I like a good myth: a powerful story that, though not
literally true, can convey some deeper truth about wisdom, courage and human
life. But not all myths are created equally. Sometimes their messages can be
misleading or downright false. And when a myth strays from the truth—when it
communicates a falsehood—we need to erase it from our collective consciousness.
As such, I think it's time to eliminate the following
misleading myths about childbirth and replace them with more empowering—and more
Sure, you can schedule a cesarean. And sometimes you
don't need to experience labor before having a cesarean. But make no mistake:
c-sections are not an "easy way out" of anything.
There is nothing easy about undergoing major abdominal
surgery. In fact, there is something especially challenging about undergoing
major abdominal surgery and then caring for a newborn (or newborns) during
recovery. So while cesareans might have some advantages for some people—and
they have quite serious advantages when they are medically indicated—they are
by no means "easy." More importantly, they don't make a woman any lesser than a
person who has given birth vaginally, but that's exactly what the phrase "easy
way out" suggests.
Myth 2: People who don't use pain medication during labor are just being martyrs.
How many times have we heard, "You don't get a medal
for giving birth without an epidural"?
Blech. Ugh. Ick. Stop it. This statement completely
misses the many reasons—besides earning a mythical medal—that a person would
want to forego an epidural or other type of pain medication during labor. They
might have had a prior bad experience with an epidural. They might have a
medical condition that precludes them from getting an epidural or using
narcotic pain medication. They might want to be active, upright and mobile
during labor. They might panic at the mere thought of numbness or
semi-paralysis. They might want to try to avoid any of the relatively small risks
associated with pain medication during childbirth.
Blech. Ugh. Ick. Stop it. This statement completely misses the many reasons—besides earning a mythical medal—that a person would want to forgo an epidural or other type of pain medication during labor.
Sure, they might be striving for a sense of
accomplishment. They are entitled to feel as much of that pride as they want, too. But that pride and that sense of accomplishment are their own. Their
feelings make them no better or worse than any other person who gave birth in
any other way.
Myth 3: Women used to just squat in a field, give birth and then continue with their
work day. Birth was a lot better when women felt this empowered to give birth.
It makes sense to be amazed by the women of centuries
past who did, indeed, squat in a field, give birth and then continue working
throughout the day. But if we idealize their situation, we risk obscuring the
fact that many of these women gave birth under extremely harsh and dangerous
conditions. They might have been slaves or indentured servants. They may have
had no choice but to give birth under a blazing hot sun, surrounded by cotton or
tobacco or wheat and dozens of other workers. They might have preferred to give
birth somewhere other than the field where they worked.
They were amazing. Astonishing, even. But they are far
from a romantic ideal for childbirth.
Myth 4: All doctors are cesarean-happy jerks who only care about avoiding a lawsuit.
Some doctors have super-high cesarean rates. Many
doctors report that a fear of litigation influences their medical decisions.
And some doctors are indeed jerks.
Nonetheless, it doesn't make sense to universalize any
of these individual characteristics and apply them to all doctors. Some
doctors have relatively low cesarean rates. Some doctors balance their medical
expertise and advice with the needs, values and preferences of their patients.
Some doctors—many doctors, even—are compassionate care providers who respect
pregnant and birthing people's autonomy.
More importantly, some doctors are a great fit for
some childbearing women. And when it comes to childbirth, this "great fit"
(plus good skills) is far more important than a care provider's specific title
Myth 5: All midwives are a perfect fit for every birthing person.
evidence doesn't mean that every midwife is the right care provider for every
woman. It doesn't mean that all home-birth midwives are created equally. It
doesn't mean that all certified nurse midwives are created equally. It doesn't
guarantee that a woman choosing to give birth with a midwife will have a
vaginal birth, an intervention-free birth or even a safe birth. It doesn't
even guarantee that every person who is a midwife practices in a way that is
typically described as the "midwifery model of care."
each individual woman and each individual labor, each individual midwife is
radically unique. To suggest that all midwives are any one uniform things runs
the risk that women will choose a care provider who, because of their skill
levels or practice styles or any other characteristics, might not be a great
fit for them after all.
Myth 6: Labor is always a terrible, exceedingly painful process that leaves birthing
people feeling traumatized.
Big shocker: Labor often hurts. Rare is the person who
experiences absolutely no pain while giving birth. But the near-guarantee of
this pain doesn't mean that the pain itself is inherently traumatic. Nor does
it mean that any person should be forced to suffer through the pain of
In fact, with a good support team (which can include a
spouse or partner, other loved ones, a care provider, nursing staff, a doula,
etc.) and a good set of available tools (which can include a birth tub, a birth
ball, massage, verbal encouragement, breathing exercises, movement or an
epidural) a birthing person can manage their pain instead of suffering through
it. And when a person can cope with their pain, the pain itself becomes less
traumatic. Sometimes, the birth experience itself can even be empowering.
Myth 7: Every person who gives birth is able to have an empowering and "orgasmic"
For some people, birth truly is a blissful, empowering
or orgasmic—yes, sometimes literally orgasmic—experience. But the specific circumstances
of each person's birth might make these sorts of experiences possible.
Sometimes emergencies happen. Sometimes they happen rather
unexpectedly. Sometimes joy mixes with anguish during childbirth. Sometimes the
intensity of birth far exceeds a person's expectations. Sometimes birth doesn't
match up with a person's ideal image of it. Sometimes birth is quite traumatic.
Sometimes birth does not result in a healthy mom and baby.
Accordingly, bliss shouldn't be the ideal for which we
are striving. Few people can actually reach any sort of bliss during childbirth—even
the people who don't experience any trauma at all. So instead of bliss, perhaps
we should consider a different set of ideal conditions for childbirth.
But this research—and other people's opinions—don't give a complete picture of "the right way to give birth."
we should ask:
Did the birthing person's care providers and support
people treat her with respect? Was she able to have a say in her treatment and
care? Was she able to make choices that aligned with her values and
preferences? Was she healthy? Was her baby (or babies) healthy? If not, were
they able to access compassionate care and counseling?
A blissful and orgasmic birth? Let's aim for a safe,
healthy, supported, respectful and autonomous birth instead.
Myth 8: There is one right way to give birth.
At home or in the hospital? With a midwife or a
doctor? Certified professional midwife or certified nurse midwife? Vaginal
birth or cesarean section? VBAC or repeat cesarean? Epidural or no drugs? Water
birth or not? Doula or no doula? Birth in the bed or birth out of the bed?
Induction or spontaneous labor?
Research demonstrates that some of these options are
relatively safer or healthier than others. And some people are quick to point
out that their preferred method of giving birth is vastly superior to any other
But this research—and other people's opinions—don't
give a complete picture of "the right way to give birth." And that's because for
every single birthing person, their specific values, preferences,
circumstances, health histories, care provider accessibility, birth location
standards, fears, personal histories, past traumas, social situations and goals
will inform and situate every one of their birth decisions.