Wednesday, March 3, 2010


Last night I was talking with my husband as we finished-off the last of the apple pie we made on Sunday. He's grown accustomed to my nearly constant birth chatter (poor guy). I was talking about how crazy it was that the maternity care system in this country changed so fast.

My great-grandmother, Margaret, gave birth to my grandmother at home into the hands of a short little English immigrant midwife. My grandmother gave birth to all of her children in the hospital, flat on her back, drugged-up to the point of being virtually unconscious (probably twilight sleep), having her babies pulled out of her by the doctor (probably with forceps), and not remembering a bit of it. Which is why I'm sketchy on the details... she didn't know the details herself! She also had a very difficult time nursing her babies and her milk "dried up" after a short time--probably a result of the sugar water they were given in the hospital and afterward. (Magaret is seated in the photo above, with my father on her lap and my grandmother standing.)

I love my grandmother. She was a mother-figure to me when I was a traumatized and motherless toddler, and we've had a special mother-daughter bond ever since. She's one of the most important people in my life. I love, honor, and respect her greatly. But she's also the woman who told me over and over, when my first-born was a baby, that I was going to spoil her by holding her so much, that I should put her down more, and that I should just let her cry (as a tiny newborn baby) at night and eventually she'd give up and sleep. It was extremely difficult to sort through all the advice and figure out what to do. In the end, I felt strongly that I should go against her advice and follow my instincts. So I did.

I can't help but wonder whether my grandmother's views about mothering were somehow ripple effects of the way she gave birth. Did the disconnected birthing process lead to a more disconnected way of responding to her babies? Or was it simply the way her mother had taught her to care for infants?

This morning, I was reading an article by Pam Udy in Midwifery Today called "Emotional Impact of Cesareans." This part really struck me, in light of last night's conversation with my husband:
When a woman gives birth, she has to reach down inside herself and give more than she thought she had. The limits of her existence are stretched. There is a moment when every woman thinks, “I can‘t do this.” If she is lucky, she has a midwife, a doula or her mom to whisper in her ear, “You are doing it.” As she does it, she becomes someone new: a mother. If the birthing process is skipped or occurs in a hostile situation, or if the interventions become overwhelming, she becomes a different mother than she would have been if she had only had a supportive, midwifery model of care.
Do you think there's some truth to this? Does the way we give birth have ripple effects in our mothering styles? Would my grandmother have been a different type of mother if she had been conscious during her children's births? Or does it have more to do with how we were parented ourselves or our maternal instincts giving each unique child the style of parenting they need?

Please share your thoughts!


Diana J. said...

I can't speak to all of your questions, but I will say that I KNOW that I am a completely different person as the result of natural birth. It changed me inside and out. Going through something that difficult, where I wanted to give up, give in, do anything to get out of the experience - and yet lived through it - was an utterly transformative moment for me. I am a different person, different woman, different mother. That's why I wouldn't trade it for anything - even though it wasn't a ton of fun at the time! :)

Love your blog and read it often, though I don't often have time to comment! :)

kamille said...

yes, yes, and yes. there is most definitely a connection.

it must be why many women today are satisfied with the way our maternity system is - they come from generations of women feeling like that is just how it is and should be.

my mother gave birth to her first strapped the hospital bed with a paracervical block, enema, pubic shave, etc. she didn't see her baby girl for at least several hours and unfortunately, when breastfeeding was not going well at 3 weeks, the doctor said to just give up and that it didn't matter. so she did. that same sister did not succeed at breastfeeding (she has PCOS which i believe does contribute to low milk supply and had no support in finding ways to boost her supply).

i don't really know where i am going with this but basically the way my mother experienced the births of her 8 children has affected the advice she gives us - and i have found that many times, although my mother is dear to me, i need to ignore the advice she gives me because it does not feel right to me now that i am the mother.

kamille said...

and i also want to add, though i have said it before, i am also changed because of my natural birth experience. i am a different mother to my baby than i was the first time around and that is in large part due to my birth experience.

Kris said...

My births have changed who I am. I have always wanted natural childbirth. My mother had natural in hospital with all her children, even twins. I had wonderful support with all of my births. First in hospital with some great Doulas. The next two were at home with an awesome team. Each birth was different. Each birth changed my life. Each birth made me who I am.
Thanks for your blog, it is great.

By the way- Pam is a great lady with great insite. And a great friend. Love her.

Rachel said...

This is a great post....I feel like natural birth has changed me... definitely changed how I view myself, but also adds little bits of insight as I go about my day to day life.

I think part of how the older generation views birth and mothering is from their culture. I'm not sure that how they gave birth caused how they mother, but how their culture viewed birth and mothering changed how they subsequently mothered.

I will also say that just because you have a natural birth, does not guarantee wonderful insight and growth, I think it has more to do with making the choice to have birth naturally. It is the choosing that makes the difference.

Women clamored for chloraphil when it first came out(that's what knocks you out for birth). They had experienced natural childbirth for a long time, yet they absolutely wanted pain relief. My mom had natural childbirth and was very traumatized by the process.

When it comes to whether or not we gain something from it, I think it has more to do with whether or not we want to gain something.

Buscando la Luz said...

Great comments, everyone!

I love your train of thought, Rachel!

Missy said...

Great post:) I think it is so interesting to see how things have changed with each generation.

I would also second Rachel's comment because my mom had 6 natural births in the hospital and has only said negative things about them. She's very pro-epidural when it comes to her daughters, and told me "just get an epidural right away in case you need another c/s" Not really the support I was looking for.

I love and respect my Mom, but just as in your experience with your Grandmother, I have to ignore most of her advice surrounding birth. She seems to view natural birth as traumatizing and dangerous, and I have to assume it is because she was traumatized by her own experiences.

If anything it makes me want to be a good example to my kids and help them to see all the wonderful potential in birth.

kamille said...

i love rachel's train of thought too. when i hear of women having negative natural birth experiences it makes me sad, but then i realize that if you were not prepared for it, it could be a really horrible experience. i think it is so right - if you are willing to learn and wanting to have that transformation, it will happen.

Sharalea said...

I think all of the natural birth experiences & life changing feelings are awesome.

I was preparing for a natural birth when the medical "rules" intervened (24 hrs after my water broke & I was only at a 6)--so I ended up having a C-section in the name of "safety".

Further, I didn't hold my baby for 5 hours. FIVE HOURS.

It was the most opposite of my "ideal" situation EVER.

I would say I am a different person because of it.
I would say my 12 hours of unmedicated labor showed me what I could do & how my body is meant to birth.
I would say my experience with a C-section was NOT how my body is meant to birth, but it was the only experience I was offered at that time.
I would say not holding my baby for 5 hours was miserable, but didn't prevent me from bonding with my baby.

I worked hard to make sure nursing happened & happened well. I ignored advice to 'give it up' if it hurt or became to cumbersome. I ended up nursing my darling son for 16 months--he never even had a bottle!

I carried him around in a sling, we spent nearly every waking moment together--I'd say we're pretty bonded & I would NOT say that my birthing experience makes my connection & bond with my child any less intense or focused.

I don't know that you can really get a good analysis of answers to your questions because most of the people who read your blog are natural birthers or interested in natural birth.

Besides, I think many women who chose otherwise would take offense to the idea of less bonding.

ANYWAY. Just my thoughts. I love what you're doing & your blog! Thanks for the insights!

Buscando la Luz said...

I love your comment, Sharalea. I love this discussion.

While I do think cesareans and traumatic births can seriously derail the early-motherhood experience, ultimately, I think it really does just come down to each individual mother's choices.

Regardless of how we gave birth or how our mothers raised us (or didn't raise us), we can choose what kind of mother we want to be. That's really liberating.