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The Elephant in the Room

By Samanda Rossi,

Long before I was pregnant, I was a birth activist. So, when I got pregnant, I had no issues telling people where I planned to give birth (at home) or with whom (a midwife, though I couldn’t disclose her name because midwives are illegal, and do you want to hear about how messed up Missouri is in this regard?).

At this juncture, women have MANY more options for where and with whom they birth if they are seeking a natural or midwife assisted birth (in St. Louis anyway)! However, that does not mean it is culturally normal to birth at home, in a birth center, or with a midwife. It does not mean it’s culturally normal to birth without pharmacological pain relief.

“My great-grandmother was born at home. I didn’t know people still did THAT.”

“You wait and see, you are REALLY going to WANT that epidural once you’re in it.”

“You don’t get a medal for having a natural childbirth.”

“What if SOMETHING happens?”

“If I had my kids at home, we wouldn’t have survived.”

“You’ll just be disappointed if it doesn’t go the way you want.”

“You have no idea the pain. It’s AWFUL! I loved the epidural, and the anesthesiologist was HOT!”

“Is that safe?”

“Isn’t that what women did in pioneer days? Why would you want to do that?”

Unfortunately, this is what it often sounds like when someone shares they are planning to birth with a midwife and/or wish to have a natural birth.

So, how can you respond? What can you do after hearing their perspective?

First, recognize that most often the person sharing is doing so with good intentions. They want you to be safe, they want the baby to be healthy, they don’t want you to feel disappointed or let down if things don’t go as you wish. And, then determine for yourself, is it important to you what this person thinks? If it’s a random stranger at the grocery store, probably not. But if it’s your mom or co-worker, their approval and support might be important to you.

Then, go ahead and acknowledge the elephant in the room.

“You’re right. I may want an epidural. I am preparing and will have lots of things that can help with the pain available, but if those don’t work, then I am glad an epidural is an option. If I need it, I will look forward to a good looking anesthesiologist.”

“It’s true, something could go wrong. Something terrible could happen to me or our baby. No one loves this baby more than us. We have done lots of research and have made this decision carefully. We feel this is the safest option for us…”

“I am so sorry you had that experience. I will look into that complication and ask my care provider about those risks.”

“You’re right. You were so fortunate to have (insert lifesaving medical intervention available).”

“I might be disappointed if (insert type of birth you’re planning) doesn’t happen. But I think I would be more disappointed if I didn’t prepare and try. If I need or want (insert intervention), then I will know that it was absolutely necessary.”

Sometimes, people may be willing to learn more. In that situation, you can share information about your care provider and his/her training (if it’s someone close to you, invite them to a prenatal). Tell them about your transfer plan (if planning an out-of-hospital birth). Books, movies, stories, statistics and studies that made an impression on you, may also make an impression on them. Sometimes they need to do some of their own seeking. It’s common for them to ask around and find out what you’re doing isn’t all that crazy (“Susan at my office, her daughter had a homebirth and everything went wonderfully…”)! Acknowledge their good intentions. You are likely planning a certain type of birth because you love your baby, and they are likely concerned because they love you…and your baby!

When an elephant gives birth in the wild, she is surrounded in a circle by other elephants that protect her. I dream of a day when the elephant in the room does not symbolize fear and uncertainty, but instead circles the mother-to-be with support.