The interesting thing about the natural childbirth movement (of which I strongly support) is that it often fails to differentiate between empowered birthing and the empowerment gained FROM ones birth. We tend to treat the two as the same thing when we discuss natural childbirth, and in our fervor, we fail to mention that it is entirely possible to have one WITHOUT the other. Instead, we refer to natural childbirth as “empowering” the woman and bringing “empowerment” to women everywhere. But, what exactly do we mean?
I’ve thought about this quite a bit lately, and it is my belief that we lump empowered birth and empowerment BY birth into the same phrase of “empowering women”. I think we choose to use one phrase because in today’s society they ARE the same thing. In the current day where entering a hospital with a normal, healthy pregnancy increases ones risk of unnecessary medical interventions, we hope to educate women so that they might be “empowered” to make the birth choices that are correct for them. In turn, we hope that these women will experience a birth that is fulfilling TO THEM…thereby granting them a feeling of empowerment (increased self-worth, a powerful sense of accomplishment, and a revelry in her role as a woman).
I feel particularly strongly about increasing the education women receive with regards to the variety of birth choices that may impact their birth experience. Too many women simply go along with whatever their doctors dish out without QUESTIONING him or her. So many women end up in uninformed situations where they have no one to trust other than their doctor…their doctor who has been trained to treat emergencies…their doctor who is a SURGEON first and foremost. A doctor who has no reason OR time to allow them to labor naturally…to provide them with alternative pain relief, and the solemn support of a midwife or doula. For these women, natural birth is a hard achievement…and often impossible. Some of these women go one to have traumatic births and are left with a sense of loss-the loss of their birth experience…and there is no empowerment in this.
For others, they may have what “normal” culture deems a ‘normal’ birth: labor naturally to 4-5 cm, receive an epidural, deliver vaginally with no complications, but they will still feel dissatisfied with their birth. Perhaps they would have felt a stronger sense of entitlement over their birth if they had managed it naturally. Perhaps they did not educate themselves enough to KNOW of these alternatives. Perhaps those they trusted to educate them failed them in their time of need. And, for these women, their is no empowerment in their birth experience.
By increasing the amount and quality of education that women receive prenatally, we empower women to take control of their births. We can inform them so that THEY can choose what happens to their bodies and their babies. If a woman receives unbiased, informative information regarding the epidural and its risks AND chooses it anyway, then SHE has made an empowered decision in her birth. I want this. I work towards THIS.
While I strongly believe that having an empowered birth (where the woman is educated in her choices and affirmatively controls what happens to her) will lead to a lasting feeling of empowerment BY her birth, I also believe that there are other ways to gain empowerment from birth. For some women, knowing that they have created life is enough. For them, there is nothing to be gained from a vaginal birth over a cesearean. Others only desire to birth vaginally…whatever happens past that point is meaningless as long as their baby is healthy. And, lastly, there are the women who are quite content to leave their birth and the health of their child in the hands of the qualified doctor they have chosen. While these births may happen in a variety of manners that I might not personally advocate, they all empower the women who choose them. These women are empowerd BY their birth.
So, have I made a mess of this distinction? Are we right to use one phrase/word to refer to such an ecompassing meaning? Have we alienated some women by our fervor? Or am I wrong to believe that we are actually referring to TWO separate ideas.