Women do not need to be told “all that matters is a healthy baby” because she is the one growing and nurturing her baby. You can be sure that she is thinking and feeling that her first priority is a healthy baby – nobody needs to tell her this and she will forever be grateful for having a healthy baby.
I have never come across a mother who desires the “experience” greater than the health of her baby – never.
Why are mothers judged or made to feel shame or that they are selfish for also wanting a good birth experience?
When it comes to birth, a healthy baby is not all that matters.
When someone says, “all that matters is a healthy baby” this implies that women have no say in their birth experience. When a woman is told this, it then shames her into consenting to what her care provider is recommending or what other people are suggesting, because she is just the incubator of life, a vessel, nothing more, and her baby is more valuable than she is.
This statement makes any kind of abuse to the mother, whether it is physical, mental or emotional seem okay because they are doing it “for the baby.”
Sadly, this statement is so often used to justify special circumstances, or a traumatic birth experience and the mum should just be thankful and move on.
But what about the mum?
Not only do we want a healthy baby, but we also want a healthy mum who can look after her baby after birth and beyond as well as having a positive, respectful experience that the mum can look back on and feel that she was listened to, supported and respected during her birth, even with special circumstances.
Women should never be dismissed, or their wants and needs brushed aside because of hospital policy or the outdated opinion of an Obstetrician.
Birth is not just about getting a baby out of a uterus.
One mum I asked said this:
“When someone says “all that matters is a healthy baby” I feel angry and offended. There is no one on this planet that cares as much about my baby’s health than I do. I carried my baby inside of me and brought her into this world. This statement says doctors, midwives and strangers that have long forgotten me care more about my baby than I do. It makes me sad that I and so many other women are so unimportant and irrelevant that our health- physical, mental and emotional are not a worthy concern. It makes me want to scream I matter, women matter, birth matters.”
K also said:
“I feel silenced, like my story doesn’t need to be told, positive or negative because everyone already knows how it ended. For a mother who has been the centre of attention for 9 months it’s a rude shock to take a back seat when a healthy new baby is around. It adds to an overall feeling of seclusion which is so dangerous at such a life changing time.”
Sometimes a baby’s health may be at risk and interventions and caesareans are necessary, but sometimes there have also been occasions where interventions and caesareans have been unnecessary. There are so many times when statistics, research and guidelines have been manipulated to coerce the woman into doing what her care providers want her to do.
Clearly with so many women now coming forward to share their traumatic experiences and debriefing their births, we must be open to the fact that women are lied to, they are misled, they are bullied and abused mentally, physically and emotionally and the repercussions of this has a huge impact on a woman and her postpartum period, sometimes even for the rest of her life.
Caesareans can be lifesaving for both mother and baby, but that does not mean the mother won’t grieve about the birth that she was anticipating and had prepared for.
It is okay for a woman to feel and express disappointment, or grief or trauma after her birth, even a vaginal birth, because sometimes a woman can have a vaginal birth and feel traumatised because it wasn’t quite what she had expected it would be like. We all process experiences in different ways. It is so important for women to have that support and someone to listen to her to validate her feelings. Understandably, many women stop talking about their grief and their emotions, because they are made to feel silly, selfish and even pathetic and that they should be grateful they have a healthy baby.
I really resonated with what H shared with me:
“My feelings are dismissed. That everything I feel about the way my son was born, all the anger, distress, disappointment & sadness is not important, because he is here and healthy and happy, and some women don’t even get that. I feel selfish and guilty for feeling dissatisfied. I feel like giving up my dreams for a natural birth, because nobody else cares, it’s just not important – a nonissue. I feel like I’m being dramatic, like I’m asking for too much. I judge myself and my experience. I see it as a reflection on my character, because some women genuinely don’t care about anything but having a healthy baby, and are happy to have C-sections, so then why do I? Why can’t I be happy? I question myself and everything I feel, and suddenly everything I felt sure of doesn’t seem justified. It’s a horrible feeling of having no value as a person – as if I’m nothing more than a vessel for carrying healthy babies.”
G shared her thoughts, three and half years on from her birth experience:
“It made me feel that I don’t matter. That my body and mental health are completely disregarded. COMPLETELY. Which in turn affected my bond with my baby. Which in turn affected my mothering instincts. Which in turn affected my milk supply. This all STILL affects me….3.5yrs on.”
This is not respectful care and it makes the mother feel “dismissed” and “unimportant” in the whole process.
Another mum wrote:
“I feel guilty for wanting more than just a “healthy” baby. I feel angry because it feels like that statement implies women should endure anything and everything as long as in the end you have your baby and should be grateful… I feel like we are dismissed for our own feelings, and emotional and mental health surrounding our births.”
A healthy baby needs a healthy mother to care for it, and a mother that is suffering from a birth that has left her traumatised is not a healthy mother, and then the baby and the whole family dynamic can suffer because of that.
We know that births don’t follow a text book – and those text books are so outdated now that they have no relevance anymore. We may not be able to control what happens with a birth, but every person that is in that birth space has the ability and responsibility to treat the birthing mother with respect and compassion.
An Obstetrician’s job is more than just getting a baby out – it is caring and supporting the mother as well.
The leading cause of maternal death in Australia is suicide.
Why are women so traumatised and feel this is the only answer?
We have to protect women, nurture women and provide a safe space for women to share their trauma so they are well for their babies and their families but the starting point is during their pregnancy and in the birth suites. This is where all care providers have the responsibility to treat women more than just satisfactorily, provide women with evidence-based information so they are part of and understand the process, listen to women with compassion so they feel respected, and care for women with the utmost integrity beyond reproach.
A good article written in 2013 by Cristen Pascucci is “A Healthy Baby Is All That Matters” and this really jumped out at me:
“We can start by educating ourselves to know what great care looks like— respectful, evidence-based care—and actively seek it out by shopping providers. We can tune in to the red flags—things like hearing “You aren’t allowed to” from your provider—and stop ignoring our gut instincts! In my opinion, hearing something like “A healthy baby is all that matters” during prenatal care falls into that category. It says to me, “Whatever happens in Labor & Delivery, you have no room to complain. If we present you with a live baby, we’ve done our job.”
I recommend all women who have experienced trauma or feel disappointed about their birth to seek out someone that they trust who will listen to you and support you in processing your thoughts and feelings about your birth.
It is easy for someone to say “don’t judge yourself” but the reality is, many women do, and this judgement lies deep within their subconscious and can bring up so many different thoughts, feelings and emotions at different times. That is why it is so important for women to seek out that support and share how they feel, breaking down blocks and sifting through the different layers of grief.
Here are a couple of good places to start:
BIRTHTALK is a unique support and education organisation that specialises in recovering from a traumatic birth and working towards an empowering next birth. A fabulous book by the Founders of Birthtalk, Melissa Bruijn and Debby Gould, is “How To Heal A Bad Birth” which is about making sense, making peace and moving on in a positive way.
The Australasia Birth Trauma Association have put together a selection of helpful resources and links including books and other websites where you can gain additional information.
They define trauma as:
“Physically damaging birth processes which then result in life-changing psychological and social difficulties Psychological problems arising from the circumstances of the delivery (e.g. “wrong” location; pre-term; support people not present) or the process (e.g. labour too quick, prolonged, inadequate pain relief; feeling of loss of control; emergency caesarean section; concerns about survival of baby or self) An ‘uneventful’ or satisfactory delivery from the professional point of view (mother and baby well; no physical complications), but traumatising for the woman as she feels unsupported or even misunderstood by the health professionals.”
I’d like to thank all the women who shared their thoughts and feelings with me in a Facebook group I am a part of. There were over 150 comments made, which gave me the insight into how women feel when someone says “all that matters is a healthy baby” so that I can help others to understand that this is not all that matters.
My name is Vicki Hobbs and I am a Childbirth Educator (Back to Basics Birthing), Hypnobirthing Australia Practitioner, Certified VBAC Educator, Remedial Massage Therapist specialising in Pregnancy & Postpartum Massage, Birth & Postpartum Doula, Certified Placenta Encapsulator, Hypnotherapist, Aromatherapist, Reiki Practitioner and Life Coach. I am a serial workshopper and learner, so that I keep up to date with new research and information so that I can provide you with up to date resources. My focus has always been on the mind, the body and the emotions and how they all need to be in balance for harmony. You can subscribe to my newsletter by adding your details in the box on the right-hand side and when you do I will send you a free relaxation meditation to help you feel calm and relaxed. I am based in the northern suburbs of Perth and can be contacted by email at [email protected] or phone (08) 9303 9111 or click here to go back to my Blog Page for more great articles and information.