Martyr vs. Marvel: The Debate over Natural Birth

Start a public discussion on "natural" birth (vaginal birth without pain medication) and you'll receive an avalanche of opinions and reactions that generally fall into two camps: "Give me an epidural -- I'm no martyr!" or "My natural birth was amazing -- I can't imagine it any other way!"  Don't believe me? Scan the comment section in this article on Baby Center that discusses one mom's aversion to natural birth. As emotions heighten and passions inflame, a respectful discussion turns into finger-pointing, mockery, defensiveness and ultimately, a misunderstanding and lack of respect for each others' point of view.

After two uncomplicated births with an epidural, I longed for a birth without pain medication. For me, the desire for a "natural" birth came from how I felt after my first two births and wanting a different, healthier experience for myself and my baby. Lying on my back, numb from the waist down, pushing to the tune of nurses counting to 10 -- I felt like a passive participant in my own birth, like I was racing a marathon from the sidelines. (Note: this is how I felt, not a projection of judgement on women who choose to birth with an epidural.) My choice to go without pain meds for my third birth wasn't about being a martyr or a "hero" -- it was an informed, conscious decision that I felt was best for me and my baby. In fact, prior to the birth, I told few people of my plans simply because it didn't matter if they knew. And after the birth of my third baby without pain meds, yes, I felt proud and triumphant. But no, there were no badges, no parades, no flag-waving of any kind. I birthed my baby the way I wanted and life continued on.

So why does the controversy persist? Why does one group insist that women who birth "au naturel" are martyrs looking for a merit badge, and why do the others pass judgement on women who say, "Give me the drugs!"

When it all boils down, it's not about my choice vs. your choice or right vs. wrong; it's about informed choice. True informed choice goes beyond "My doctor says epidurals are safe." It also goes beyond "My mom thinks I should birth naturally -- that's how she did it."  To be truly informed requires looking at and understanding the evidence surrounding choices in childbirth. It means finding a reputable source and a second opinion -- your care provider and a quality childbirth education class, for example. Only then can women make the best decisions for themselves and their baby.

How did you make informed choices surrounding your birth? Were you judged for your decisions? 

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