Friday, July 23, 2010

What's Wrong With My Kids? Epidurals, Judgements, and Those Damned Mommy Wars

When I was pregnant with my first child, I made the decision that I wanted to give birth without an epidural.  I decided to have a natural birth for a lot of reasons, not the least of which was my irrational fear of needles and my horor at the thought of having a giant one shoved into my spine.

And, yes, I had a lot of other really good, well-researched and medically valid reasons for avoiding an epidural as well.  I'll write about that sometime, but it's not really relevant to this post.

What is relevant are the reactions that I got when I shared my plan for a drug-free birth with other people.

My obstetrician smiled supportively, but made it pretty clear that he thought I was a naive, first-time mom who was in for a rude awakening and would be begging for an epidural once I actually experienced the pain of labor.

Whatever.  I was twenty-four years old and I still looked like a teenager.  I was used to people underestimating me and not giving me credit for knowing what I was talking about.  I knew that it was the obstetrician who was in for a rude awakening, because in the end I gave him a run for his money and did get the natural birth I was planning.     

What really bothered me, though, was the reaction I got from another mom, a close family member with two babies of her own.  Her first birth had been an induction, followed by an epidural, followed by a c-section, and her second a scheduled cesarean.

"Wait," she said when she heard my plan.  "You don't want to get an epidural?"

"What's wrong with my kids?" 

And there it was.  Five little words.  Without even realizing it, she had cut straight to the heart of the mommy wars. 

Oh, and also left me speechless, by the way.  'Cause I had no idea how to even begin to respond to what she had just said.

How the hell did my decision to skip the epidural instantaneously translate in her mind into an indictment of her decision to get one?  And more than that, a conclusion that I thought that her decision had permanently fucked up her kids???

I might have understood her response a little better if I had been up on my high horse preaching about how natural birth is the only way and epidurals ruin children for life.  But I wasn't.  Number one, I'm not that kind of person, and number two, I don't believe those things are true.  And most significantly, I hadn't even had a chance to say anything at all.  I didn't utter one word to defend or explain the benefits of unmedicated birth before she jumped to the assumption that I was judging her for making a different choice from my own.

I think I escaped the conversation that day by mumbling something about not liking needles and quickly changing the subject.  But her words have stayed with me.  So much so that here I am writing about it over six years later.

Why do we as mothers so often assume that if another mother has made a choice different from our own, she must automatically think that our own choice is wrong?  Is it so hard to accept that, just because the choice was wrong for her, doesn't mean that she thinks it's also wrong for us? 

Are other mothers really judging us all the time, or are we the ones judging ourselves?

There are benefits to unmedicated childbirth -- an easier start to breastfeeding, a lowered risk of a vacuum or forceps delivery, as well as a lowered risk of an episiotomy or cesarean, just to name a few.  There are also drawbacks, the fact that it fucking hurts being at the top of my list.  I'm not one of those birth is beautiful, embrace the pain and let's light candles and burn incense types.  I understand why so many women opt for pain relief, and I don't judge them for making that choice.  But I think I should have the right to stand firm in my choice to skip it for a myriad of reasons, and to talk about the benefits that caused me to reach my decision without other moms assuming that I'm judging them just by virtue of thinking differently.     

I read somewhere recently that the mommy wars are fought more in the heads of individual women than they are between women who have made different choices in their lives, and that idea has really resonated with me.  We're all so sensitive to perceived criticism of how we raise our kids that maybe we're not catching on to the fact that sometimes we're not really being criticized at all. 

Maybe, sometimes, we really are fighting the mommy wars in our own heads. 

Maybe we're the ones questioning our own choices.

Maybe we are our own worst enemy.

You think?


Do you feel judged by other mothers for your choices?  Or are you sometimes afraid to talk about or advocate for them for fear offending other moms who have done things differently?  What's your take on the so-called mommy wars? 

Photo credit: jordy clarke / Flickr


natalie said...

"We're all so sensitive to perceived criticism of how we raise our kids that maybe we're not catching on to the fact that sometimes we're not really being criticized at all."

Love it. Sometimes it is tempting to assume that because I do things differently that others are looking at me like I'm weird, but really, they're probably admiring my cute babies. ;)

St. Louis Smart Mama said...

Natalie - I agree that it's harder when you do things differently from most people. I've gotten plenty of criticism for many of the parenting choices I've made. I wasn't very good at dealing with it at first, but as I've become more secure in my own choices it's gotten easier to assume good intentions in others. It can still be hard sometimes, though :)

Brenda Dale said...

I think the worst is when you are judged by those in the attachment parenting community and told how wrong you are. I'll admit I had two epidurals. Both times I wanted natural births. The first time I was induced because of Pre-E and it took many hourse for me to finally decide to get one. I had a super supportive labor nurse who literally tried everything to help me before I took the epidural. In the end, the horrid back labor made up my mind. The second time, I had a rapid delivery, with back labor, and I was begging for something because it was so intense (my whole labor and delivery was about 3 hours from first labor pain to end).

I also chose to circumsize my boys. Maybe today I wouldn't but I won't apologize for a researched decision that I made with my husband, taking his opinion very seriously in the choice.

I hate running into the AP folks that feel if you don't do everything AP or natural, you aren't good enough. And I think that's the shame. Instead of trying to spread AP practices, they get too worried about those of us that aren't "perfect" AP folks.

And I tell you what, I hand it to any woman who does it natural. It wasn't for me, but that's okay. There are options, and I just wish others would respect that.

St. Louis Smart Mama said...

Brenda - It sounds like you had the birth experience that was right for you, and you're absolutely right, no one should judge you for it.

I agree that certain members of the AP community, just like certain members of the mainstream community, can be very judgemental. I personally have gotten it from both sides.

I just hope that we don't lump everybody in together - you know, like all AP parents will jump down your throat if you had an epidural or all mainstream parents will think you're crazy and stupid if you didn't.

Sadly, there will always be other moms judging us, but I also think it's important to remember that there are those who genuinely respect women who have made different choices. I try really hard to be the second kind :-)