Have you ever shared something about your birth that was less than perfect? Maybe it was something disrespectful that was said, bodily autonomy that was taken, silence that was forced upon you, or any other number of things that go wrong in mainstreams births. Then, after you’ve shared that bit of painful truth, the person you’re trusting responds with a well meaning, but entirely dismissive and damaging, statement…
“Well, a healthy baby is all that matters.”
As a twim Mom with bad birth trauma, I hear this statement almost every single time I share pieces of my birth story. The only exception I have found are typically women within the out of hospital birthing community. These women work tirelessly to improve birth for all women. Because of this, they understand the depth and seriousness that is birth trauma.
Surprisingly, I’ve ever heard Moms say this to me when referencing their own upcoming births. Even the Moms who are determined to have a different outcome than their previous traumatic birth end their discussions with something along the lines of, “Well…a healthy baby is all that matters so I just want to do what’s best for my baby.” It’s as if this has been ingrained into her from all of the silencing she experienced after her first first.
There is something that you need to know. First time expecting Moms need to know this. Seasoned Moms of many need to know this. New Moms in the trenches of postpartum PTSD and the fourth trimester need to know this. Partners of Moms who still wake in a cold sweat from night terrors of that day need to know this. Doulas, midwives, Obstetricians, nurses, lactation consultants, and any other person who interacts with a new or expectant Mom NEEDS to know this…
A healthy baby is NOT all that matters.
I will repeat that again. A healthy baby, is not all that matters.
Of course, a healthy baby matters a lot. It can be argued it is the most important thing. But, it is not ALL that matters. Mom absolutely positively matters. She is extremely important. Mom has just carried this baby for somewhere around 40 weeks (give or take a few) and throughout the entire pregnancy everyone encouraged her to take care of herself, sympathized with her pain/discomfort, supported her in her struggles, nourished and loved on and cared for her.
Then, as soon as she has the baby, all of a sudden all that matters is a healthy baby. Moms feelings, experience, physical and emotional health, none of that seems to be on anyone’s radar anymore. And, if it is, it’s not very high on the radar and is very uncomfortable so it is quickly dismissed or diminished. Subjects are changed. People “have to go”. They don’t visit again.
“River nearly died at birth…Serenity nearly died the next day.”
I love this article by Improving Birth. In it, they discuss why a healthy baby isn’t enough. And they’re right.
The birth of my twin girls, River (Baby A) and Serenity (Baby B), was extremely traumatic for both my husband and I. River nearly died at birth and took 7 minutes to resuscitate. The next day, Serenity nearly died in my arms when she had a preemie apnea and went blue, limp, and unresponsive.
I had people telling me, “well a healthy baby is all that matters” before I had even met my sick, intubated River in the NICU. People were telling me “well, a healthy baby is all that matters” when they took Serenity away and told me I couldn’t go with her. That is not how you support a person who just experienced trauma.
“She brought me so much more than a bottle of soap.”
The most kind thing that was done for me while I was in the hospital was the day after they were born. Since Serenity was in room with me the first day of her life, the NICU flat out refused to let me visit River since I would have had to bring Serenity with me. They then banned her from the nursery because we chose to delay the newborn bath until we got home. This meant that I was left with no way to visit River. I was appalled at the suggestion to use Johnson and Johnson products on my newborn baby when I was finally bullied into bathing Serenity.
So, a fellow twin Mom left her home and her kids and brought me a bottle of baby wash by a brand I could trust. She gave me a hug. She chatted with me. She told me I was doing a great job. She encouraged me to keep pumping. She didn’t look at me with pity, disgust, or sarcasm like the nurses did. I will never ever be able to adequately thank her. She brought me so much more than a bottle of soap.
When I was feeling desperate to talk to people about what happened to us, I found my words were too much, too strong, and too scary for anyone to listen to. Most people interrupted me and casually changed the conversation or dismissed any further conversation with the terrible, “well the babies are fine that’s all that matters.” I’ve even gotten the infamous, “aren’t you over that yet?” more than a few times considering my twins are almost two and my birth trauma is still very real and very fresh.
If you are a Mom reading this who just had a traumatic birth, I want you to know that you matter. I want you to know that your experience matters. Your feelings matter. Your pain and sorrow matters. Your scars matter. Your feelings of isolation matter. Your PTSD diagnosis is real and matters. Your depression matters. Your anxiety matters. Your panic matters. Your feelings of lack of bonding matters. Your tears matter. Your story matters.
If you are a Mom reading this who had a traumatic birth and is pregnant again, I want you to know that on top of all of the above that matters, THIS BIRTH MATTERS. It is absolutely okay for you to want better. For you to demand better. For you to expect better. For you to speak out for better. It is absolutely okay for you to demand your provider is educated and practices evidence based medicine. It is absolutely okay for you to not accept anything less than your ability to make informed choices (both informed consent AND informed refusal). It is absolutely okay for you to change providers if they say bullshit things to you like “you’re not allowed to…”.
Most of all, whatever happens during your birth, you have the right to feel whatever you feel, whenever you feel it, however your feel it, for however long you feel it, after birth.
I support you. There are others who support improving birth too. Find them, stand by them, and take shelter and strength in their desire to empower and support you and your choices.
Because you matter, too.