I remember when I was planning my first birth several people told me, “You know they don’t give you a medal for doing it without drugs.” I know that for some people this was a nice way of telling me that they would understand if I changed my mind and got an epidural. For others, I think it was a way of saying that their way of doing it was just as good as the natural birth that I was planning. Whatever their intentions, I always saw it as extremely unsupportive. What I wanted to hear was, “that’s great” and “good for you” but that was rarely the response of people that I talked to. After my son was born, I still got weird responses when people found out that I had done it without medication. Some people assumed that I had a fast or easy labor. Some people told me that I was crazy. Many told me that was fine for me but they couldn’t have done it because their labor was so much more difficult. The only people that really seemed to celebrate my accomplishment (which is how I see it now) were the people that were there in the room with me. They saw my pain, my resolve, and my strength. I felt empowered and proud of my natural birth, and yet most people didn’t want to hear about it.
Now that I am a doula and a mother I think that maybe we should start making medals for the victories of labor and motherhood. Of course not every medal would look like mine. Not everyone has an unmedicated birth. There are so many other victories that we should be acknowledging. I want to give a medal to the VBAC mamas for who opt for a vaginal birth in spite of doubtful or unsupportive doctors. I think that they deserve a medal even if their trial of birth is unsuccessful and they ultimately end up with a second cesarean, because ultimately they succeeded in doing what was best for their babies. I want to give a medal to the mamas that withstand long labors. Labor can last two hours or fifty hours and those mamas that are in active labor for days are warriors. I want to give a medal to all of the mamas that have inductions. Inductions can be scary, long, and painful. Many are being induced because of other health concerns and that can often complicate things. I am always amazed by the strong mamas that manage to make it through a pitocin induction without the help of medication. I think that those women deserve two big medals. I also think that there should be a medal for the mamas with posterior babies that give them back labor. It is amazing what a difference it can make when your baby is just looking in a different direction.
I think that there should be a medal for the mamas that push for three hours. Although this was one of the most exciting and empowering parts of my labor, I still cannot imagine it lasting that long. The anticipation, excitement, and slight disappointment with every push are just incredible. On the other hand, I also think that there should be an award for the mamas that push their babies out in ten minutes. Just because it is faster does not make it less painful, and these mamas deserve a medal for their efficient pushing skills.
I think that there should be an award for every woman that asks her doctor “Why do you want to do this?” or “What are the alternatives?” It is so easy for a doctor to just tell you what to do, and it takes a truly strong mama to insist on informed consent. That does not mean that you should refuse every intervention that a doctor suggests, just that you should know your options and make the best decision for you. As a doula this is very important to me. As much as I would love to advocate for my clients, it is more important for me to support and empower them to advocate for themselves. This award would also go to all of the women that research their birthing options and seek out care providers that they feel will work for them. Whether you choose to birth in a hospital, birthing center or at home, I think it is important to know that you made that decision because it is what you wanted.
Things do not always go as planned, but those mamas deserve big awards too. The home birth mama that decides that things are not working and she transfers to the hospital deserves an award for protecting her baby despite her personal desires. The woman that decides to get an epidural should not feel disappointed, but rather be celebrated for knowing her limits. The mama that has an emergency cesarean should be acknowledged for trusting in her birth team to do what is best. All of these things are worthy of praise and not things to be ashamed of or pushed under the rug.
With every birth there is a series of victories. Women should feel welcome to talk about these victories. We should be proud of them. We should not be jealous of the victories of others. Our stories are different, but they are still amazing. We might not have actual trophies, but I guess we do have reminders of or triumphs. We have those sweet smiling babes, those stretch marks that don’t go away, and the memories. I still think someone should make us all medals.