Becoming a mother can transform a woman more than most any other event she will ever experience in her lifetime. Great-Grandmothers in their nineties can often recount the most intimate details of the moment they first met each of their children. My own grandmother will recall the exact birth weight, along with the due date, how many days she was early or late, and even the weather forecast, for all seven of her sons’ births. Though they only lasted a few hours out of her nearly 70 years on this earth, the details of her births are permanently imprinted into my grandmother’s heart and mind.
While the transformative effects of motherhood tend to be a universally shared experience, each individual woman’s story is very different. Some enjoyed easy, joyful pregnancies followed by uncomplicated births, while others endured bedrest, hyperemesis, or tragic outcomes. Many women said hello to their babies, while some had to say goodbye. Some became mothers through marriage, and some met their children through adoption. No matter what happened during a woman’s journey into motherhood, her personal experience deserves validation. Her story deserves telling, and retelling. Birth is not just about bringing a child into the world, but also about bringing a mother into the world.
However, many birthing women in the United States will find that our society tends to place more focus on the product of the pregnancy rather than the woman who nurtured the pregnancy to life. In many areas of this country, women have limited to no choice in birth provider, in what environment they will birth, or how they will give birth. Many women find their insurance companies, their doctors, or even legislators making these decisions for them – citing the health of the baby as the primary reason for stripping away a woman’s right to make choices during her pregnancy.
Our society often treats women as though they are not capable of healthy, informed decision-making, and that only an authoritative figure knows what is best for them. In this scenario, women are merely vessels for the delivery of a child, rather than stakeholders in the experience.
Though a woman may feel that a home birth will result in a healthier experience for both her and her baby, the American Congress of Obstetrics and Gynecologists (ACOG) does not support a woman’s choice to birth in the comfort of her own home. In half of the United States, it is not legal for a Certified Professional Midwife to attend a woman’s home birth. This leaves a woman no choice but to birth in a hospital setting where she may fear her wishes will not be honored, or to birth at home without a licensed, skilled birth attendant. Women who prefer to birth in a hospital without drugs or other medical interventions often find that hospital policies require them to accept unwanted procedures, again, citing safety as an issue, even when the best available evidence does not support the use of such procedures as a standard practice.
In all of these cases, the mother’s feelings and experiences are of the least concern to those who believe they have the authority over a woman’s pregnancy and delivery. While the safe and healthy birth of the child should be a concern, it should not be the only concern. The way in which a woman becomes a mother can be just as transformative and monumental to her as meeting the baby she will be mothering.
This Mother’s Day, ask your mom how her birth experience made her feel. You may find that she can recall the smallest details, from the time she started labor, to the comments made by her labor attendants. An event that leaves such a lasting impression on a woman deserves appreciation and reverence. Mom’s experience matters – it is her birth too.