Is Natural Birth All About Mommy Guilt?

Many people against encouraging natural birth claim that natural birth advocates are simply forcing their opinions on others. They say that natural birth is all about mommy guilt – about being superior over other mothers. They say that emphasis on preparing for birth only creates feelings of guilt in moms who don't, for whatever reason, have a natural birth.

But is this the truth?

I think it's a valid question to ask, and I'm going to address it today.

Is Natural Birth All About Mommy Guilt

A “Blame Mama” Culture

There's a lot going on in the world of mommy wars, no doubt fueled into a raging inferno by the internet. But there has long been comparison and guilt among the ranks of mothers. And culture has had a long history of blaming moms when something goes “wrong.”

I would actually argue that humans have a long history of blaming “other” and not just “mother” (in other words, looking for somebody, anybody else to blame is a habit and it's very easy to point fingers at the nearest mom when it comes to our children).

The point is, there's a lot of finger-pointing at mothers and much of the time there's really not much a mom could have done.  Sometimes something happens that really couldn't have been prevented (such as illness).  And sometimes, especially in the cases of older children, those children make their own choices.

It's important to acknowledge that this happens, and that ultimately a mama can do her very best and something may still “go wrong.”  I'm not denying that.  I do not, however, think that natural birth is about blaming mothers for cesareans or traumatic births births.  More to come on that.  First lets make a few distinctions:

Blame vs. Responsibility

There are things we can learn.  There are ways that we can grow.  This is not just true in pregnancy, birth, and parenting, but in all aspects of our lives.  To grow we need to understand the difference between blame and responsibility.

I have young adults in my house now, and this is a concept we're teaching them.  I think it's a concept that many adults don't understand, but it's so important when you're parenting.

Blame is hopeless.  It's realizing that you caused a result, getting angry (or devastated) at yourself, and then just stopping.  Or, it's realizing that something outside of yourself caused a situation and stopping there.  You don't examine what you could do to influence or change the situation.

This is where our young adults tend to be at.  If it's pointed out that the result they don't like came about because of their actions, they get upset (for example, they have to cram all their school assignments into an afternoon because they didn't do them earlier in the week).  They don't want it pointed out that “it's my fault” because they stop at blame.  What's the alternative?

Responsibility is hope.  Now, it may be heavy at first, because it often has to start with “it's my fault.”  But it doesn't just stop there, dejected.  When you take responsibility you also say “what can I do differently next time?”  Or, if something has happened to you, you say “what can I do to work with or change this situation.”

This is the lesson my kids need to discover – if change how act, can change the result of the situation (in our example, if they do their work when it's assigned, they don't get behind and don't have to spend hours cramming it in).

It is true that sometimes things happen – whatever those may be.  It's true that sometimes a baby or a mama really needs a cesarean.  But it's also true that cesarean surgery is overused, Pitocin (Syntocinon) is overused, and labors and births are overly managed.

Taking responsibility for your pregnancy & birth by gaining knowledge, making conscious care provider choices, and preparing yourself physically, mentally, and emotionally for both the hows and the whys of natural birth makes it far more likely that you won't need any intervention.  And you won't get steamrolled into outcomes you later regret.

That's not a blame game – it's empowering.

(NOTE: Want a Perfect Birth Plan Template? Use this template and step-by-step videos to write a birth plan that gets your birth team on your side for a beautiful birth experience! Get the birth plan kit here.)

Handle Labor Pain

Understanding vs. Guilt

Sometimes we make choices in ignorance.  Sometimes we make choices because we have bad information.  Diet is a good example of this.  Most people in developed countries eat a diet very high in processed carbohydrates and low in fat because that's what our governments and health organizations recommend.  But that's not actually the best way for people to eat.  We need fats to absorb nutrients and nourish our brains.  And we don't need so much sugar (even complex carbohydrates are sugars).

But if all you've heard from your government is that fat makes you fat, you may eat a low fat diet and not know any better.  When you discover that advice is poor, you can change the choices you make to reflect new understanding.

It's not really worth it to spend a lot of time feeling guilty that you spent two decades eating a bunch of “heart healthy grains” and starving your brain and reproductive system of needed fat.  You change what you're doing now and enjoy the better health that results.  Guilt is a very powerful and dangerous thing.

When it comes to our children, guilt can be killer.  I have six children and I am no stranger to mommy guilt.  Talk to my husband – he'll tell you that I beat myself up and hold myself responsible for just about everything that goes “wrong” with our children.  It doesn't much matter if it's actually my fault – I feel responsibility for it.  You cannot get through parenthood without feeling this (regardless of how great the births were).

Guilt, like blame, is unproductive.  But understanding is not.  When you understand, you can change your situation.  As Maya Angelou said:

“I did then what I knew how to do. Now that I know better, I do better.”

This is one of my all-time favorite quotes because it truly helps me (and you) move from blame and guilt to understanding and responsibility.

I know it's not quite as easy with parenting, pregnancy, birth, baby choices as it may be with a change in diet.  I have worked with a lot of students over the past two years and many of them have needed time and a listening ear to sort through a traumatic birth, or even a necessary c-section, and get to the place where they can let go of disappointment.

Planning a natural birth may force you to reflect on choices that you made and realize that some of them led to interventions you didn't want.  That's completely okay.  It's also okay to feel sad, even to grieve those choices – to grieve for what you feel you may have lost with that child's birth.  That's not the same as “blaming” and it doesn't mean you love that child any less.  It doesn't mean you're less of a mom.  It's just that you understand more now (probably because you started seeking after a challenging situation).  And when you know better, you do better.

And if you already knew all the information and had interventions because they were truly needed?  It's okay to grieve the birth you didn't have – even while you're thankful for the interventions – even while you celebrate your baby's life.  You can feel confident you made the very best choice for your baby, and time will help heal the pain.  Go softly with yourself, gentle mother.

Conscious Preparation

Natural birth is not about blaming mothers who do not have a natural birth.  I do think that all moms should prepare consciously for labor and birth.  I think that all mamas should research and understand how much of a difference they can make in their pregnancy and birth – how much power they have to create health for themselves and their babies.

But moms have the right to do all of that research and still make their own choices.  A woman can make the choice to have a cesarean section.  She can make the choice to have an epidural.  She can make the choice to go to the hospital early in her labor.

A midwife, doctor, childbirth educator, etc. may know that a choice leads to more interventions or a higher likelihood of a surgical birth.  He or she can share information with a mom-to-be.  Ultimately it is still that woman's choice.  And if that woman later grieves the outcome she may revisit or explore her choices again, and make different ones next time.

As a mom who has chosen natural birth, I do cringe when I hear stories of a woman who got caught in the “cascade of interventions.”  But I don't feel upset at that woman, and I certainly don't have an “I told you so” kind of attitude.

What I do think when I hear those stories is that I wish that all moms-to-be would take the time to truly understand pregnancy and birth.  And most don't – and really, it's not their fault.  Readily available information on pregnancy doesn't cover the amazing physiological and metabolic changes a woman's body goes through during pregnancy (or what needs to be done to support those changes).  Readily available information on birth doesn't cover much outside of pure mechanics – women (and care providers) don't understand how important hormones are, and how much changing them or even short-circuiting them can interfere with birth.  Readily available information on the type of birth and early bonding time doesn't cover how important the probiotics a baby picks up in the birth canal and while breastfeeding are to a baby's lifelong immune system strength.

This information is just not there in mainstream pregnancy and childbirth advice.  Women have to go hunting to get a perspective outside of conventional wisdom and mainstream advice.  I do wish that every mom had access to all the information available about the beautiful complexity and careful design of pregnancy and birth.  Maybe many women would still make the same decision they would have before getting the information – that's fine.  What's important is that a woman feels she really was in control of her choices during birth – and truly understood the implications of those choices.

Finding a Balance

I do think that choosing a natural birth requires a level of responsibility from a mother.  Carla Hartley says:

“The decision to have a home birth is the decision to make all the decisions.”

It's true even with a hospital birth.  Natural birth can be intense.  It requires understanding the process of birth (physical, hormonal, emotional, etc.) and working to safeguard that and working with that process – even if it gets overwhelming (and sometimes it does).  Some moms don't want that responsibility, and they want to simply put their trust in a care provider.  They don't want to worry about how to “handle” labor, and because they believe than an epidural handles labor for them, that's their choice.  Again, that's their choice.

There must be balance because we need to respect mother's choices even while advocating for what is proven by not just modern research, but by countless years of humanity (that natural birth is optimal for human mother and human baby, and that respecting the built-in safety mechanisms of labor results in safety for most mothers and babies).

There's no need to induce guilt or fling accusations, or to think less of a mom because she made a different choice than you would.  But it is okay to share information, or recommend resources.  We learn because others are willing to share.   We learn because we're willing to listen (and if someone isn't wanting to listen, it's not time to share).

Natural birth is about taking responsibility.  It may be about making different choices… about grieving past choices.  And it is about standing up for what is best for most mamas and babies.  I know the word “empowering” is overused, but truly that's what this website is about – empowering mamas to understand how much of a difference they make in the health of their pregnancies and in the births of their babies.  Knowledge is power – the power to make a difference for yourself and your baby.

(NOTE: Want a Perfect Birth Plan Template? Use this template and step-by-step videos to write a birth plan that gets your birth team on your side for a beautiful birth experience! Get the birth plan kit here.)

Handle Labor Pain

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Is Natural Birth All About Mommy Guilt

About the author 


Kristen is a pregnancy coach, student midwife, and a mama to 8 - all born naturally! I've spent nearly two decades helping mamas have healthy babies, give birth naturally, and enjoy the adventure of motherhood. Does complete support for a sacred birth and beautiful beginning for your baby resonate with you? Contact me today to chat about how powerful guidance and coaching can transform your pregnancy, birth, and mothering journey <3

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