Who am I kidding? There are many. But, A#1 at the top of the list, is:
“All that matters is that baby and mother are healthy.”
“Why is that?” you may ask.
“What kind of childbirth educator would find this objectionable?” you may ask.
When I first observed my discontent with this phrase, I asked myself the same questions. What kind of childbirth educator…what kind of person…WOULD have a problem with this?
First, it seems odd to me that a family should feel the need to pronounce “healthy mom and healthy baby” as the goal of their birth experience. If it is not implied and obvious to their birth team and everyone else, then there is a real problem. It is implied and obvious outside of the birthing realm. We generally all want our families healthy and safe, but you don’t hear anyone repeating this mantra in everyday life. Why is that? Because it is a fundamental principle fueling our actions that typically does not require explanation. When discussing a family’s birth goals, I ask them to leave out “healthy mom and baby” because to me, that is an empirical assumption.
There is something about the absolute nature of the statement that didn’t sit right with me
Is it really true? Is healthy mom and healthy baby ALL that matters?
Too many times, I have left the statement alone as the end of the conversation. Too many times, I simply had no response. But to me, these benign words do much to marginalize the childbirth experience. This notion puts the spotlight on the end result and skips past the journey. Honestly, many times, it’s from a male partner. Husbands have the primitive impulse to protect their women and families (which is lovely!), and it’s probably not a stretch to say they would generally appreciate fast-forwarding to the happy ending when mother and baby are together. Through no fault of their own, men are naturally unaware of the intensity of the physical and emotional ups and downs involved in birthing a child into the world.
The entire path of pregnancy and birth is extremely important. It can be a great source of power for women in motherhood and throughout their lives. Being aware of your own strength from this accomplishment is a true gift to give oneself. Women with high levels of birth satisfaction are better armed for the challenges of parenthood. They have a source of well-earned, life-long pride that can never be taken away.
The birth partner can also benefit from an empowered birth experience. Although not doing the actual birthing, they get a rare chance to observe their chosen mate facing one of the greatest challenges of our world, for the love and benefit of their children and entire family. In my humble opinion, this cannot help but strengthen the bonds of love.
When one skips over this indelible experience to the end result, “healthy mom and healthy baby” is really the bare minimum expectation. It seems close to saying, “We just want to get out of this thing alive” and really, shouldn’t we be aiming a little higher than that?
There is something about the timing of the statement
You don’t hear it from an unmedicated mother who just pushed out her baby and is bathing in surges of endorphins. It doesn’t come from a laboring mother sitting in a warm tub in the arms of her husband. It comes from women whose birth is not unfolding as envisioned. It comes at the end of empowerment, when decision making capabilities (along with minds and bodies) have been exhausted. When we are just too tired to think anymore and ready to turn over the decision making to the care provider and their priorities. Too many times, the statement is an effort to convince ourselves that the choice we are about to make really is for the best.
I’ve never heard it from a birthing mother who was confident about her decisions. An educated family aware of the evidence supporting their decisions and the various risks, benefits and alternatives to those decisions, understands that their path is already leading to “healthy mom and healthy baby”. They do not need to convince or remind themselves. They know.
What does it mean?
Of course we want a healthy baby and mom. But that is not achieved at any one moment in time. Each decision made from the moment the pregnancy test says positive, each choice, each bend in the journey towards birth, will DEFINE what “healthy baby and healthy mom” means to you and your family.
When a family makes the choice to travel down the road of induction or cesarean surgery, they are choosing to believe that their baby is at greater risk remaining inside the womb, than being brought to the outside. Will you allow yourself a glass of wine during pregnancy? Will you choose a care provider who performs episiotomies at will without consulting with you? Will you choose to birth in a hospital where you are virtually guaranteed to be separated from you baby at some point, for some duration within his first 24 hours of life?
Each tiny, seemingly insignificant choice is your creation of your “healthy mom and healthy baby”. It is not one fixed goal. It is a moving target that gets bigger and louder and harder to focus on as your infant becomes a rambunctious, bouncing girl, or an inquisitive, imaginative boy. Your ever-evolving definition of “healthy” does not stop the moment the cord is cut and you become two individuals. It is a lifelong quest.
Finally, if by “healthy mom and baby” one simply means seeking the same degree of mental, physical and emotional functioning that you had when you began, I can assure you, THAT IS IMPOSSIBLE. Absolutely, unequivocally, impossible.
This journey will change you.
This journey MATTERS.
Of all of the unknowns about birth, this I can guarantee.