Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Stop shaming me with your positive birth!

Image credit: morguefile.com
I wrote the post I am sharing below nearly two years ago, but for some reason I never published it. In the time that has passed since writing it, I have observed an interesting trend in the natural birth community. 

Shame. 

I haven't come to any conclusions just yet about this shaming trend that seems to have taken hold. People are being accused of shaming others. People are being accused of feeling ashamed when no shame was intended. People are trying to defend positive experiences and say that people should be allowed to share theirs without being silenced by those crying, "Shame!!!" 

I'm trying to understand shame. Where does it come from? Why do we feel it? What triggers it? How can I tell if someone is actually trying to make me feel ashamed or if it is just my own inner demons coming to the surface? Since writing this article, I've become obsessed with the writings of Brene Brown, who has done tons of research on shame. I love her work! 

When I first wrote this article, shame wasn't the buzzword of the day. I used the term "guilt" to convey my feelings. In fact, my original title for the article was "Stop making me feel guilty with your positive birth!" I felt it was more appropriate to change the title to include the word "shame" because I have since learned from Brene Brown that there is an important distinction between shame and guilt. I learned:


Guilt: I did something bad.

Shame: I am something bad. 

Guilt, although unpleasant, can move us to action to make better choices. Shame immobilizes us and makes things worse for us. 

Although I think most birth workers and birth advocates are not actively trying to use either shame or guilt to educate and inspire women to learn about options that can improve their birthing experiences, our zeal sometimes comes across that way. Our words can inadvertently cause someone to feel guilty or ashamed. What I really wish is that I could share the things of my heart with others without making them feel either of those things. That is not my intent at all. 

I also think it is also important for people to be able to make the distinction as to what they are feeling. I think if we can know the difference between the words shame and guilt, we would never use the word "shame". We would never allow someone else's careless words to immobilize us. I don't think anyone is really trying to say, "You are a bad person because you chose to do x." That is not at all what anyone is trying to say. I think what they might be trying to say is, "There are things in your power, choices that you can make next time, that maybe you didn't make this time, that hopefully, will help things improve for you next time." Even so, being around birth, and just life, long enough, you realize there is only so much in your power and things just happen. Sometimes a person can do "everything right" and things still not work out the way they hoped they would. For that scenario, I really just don't have any answers. If I could predict which actions could cause the results that I want with 100% accuracy, I think life would be so much easier for me. But I can't. Still, I do try to stack the odds in my favor with things that I've seen work for many people, I do try the things that are in my power, and just hope for the best with the rest. 

In my article, I've included a few edits that reflect what I've learned about the differences between shame and guilt. Hopefully, when it is all said and done, I can kick shame's butt! 


June 2013


Image credit: morguefile.com
Guilt. Where does it come from? Why do we feel it? Why are women, especially mothers, so susceptible to its ugly grasp? I didn't understand that Mom Guilt was a thing until after Lily was born. When she was little, I strapped her into her swing. (I should feel guilty about the mere fact that I was using a swing, right?) I clicked the strap on the right. Then the left. As I was clicking the left, a tiny little piece of her pinky skin was in the way, and I accidentally pinched her. Boy did she cry. And so did I! So very hard. I hurt my baby! I ran to our room, threw myself on our bed in tears, and I swore to myself and my husband that I would never touch my baby again. I think I even left a long story on Facebook about my inferior parenting skills. One of the dear women at my church whose kids are mostly grown, and who I look up to so very much, introduced me to the term Mommy Guilt. Long story short, I did end up touching Lily again.

Looking back on it now, it seems so silly to feel guilty over something like that. However, at the time, my heart ached. Oh how it ached! I felt so guilty for hurting my baby! My feelings were real and valid. I was a new mother entrusted to care for this tiny helpless little being. I had failed her. But did I really fail her? Overall? No way! Maybe that wasn't my best moment. I really don't think I should go around pinching little baby fingers. That wouldn't be the best thing. But that guilt taught me something. It made me more aware of her little fingers, and that they get EVERYWHERE. It made me come up with a better way to fasten that belt so I wouldn't risk hurting those little hands again. It made me more careful. It gave me experience. Once the initial shock was over, once I talked about it and processed it, I was able to move on and stop feeling guilty. Have I forgotten it? No way! But do I still feel guilty about it? No way!

One thing I have noticed while spending any amount of time online, is that the natural childbirth community has gained the reputation of making moms feel guilty ashamed. You got an epidural? Well, you suck! You want an epidural? You suck even more! You had a c-section? Forget it! You can't sit at our table until you have an unassisted VBAC. Is that what really happens? I don't think so. But you have a handful of overzealous nut jobs spewing bile, and then the whole community has a reputation. Thankfully, not all people in certain groups are like the one jerk in that group you happened to encounter one day. 

Anyway, I digress. Guilt. Pesky guilt. I have also noticed that women who express satisfaction with their births tend to come across a certain way that makes other women feel guilty ashamed. I don't think that is anyone's intent. I think they are trying to be inspiring and uplifting. Or, at least, that's what I hope. Ok. I admit it. I can only speak for myself. When I express satisfaction with my births, it's because I am satisfied and so very happy, and I want everyone else to feel happy about their births too. But let me reveal a little secret: our maternity system isn't really conducive to natural childbirth. There's a lot of meddling that happens that can cause things to not go as well as they would if left alone. That's why natural childbirth advocates complain about epidurals and inductions and c-sections a lot. Because if that's what you want, great! No problems for you! But if you don't want that, well, you're fighting an uphill battle. Just one example, moms who want a natural childbirth need to be able to follow their bodies' cues and move around a lot. They need to be able to get on hands and knees, or get in the shower, or get in the tub, or slow dance, or squat, or yes, just lay in the bed, but most hospitals make it VERY HARD for moms to be able to move freely with all their policies and what-not, so then labor is harder than it needs to be, so then mom is asking for an epidural and then the cascade of interventions begins. That's why we get upset. If a mom wants to go in and get an epidural and hang out until pushing, hospitals are made for that. Nobody coming in every few minutes saying, "Are you sure you don't want an epidural? You don't get any gold medals for having a natural childbirth." 

So back to guilt shame. Some moms want a natural childbirth, and by the end of it all, for whatever reason, don't end up having one. Then they feel guilty ashamed. Why? Why does this happen? I'm genuinely asking. I have no answers. I think I want to make this a project. Understanding guilt shame. Because you know what? I'm sure I'd feel guilty ashamed too. Disappointed? Definitely! Guilty? Ashamed? Most likely. 

Maybe it's part of the grieving process. Maybe it's not the fact that moms are simply feeling guilty ashamed. Maybe it's that they really wanted something. Maybe it's that they really wanted a natural birth. Maybe they really wanted to breastfeed. Maybe they really wanted to keep their sons intact. Maybe they didn't listen to that little voice inside that said, "you don't have to do it that way." Maybe it's really grief. Not guilt shame. Maybe they are grieving that they couldn't breastfeed. Or have a natural birth. Or whatever is was that they wanted with their whole hearts. 

Then there's that whole feeling guilty for feeling guilty thing. It just keeps going. 

Have you ever experienced Mommy Guilt? Have you felt guilty about parenting decisions or about how your birth unfolded? How did you overcome feelings of guilt?