engage with and support the laboring mother throughout the entire experience. In addition to feeling educated about what to expect, I feel full of excitement about labor and delivery, rather than feeling fearful and full of doubts at my own ability to endure what our society often defames as a torturous and terrifying ordeal.
Birth is a personal experience, and I don’t feel I’m in a position to make assumptions about the reasons behind anyone else’s choices. Almost all the moms I know are not openly judgmental of others’ parenting decisions. But I’ve been surprised at the way birth seems to be an exception to this rule. I’ve received a number of skeptical comments from mothers when I’ve shared the details of our drug-free birth plan. Reactions have ranged from the more polite end (“Well, just remember it’s okay to get the epidural, because healthy baby and healthy mom is all that really matters!”) to downright rude (“Are you kidding me? Just wait until you’ve gone through twelve hours of hard contractions on no sleep.” or “That’s noble, but you’re setting yourself up for failure!”). I think something about the life-altering experience of giving birth makes women feel they are experts on the subject, and I believe these comments are well-intentioned attempts to temper my expectations.
But we’re all only experts on our own experiences, right? I understand this will be painful, and that I have no way of comprehending just HOW painful. And of course our primary goal is the oft-repeated healthy baby, healthy mom. If interventions are truly needed to ensure the safety of the baby and me, we place our complete trust in the hands of our medical team. But to me, there is value in harnessing the powerful feminine energy of birth rather than surrendering to the terror of the unknown. Birth has the potential to be one of the most empowering experiences of a woman’s life, or one of the most degrading. Telling women “healthy baby, healthy mom” is all that matters minimizes the experience as a whole, pushing women to the sidelines of humanity’s most essential and sacred event. Birth holds the key to our existence, and at its very core is the fierce warrior mama commanding from within her the future of our species.