On natural childbirth: An honest confession to first-time moms
by Sharon Tjaden-Glass
If you try to give birth without medication for approval or respect from others, you probably won’t make it. You will reach a point when you don’t give a shit anymore what anyone thinks of you.
In the hardest hour of labor, my husband said to me, “I’m so proud of you.”
Do you know what I said?
“Fuck pride. I don’t care about pride anymore.”
And I so did not.
So what kept me from getting the epidural?
It wasn’t because I had read enough books and blog posts about the benefits of natural childbirth.
It wasn’t because I didn’t ask for one.
Oh, I did.
I got to my point when I begged my husband and my doula. I was in full transition mode, complete with 45-second double-peaked contractions, with only 30-second breaks between them.
I was in agony.
But my doula said, “The worst part is over! You’ve only got another 45 minutes before you can push. Let’s get you in the shower.” (She was right, but I didn’t know it at the moment.)
So why did I listen to her?
When you only have 30 to 45 seconds of pain-free moments at a time, the last way that you want to spend them is on making decisions. You spend the first 15 seconds in complete gratitude that the pain is gone. Then, the next 15 seconds trying to enjoy the sensation of nothingness. And only in the last 15 seconds do you think, Oh no… It’s coming back.
Pain unleashes the animal in you—and animals don’t really make decisions based on higher order thinking.
So don’t admire me.
Or if you want to admire me, admire me for the ability to cope with pain until it became unbearable. Because I don’t deserve any admiration for being able to cope with unbearable pain. I didn’t cope with it. I was just completely incapable of doing anything besides letting the pain come.
This isn’t to say that I regret having an unmedicated childbirth.
Because as a result of this unbearable pain, I encountered a truly transcendent experience in which I felt connected to God. I won’t go into detail here—I’ve already done that in my book. (Help a mom out and buy a copy here!)
But I want to clarify that I didn’t decide during my pregnancy, “You know what? I want a spiritual awakening. Yeah. I want to experience a spiritual rebirth while I’m giving birth to another human being.”
Give me a break. Who does that? Not this one, I assure you.
The initial reason that I wanted to give birth without medication was because I had read a lot of books about the phenomenon of “cascading interventions” in childbirth. Oh yeah, Business of Being Born and Ina May Gaskin and Dick Grantly-Read. All of them. And after that 20-week ultrasound, my maternal instincts started kicking into high gear. I wanted to do whatever I could to protect this child. But that rationale only survived as long as my ability to reason. And once pain pushed me into a mental space where I couldn’t rationalize anymore, anything was possible.
Perhaps this is why a 1999 study of mostly white, highly educated women in their early 30s (i.e., me) found that 43% of the women who said they would “definitely not” get an epidural—indeed got one.
I am not shocked at all by this. Neither do I judge. Because, ladies, the only thing that stood in my way from an epidural was time and my birth attendants. My husband and doula knew what rational Sharon had previously decided and they had promised to give me support as long as I was willing to accept it. It wasn’t my incredible willpower or my amazing capacity to be a “good mother.”
Good grief. Don’t let anyone tell you that you’re a good mother because you of something that you did.
Hear me out on this one. You’re not a good mother because you had a natural childbirth, or breastfed your baby, or never let your baby cry, or never felt ungrateful in the face of new motherhood challenges.
You are a good mother because of who you are. Not because of what you do. Or don’t do.
As Rachel Martin repeats over and over again on her blog, Finding Joy—You are enough. What you are—all of that—is what makes you a good mother.
Please don’t fall into the trap—as I did early in new motherhood—of deriving your value as a mother based on what you do.
Because you will fall short.
Over and over again.
You will forget the diapers at home when you go out. Or feed your baby—God forbid!—formula when the breastfeeding struggles are more than you can bear. Or maybe you’ll be the only mother at the playgroup who doesn’t know that many kinds of rice contain arsenic. (Oh my God! I’ve been feeding my baby arsenic!)
If you value your worth as a mother based on what you do and not on who you are, then you will constantly be beaten down by all those messy and imperfect moments of motherhood. They will beat you to a pulp and drive you into an incessant loop of I’m a terrible mother. I’m no good at this. This baby deserves better than me. It’s my job to protect this child so they will get through life perfectly, and I’m failing!
Don’t give in to this self-destructive script.
You are a good mother because of who you are.
Not because of anything that you do.
Don’t reduce the experience of motherhood into a checklist rather than seeing it as it really is–meaningful and contextualized interactions with your children. That’s where the nurturing happens. That’s what kids remember later on–not all the other stuff that we waste our time obsessing over.
Wholehearted motherhood is so not a competition—and that is actually what the experience of laboring without medication taught me.
Because when you are in the hardest hour of labor, you can no longer compare yourself to anyone else. You can’t see anyone else vying for first place. You can’t even see yourself. And all you care about is the present moment.
But if you insist on treating motherhood as a competition, you will lose every single time. You may not show it to others, but you will feel the sting of failure, over and over again. And then you will plan how to make everyone else believe that you are still a winner.
Oh, so exhausting.
Why not save your mental and emotional energy for something more important? Why not learn this lesson now before you become that too-perfect mom that no one relates to? It’s so much better to hang out here down in the masses of messy motherhood than it is to be floating high above everyone, dangling from a thin string, just waiting for the helium to run out.
Come on down.
Join the crowd.
Like this post? You’ll love “Becoming Mother.”
A down-to-earth journey into new motherhood and a great gift for first-time moms.