Birth Shame & Blame: A Response to An Epidemic

midwiferyfor soul quote

For twelve solid years I pioneered the natural birth industry as a childbirth educator, doula, student of ‘traditional’ midwifery, and advocate.  This included a strong focus on instinctive and physiological labor and birth.  The motivation to teach about the power of birth, from this lens, was supported by scientific evidence in the fields of physiology, endocrinology, neuroscience, personal experience and a belief that the mammalian female body was created to give birth instinctively.

Deeper yet, I became a spokesperson for natural birth after the birth of my first child because I saw birth as a women’s rights issue; I wanted to stop violence against women in birth.  Naturally, I saw the medical institution as the culprit (and those who worked within it) and Midwifery as the solution.

I believe that all passion is motivated initially from a place of heart and soul; a desire to ‘do good’ and ‘help’.  However, although the initial motivation stemmed from a place to ‘do no harm’, it is hard to maintain that place of pure motivation without developing an ideology.

I want to talk about how the ‘natural’ birth ideology can be contributing to the concerning rise in childbirth shame and postpartum depression. Including my personal and professional mental battle, as I wrestle with this paradox and help mothers find healing.  

Fifteen years deep I am still grappling with the question: If birth is physiological and instinctive than why is it not the experience for so many labouring mothers?

What stands in the way of accessing this mammalian birth right?  And why does it matter?

For years I believed that if care givers would just support birth physiology and get out of the way with all of their protocols and interventions, then women would birth instinctively and uncomplicated most of the time.  This led to a belief that the reason why there is a high rate of complicated births, followed by unwanted c-sections and interventions, was/is the caregivers ‘fault’ for not applying physiological evidence based care.

From this vantage point the ‘cure’ was/is simple: Care givers need to change their practices to be supportive of physiological and instinctive birth.  

The First Layer of Blame

This mindset led towards what I would consider to be the first layer of blame: If childbirth did not turn out the way the mother had hoped, someone is to be blamed, and that someone is the caregiver!  

For a few years I was stuck in this mindset and could not see beyond it.  Care givers of birth (Obgyn, Midwives, Nurses) were at fault; the system was at fault; and the education was at fault.  Mothers could scapegoat their authentically painful feelings by adopting this mindset.  Instead of authentic grief being expressed in response to their unwanted birthing experience, mothers could project anger towards the institution of birth and make them ‘wrong’.

This anger has fuelled many movements within childbirth: Freebirth/unassisted birthing; Cesarean prevention and awareness; Mainstreaming midwifery; Childbirth rights; Thousands of blogs and videos; Documentaries about the politics in childbirth; and Lawsuits against mistreatment in labor.

These movements have opened up the conversation about childbirth in that, giving birth is no longer a private affair but a public topic of conversation.

Within a decade I have personally witnessed the business of birth BOOM! Doula is no longer a puzzling sounding word with no context; but rather a necessity for pregnant families to have by their side.  We have experienced an explosion within the Doula industry: There are more courses and instructors now, more Doulas, online programs, extra ‘workshops’, birth bag supplies to be purchased, and even postpartum doulas.

If you are pregnant you are bombarded with more than a handful of different childbirth classes to take, all of which are most often focused on helping you have a ‘natural’ childbirth experience; some even focusing on hypnotherapy to help you train your brain to ‘let go’ in labor so you can have a pain-free physiological labor.

Midwifery has become mainstream (for the most part) and more and more people are hearing the word and choosing a Midwife as their primary care giver.  And, for pregnant families within my home city of Edmonton, many are denied access to care because there are not enough midwives to serve the demand.  Met with outraged citizens, many of these women who are denied access of care are afraid to give birth with an Obgyn in attendance (I was one of these women who feared OB care).

The Second Layer of Blame

This feeds what I believe to be the second layer of blame: The system has denied women access to caregiver of choice; it is therefore the systems fault for a unwanted birth outcome.  

Again, outrage in regards to ‘lack of choice’ has motivated a movement to draw awareness to the fact that this lack of choice is a violation of birth rights.  This has led to what I would call the second wave of unassisted birthers.  The first wave was motivated by a desire to have autonomy and ownership over the birth experience, the second wave is in response to a denial of care.  Two different starting points.

In all of this, the natural birth movement is still very much at the forefront of all of these movements.  From what I have gathered over the years, more women are desiring a natural birth because of a belief that this is the best way to give birth.  A belief that I have fostered and fuelled.  And although part of me believes that this is true, I cannot know that it is the absolute truth – especially if it is causing much emotional pain amongst todays mothers.  Birth empowerment and informed choice are high up on the ‘needs’ list for pregnant women.

And throughout my career as an advocate and educator, I taught exactly this:  If you just get the right caregiver (or no caregiver), who supports birth physiology and altered states, and who listens to you and supports your needs, you will feel safe enough to let birth happen to you.  

All you need is the right environment that supports your hormonal needs in labor, and you need to be undisturbed and left alone so you can find your way.  Albeit, all of this was/is supported by science and what we know about instinctive physiological labor, I still found myself perplexed when I attended or was told about a ‘birth that didn’t work out’.

What went wrong? Who interrupted the labor? Who was to blame?

Underneath these initial responses were thoughts that something got in the way: It must have been due to hidden unprocessed trauma; discomfort with letting go; psychological challenges; unhappy relationship; discomfort with sexuality; discomfort with losing control; low pain tolerance; unsupportive environment etc.

As you can see, there are thousands of possibilities.  Some of which may be true; they may have contributed to the outcome.  However, what is the benefit in figuring it out and focusing on all the reasons why birth ‘didn’t happen’ the way a mother had hoped it would?  What if how a mother gave birth didn’t matter, as long as she was supported in a kind, considerate, humane way?

The Third Layer of Blame

This leads to a third layer of blame: I, the mother, must be at fault.  My body failed me because I didn’t have the outcome I wanted…the outcome that society is suggesting I have.  Anything ‘less’ is unforgivable and someone needs to be ‘blamed’.  

When there is blame there is shame.

Each of these three layers of blame foster shame and worse, distrust in the self (and body for future births) and the other (care givers).  This is cultivating the very thing that I, as an advocate of natural birth, was trying to eradicate from the very beginning: violence against women in childbirth. I can’t believe it has taken me this long to realize this and see through the cracks.

What is worse: overt externalized violence or internalized self-perpetuated violence?

Violence is violence and they both feed disempowerment and oppression.  Internalized shame is a violent act that disempowers every mother; diminishes her life force; keeps her from feeling joy in her children; feeds the belief that the female body is defective; and separates mothers from each other (natural birth camp versus medicalized birth camp).

We want to foster a society that empowers mothers and families

It is ironic and beautiful that my path has led me towards a counselling profession in which I help mothers heal from childbirth trauma.  I am honoured to hold the stories of shame and guilt, as I sit on the receiving end and see the damage that can be caused by a birth ideology: all women must give birth physiologically, naturally, and instinctively.  I am humbled as I sit in sessions and hold raw grief, grief that is behind the anger and the blame, grief that comes from relief and release from these binding mindsets.  Grief that happens when a mother realizes she doesn’t have to hold onto the blame.

Although I still believe in the science that supports birth physiology, I have stopped my need to blame: blame caregivers, lack of choice, or women.  Rather, as a holder of stories I recognize that it is far more than this.  It is about transcending this mindset and discovering a new mindset that fosters the most kindness towards self and other.

From this kind inner place true joy can flourish regardless of one’s birth experience.  

NOTE: I am not suggesting that we turn a blind eye and ignore overt abuse that does occur in childbirth.  This type of childbirth trauma needs addressing and consequences.  There is no room for violence period.  Also, I chose to use the words: she and women.  I acknowledge that not all pregnant people identify with these labels and that the language around birth is changing.  Please know my intention is to be inclusive to all peoples.  

 

 

A Women’s Worth: A Mother’s Struggle with Shame

Recently, I took a chance.

I submitted an article I wrote about my struggles, as a single mother, trying to re-enter the ‘workforce’ after 11 years tending to the home. To my surprise and excitement Rebelle Society (a feminist blog site) approved the submission.

I poured my heart out and unscrambled my frustrations with the modern work world. I spoke about my shame, my programmed shame, as a mother and woman who couldn’t even land an interview. 

An exert from the article:

Common among women I know is the gut-wrenching challenge of extinguishing internal shame which insidiously accumulates, due to our culturally limited and subsequently self-imposed beliefs about the notion that our work (meaning paid work) is synonymous with our worth and success.

This shame which has been forced upon us, albeit invisible, by a prevailing patriarchal belief system, differs in intensity for each individual depending on the circumstances one is born into. Unplugging from the shame requires varying levels of willpower and support, depending on ethnicity and culture, economic background, religion, sexual character, and gender orientation.

 

CLICK HERE to read more

My mentor use to say to me: “Jennifer, as you live you midwife, and as you midwife, you live” 

What a koan. A deep statement. One that took years to pull apart and truly enliven within.

More recently, it clicked and became a way of living rather than, a way of intellectualizing. My work in the ‘outside world’ is not separate from my work in my ‘inside world’. I learned that as I navigate my everyday life, I am navigating it through the lens of the midwife. I tend to my life in the ways I would tend to a woman labor.

I will unpack this concept in a later post as it speaks about embracing the archetype: ‘Midwife as Healer’. 

I pause, as I think about this statement and the article I am speaking about. I see how sometimes I forget that this archetype lives within and when followed, will guide my way.

 

 

The Tao of Motherhood & Midwifery

“A wise mother does not unnecessarily interfere with her child’s life.

Your children have their own process-their own thoughts, feelings, and reactions – which must be allowed to unfold.

If your childhood was painful you may get over-involved with your children’s lives and smother them.  Or you may find yourself forcing them to think and feel the way you do, to adopt all your values and live the life you wish you had.

If you do not trust your children’s process, your children cannot trust anyone or anything.  Your confidence in them builds their confidence in themselves.

Assist your children in such a way that they think, “We did it ourselves!” (The Tao of Motherhood – Vimala McClure)

Now…

replace  the word “children” with laboring woman and “mother” with Midwife and read from this perspective!

“As we live we Midwife, and as we Midwife we live” (Whapio)

A wise midwife does not unnecessarily interfere with a laboring woman’s journey.

Women in labor have their own process-their own thoughts, feelings, and reactions – which must be allowed to unfold uninterrupted.

If your birth and/or training was painful you, as midwife, may get over-involved with a laboring woman’s birth and smother her.  Or you may find yourself forcing her to think and feel the way you do, to adopt all your values and have the birth you wish you had, or the birth you had.

If you do not trust the laboring woman’s process, the Woman cannot trust her birth.  Your confidence in her, as Midwife, builds her confidence in herself as the birthing mother.

Midwife your Mother’s in such a way that they think, in the end “I did it myself!”

(The Tao of Motherhood – Vimala McClure)

Everything is Sacred… Everything is Sexual

I know that this is a site dedicated to birth, in particular, Free Birth… However, I believe that everything is connected and what I have learned about birth, I have learned about life.

The other night I went to gather with women at our monthly Women’s Circle.  The evening was all about sex, sacred sexuality was the topic… and this is what came through me after the event so I want to talk about it.

I am a mother of three children, in a partnership of 12 years (constantly evolving and stretching the boundaries of this relationship), and I am a sexual human who has been terrified to claim this power fully.  However, I know that by choosing to keep my sexual energy at bay, locked away because of shame and lack of trust, that I am missing out on the pulse of the universal lifeforce – the ecstasy that is constantly available and flowing and uniting.

Lately I have been known to say that everything is sexual, sacred, and sensual.  The three S’s.  A stimulating conversation, a tantalizing diner with friends, a powerful yoga session, a good F@#$, a bubble bath, the trance of dance, listening to music, breastfeeding, giving birth, writing, you name it, it is sexual.  Ahhh, what a crazy notion that when you are present in the moment of life, when you are merging with all that is, when you are love and loving, and when you are in connection – you are experiencing your sexual life force, you are One.

So tell me,  since many are ashamed of this energy, this sensation, this pulse and since we have been shamed, wounded, and now guarded, how are we supposed to heal ourselves, others, and the planet? Does it not make sense that we have a fucked up culture because we are terrified of claiming this natural essence, we lack trust in ourselves and others, and we are wrong or bad for actually being ecstatic with life while in the presence of others.  When we do this, we turn our sexual nature into our shadow and it sneaks out the back door and we all know what that looks like?  I am pissed off at our current cultural trends of trying to make everything sexy – just look at media – and yet, we send the message out to the young and old, that you are not allowed nor encouraged to act on those urges!

Ok, here is a thought… We can’t heal the earth if we can’t even treat our own earthly bodies with love and respect.  If we can’t honor the sexuality and sensuality of our own body and if we are ashamed of it, than of course we are going to continue to rape the great Mother Earth, of course we are not going to allow ourselves to feel the eros of the planet – the love force.  If we did, what do you think would happen? Well we might actually make different choices, we would treat the Mother Earth like our Lover – with deep respect, regard, affection, attention, care, and Love.  What a concept!

But then again, what do I know. I am only tapping into this great force, this need to respect and honor this brilliant energy that provides the Self and the Cosmos and the Other with great pleasure.  Deconstructing years of cultural imprinting that states, be sexual and sexy but don’t LIKE IT.  Especially as a mother, a wife, a partner, a lover etc.  And if you do like it and want to tap into that energy well, it is dark, dangerous, scary, and dirty (and even if it is, that there is nothing wrong with that also).  Time to lift the veil and start reclaiming ourselves as a whole sexual expression of a human that we are.  With that comes great honor and responsibility to use this power wisely.

I believe that if we are taught to honor this sexual life force, we will honor the other.  In honor we cannot wound.  We cannot misuse.  When we are taught to use this power wisely and with consciousness, we seek different choices.  We see ecstasy, instead of pain.  We see love and nurture instead of disrespect and abuse.  We see healing instead of wounding.  We see passion and creativity and change, instead of depression, lack of empathy, and lethargy.  We see a dance, a human dance, that embraces the essence of life in gratitude to experience being Human.

And so it is…

Gazing into my soul… a journal entry Oct. 2007

I use to write in my journal all the time, it was my friend, my solace, my peace.  I would curl up in the evening or during the day, as I took a break from the children, and I would write.  I would write from the heart, no censoring, only the truth that moved me at that time.

What amazes me about journal writing is that I notice themes and patterns, I see that for years, I was writing about the same story… the same stuckness and asking the same questions.  And then, voila, I would notice something shifting in my journal entries, there was a new vision, a new sense of self, a breakthrough and the story would evolve.  I also notice that when I write, I tend to write in 1st, 2nd and 3rd person.  I alternate between these positions, as if someone is talking to me and I am writing what I am hearing.  When I write in third person, it is not me who is writing to the other, but rather the other writing to me.  Here is a journal entry that I wrote in Oct. 2007 and I happened to read it today and I am moved to share it, completely unedited…(taking note that to share the soul’s process is a vulnerable position – therefore, I am unsure why I am sharing except that it is what I was inspired to do in this moment)

“As I ponder what exactly I am doing with my life, I spin more and more webs of possibilities.  That is what these are, total possibilities each with different paths – which is it? To trust entirely that there is a greater purpose.  To let Spirit move me, speak through me, to be a conduit for the Creator, to with with full awareness that this Life Force called “Spirit, God, Creator, Force” is pulsing through me and is participating in ‘my’ life.  Then to act from that place with that kind of focus, love and energy… Does this “God” really have a plan for us? Me? In a way that is silly ot believe.  I think the only ‘plan’ God has created for each of us individually is that we fully express our human self and embrace both the darkness and light which exists in us all.  To love non-conflicted and with meaning.

I can be passionate about many different ideas, things, people… like love, we can love many.  However, really committing to one individual, one lover, one partner investing everything into it – transforming the Self and the relationship can bring you to Freedom.

And so, it really doesn’t matter which path I take.  The point is to fully invest myself, my whole being, unconditionally.  There is no right or wrong path or choice.  There is just that… CHOICE.  And each choice has an experience of its own.  It is what we do with these experiences and how we interpret them that matters.  Spirit is all about experiencing through the human vessel.  The array of stories, feelings, thoughts, and lives makes for a colorful world.  However, ultimately how do we, the I which knows all, the I above the personality – How does this I shift how it perceives an experience?

If indeed it is all an illusion, or a dream, than the I can choose how it wants to experience its ‘reality’.  Break the programming, hack the code.  The mind code that is… where there is a will there is a way.

Again, faced with great choice and change.  How do I decipher between running away, fear, and real intuition?  Time for the new?

My patterns – I am passionate about something so I invest everything into it, until it is no longer passionate for me, (i.e., fastball, sport psychology, birth and midwifery, nutrition all invested in with the hope and belief to finally become something… somebody)

All with the quest for meaning, to emerge and now, her I am at another crossroads – to keep pursuing midwifery with in a school that is recognized and finally become a registered licensed midwife that can ‘get a job’. After all, isn’t that why I have been doing this? But something is stopping me, I feel limited by this, the passion dissipates.  Catching babies just to catch babies is not motivating me.  Actually, it frustrates me.  Why, because I am watching women give their power away, be victimized, be abused, give up etc.  I stand witness for the most part of an era of Women not claiming their power of birth; and because their are so few who are wanting to create change and claim their birth it feels like a waste of time, energy, and resources to study formally to become a “midwife”.

And so, I peer into my soul and ask myself now what? Soul quest… Soul Midwifery!  What i ti is that really moves me? when I teach, what am I offering? -The birth of the Self? The birth of the Soul? The story of the Soul?

The transformation of the Soul and the Self.  The human capacity to live life fully… to express our human potential and love it!

To witness this process and to stand at the gate of the emergence of the birth of the Self, the Soul and the Spirit.  Whether this be at a physical birth or a spiritual birth or a passing over or rather passing through the veil.  The veil of illusions…

And so, now what? What is the path tha twill allow this meaning and desire for each individual human on this planet to birth and be witnessed?  what is my path? What is the next step? Psychology? Counseling? Humanities? Philosophy? Spirituality? What?

To really trust this process, to trust that I have already emerged and that this next step is one of reunion.  A re – union of the Self, the heart and the Soul.  That the quest, to quest, is the journey.  Is the becoming, the becomed, the I am.  No longer needing to become something in order to prove my worth and talent in the world!

Becoming something other than Myself is not authentic and will not give me anymore worth, confidence, or proof that I matter and that I am important.

And so, if I am no longer concerned or preoccupied with becoming a ‘something’ than what program or what is my next phase of pursuit? what is going to best serve my hearts desire for self – realization and fulfillment and how can this best serve the planet?

This next phase is to fine tune my skills.  To hone them and find their strength, power, and beauty and grace and then to start using them with confidence, connection with Spirit/Source and with compassion and humility.  To serve myself, my family, an the planet for this next evolution of the human species.

And so, I ask the Creatrix, the Great Self, for guidance in this process.  That i receive clarity and ease regarding my next chioce and that I enter it with total trust, commitment and be totally non conflicted.

when looking at my options I ned to ask how does this serve my intentions? Is this in alignment with my entire being? Am I interested because I will ‘become something’ when I am done? Or am I motivated because this will bring all of my skills abilities and intentions in alignment so I can fully express my life?  Now go back and re view again open to all and pay attention along the path…

And so it is.

The Tao of Motherhood

“A wise mother does not unnecessarily interfere with her child’s life.

Your children have their own process-their own thoughts, feelings, and reactions – which must be allowed to unfold.

If your childhood was painful you may get over-involved with your children’s lives and smother them.  Or you may find yourself forcing them to think and feel the way you do, to adopt all your values and live the life you wish you had.

If you do not trust your children’s process, your children cannot trust anyone or anything.  Your confidence in them builds their confidence in themselves.

Assist your children in such a way that they think, “We did it ourselves!”

(The Tao of Motherhood – Vimala McClure)

Now… replace  the word children with laboring woman or mother and read this from the perspective of the Midwife!  As we live we Midwife, and as we Midwife we live…

A wise midwife does not unnecessarily interfere with a laboring woman’s journey.

Women in labor has their own process-their own thoughts, feelings, and reactions – which must be allowed to unfold uninterrupted.

If your childhood (birth or training) was painful you, as midwife, may get over-involved with a laboring woman’s birth and smother her.  Or you may find yourself forcing her to think and feel the way you do, to adopt all your values and have the birth you wish you had, or have the birth you had.

If you do not trust the laboring woman’s process, the Woman cannot trust her birth.  Your confidence in her, as Midwife, builds her confidence in herself.

Midwife your Mother’s in such a way that they think, in the end “I did it myself!”

(The Tao of Motherhood – Vimala McClure)