It seems to me that the majority of women in our society are terrified of childbirth. This, of course, is entirely understandable, considering the myths that are continually circulated about how it feels (horrible), and what it does to our bodies (total destruction).
This past spring, I completed a course to become a certified Pilates Instructor. The course, its content, and instructor were fantastic, but among our otherwise excellent course materials, a section was included on the pelvic floor, which focused on the damage that vaginal birth will cause to the female body–incontinence being one of the more glamourous supposed side-effects.
At my dentist’s office recently, I perused the most recent issue of W Fashion magazine–not a bastion of accurate or intelligent health advice, to be sure, but certainly indicative of the general train of thought on a variety of subjects. In an article on the childbirth choices of the rich and famous, I came across New York author Jill Kargman’s suggested explanation “for the popularity of the C-section among the socialite set: “They say, ‘You’re going to be the Holland Tunnel. Don’t do it vaginally; your husband will thank you for it.’ ”
I won’t go into the extent to which I find comments like this disgustingly misogynistic, but I will say that I am very eager for the world to catch up on the facts about childbirth, so as to potentially dispel some of these pervasive and destructive mythologies.
While the term “natural childbirth” is used to describe any birth that culminates with the child emerging from her mother’s vagina, there are extreme differences between, for example, a completely unhindered birth, during which the mother is left alone to experience her sensations spontaneously, and then push her baby out ONLY when she is entirely ready…and the typical North American “natural” hospital birth, which often involves synthetic oxytocin, some form of pharmaceutical pain relief, a vagina-to-rectum cut (episiotomy), forceps, coercion, and more!
Caesarean section, on the other hand, is major surgery, and poses far more risks to both mother and baby than vaginal birth, including the risk of potential long-term bladder problems, bleeding, infection, death, etc.
Believe it or not, our yonis are perfectly designed for sex AND childbirth, and when women give birth without interference, working in tune with their bodies and in concert with their babies, instances of actual damage to the pelvic floor muscles are extremely rare. In general, hospitals do NOT practice care based on the most recent or most accurate scientific evidence. And in my experience, “informed consent” is a joke: most women are not fully informed as to the actual risks and benefits of any given procedure, and that they are “encouraged” to consent often under great pressure and duress.
Unfortunately, it is the standard and routine practices involved in hospital birth that cause much of the pelvic floor issues that women experience following childbirth, and c-section is certainly among these. It is not the normal process of birth that causes damage to the pelvic floor. It is induction, which involves the use of synthetic oxytocin (pitocin) causing contractions to occur with unusual intensity, often days or even weeks before the baby is physiologically ready to emerge, lengthening the entire birth process, and often leading to the use of forceps or to c-section. It is not the act of bearing down to push a baby through the birth canal that causes incontinence, or tearing, but rather it is feeling forced to follow an outsider’s directions to push when the mother may not be ready to do so (often because doctors and nurses are busy, and have other patients to attend to). It is not the emergence of a child from the vagina that most often causes tearing to the anus, but the barbaric (and disproven) practice of episiotomy (an artificial cut made from vagina to anus) which often results in greater damage than a natural tear, and sometimes leaking and long-term damage in that area.
It saddens me greatly that misinformation about childbirth is so prevalent in our society. Women are still going to the hospital to give birth with the belief that the procedures that are undertaken there are scientific, and are truly in their and and their baby’s best interest, but unfortunately this is often simply not the case.
The continuing very real horrors of hospital birth, the “your husband will thank you” self-hatred rhetoric around birth, and the dichotomy of the presentation of pregnancy and birth in our culture as romantic/disgusting (including the directions women still receive postpartum not to have sex until 6-8 weeks have passed) are draconian, and serve to reinforce the widespread cultural message that women’s bodies belong not to themselves, but to society, to governments, to doctors, to men.
I am so incredibly lucky to have had the good fortune to possess the family background, the intelligence and the independence in order to make the kind of decisions that have led me to have 4 (almost 5) entirely unhindered, perfect and blissful birth experiences at home. In the case of all of my children’s births, no one ever touched, or put their fingers in my yoni. No one ever told me when to push. No one ever even suggested that I put myself in any particular position. No one attached devices to my body. No one ever threatened me. No one ever offered me drugs. No one ever cut me. The dignity and power that define my birth experiences are worlds away from the hospital birth scenario. And how is my yoni doing, after nearly 5 babies? She’s beautiful, strong and healthy, thank you very much. And I can’t wait to give birth again…any day now. What an awesome privilege to be bringing another child into the world, fully in my power. Women’s bodies are magic.