War and Peace

Deciding to become a childbirth educator was a huge ordeal for me, but once I did, I was excited. Little did I know the roller coaster ride of a journey that lay before me before I could even begin my formal education!

I started my search for a childbirth educator program incredibly scared and timid. I was a new mom. Tired. Depressed. Still in the throes of birth trauma. Adjusting to antidepressants. Scrambling to “do” something with my life.

I looked into the “big name” options like Bradley and Lamaze first. My husband and I had attended childbirth classes loosely akin to Bradley. The classes encouraged high levels of husband participation, which I really liked, but delving into the requirements for becoming a Bradley instructor, I was dismayed to find that they require candidates to have had an unmedicated Bradley birth. The website noted that there were some exceptions and that “the board” would review candidates who did not meet their requirements, but the thought that somehow a mother who had experienced a medicated labor was disqualified from being a Bradley-fit teacher left a decidedly sour taste in my mouth.

I encountered the same situation when I looked into becoming a Birth Boot Camp instructor. Again, it was completely off-putting. Not only did it serve to rub a little more salt in the memory of my birth gone bad, it made me feel like these programs were saying that mothers who had medicated labors were somehow not as good as unmedicated moms.

What about women who have truly necessary emergency c-sections? Or to whom natural birth simply doesn’t appeal? Or a woman who was induced and wanted a natural birth but couldn’t handle the Pitocin-strong contractions? Or me, who was unsupported in my labor and didn't know how to handle back labor on my own?

To me, requiring that candidates for any program have had a particular “type” of birth serves only to widen the gap between doctors and midwives, crunchy women and women who don’t want to deal with an unmedicated labor. It facilitates feelings of failure, inadequacy, anger or self-righteousness. It is the epitome of what people like to call “the birth wars”.

Birth is not about a particular “type” of birth. Birth is about women and families coming out of the experience feeling empowered and strong because of their informed choices. It is too highly an individualized process to judge what is “best” or “good” for individuals.

In my heart, I do believe that natural birth is often best, but I am not there to judge women’s choices. My job as a soon-to-be childbirth educator is to make sure that they are informed of the risks and benefits of the choices they can make. My job is to help them feel ready to take on the daunting task of birth and parenthood. My job is to help them find the positive in what they are about to experience and to come out of it stronger and more confident than when they went into it. I do not feel that trying to push a type of birth on women does that.

So for me, the International Childbirth Education Association (ICEA) held a broad appeal with its philosophy of, "freedom of choice based on knowledge of alternatives". No pushy, you should have a natural birth or inherent belief that birth is a risky, medical procedure. Just information - feeding knowledge to families about their options and the risks and benefits that go along with each of those options.

Perhaps this stance may ruffle a few feathers. After all, you have to be on a side in the "birth wars", don't you? I think it's time to end the fight between doctors and midwives, hospitals and birth centers, natural birthers and epidural choosers. It is time to make peace and help families find the birth that is best for them, in their unique circumstances.