Birth Conversations

Tomorrow I will be exactly 38 weeks pregnant.

Connor was born at 38 weeks to the day, but he was breech – so stubbornly breech that we never really got into many discussions about labour and birth. Though looking back, I’m not sure it would have occurred to me that birthing a baby was anything other than contractions > hospital > decision about pain management > pushing > voila, a baby.

I had read some books and we had done prenatal courses but most of what is presented as the de facto way of birthing babies in our society is so clinical, isn’t it? So factual. You either refuse an epidural (in which case you’re a goddess) or you get one (in which case you’re being smart, because why suffer needlessly?).

Or you get a C-section.

And that’s where most of our dialogue about birth comes in, at least in my experience. And most of it is after the fact.

A C-section for many, myself included, is not the desired birth experience. It doesn’t meet our expectations for how we will bring our children into the world, as though the experience of giving birth is somehow a profound rite of passage into motherhood. The baby gets here either way, to be sure, and giving birth – in whatever fashion – doesn’t actually make a woman a mother.

But the experience is profound and the method does matter, and anyone who dismisses a woman’s grief over a C-section simply doesn’t get it.

So why don’t we talk about this more in the weeks and months ahead of our babies’ births?

I, like many other women, skipped the C-section parts of my labour and delivery books. I thought I was going to have a choice. (I didn’t, really, though four years later I still question whether there’s anything I could have done.)

In many cases, women do have a choice – they just don’t know it. How many of you became educated about labour and delivery after the birth of your first child? That’s the case for many women I know. (For me I think it really started when I saw The Business of Being Born shortly after Connor was born.) I’m not saying birth needs to be complicated — I’m really not in a position to make that sort of assertion — but I do think we need to have more conversations about what we hope to get out of the experience.

pregnant woman before birth

Image credit: Christy Scherrer on Flickr

Other than a healthy baby, of course. Let’s just put that out there. We all want a healthy baby (and a healthy mother) and we will do whatever is necessary in the moment to protect our baby’s health. But birth is more than that, and it’s okay that it’s more than that.

I have had midwives for both pregnancies, and while both experiences have been positive and definitely in line with what we were looking for with prenatal care I’m surprised at the lack of discussion about the birthing process. At my 36-week appointment a couple of weeks ago I asked my midwife about this, and we had an interesting discussion about how things might go. The assumption in her response was that I would avoid an epidural, or any pain relief for that matter, and simply work with my body. Which I think is fantastic and definitely what I’m hoping to do, but I’m not sure it’s safe to assume a woman will be planning that approach or, more importantly, know how to achieve it.

A couple of months ago we were at the library and while Connor browsed through his book selections I poked around in the pregnancy and birth section. I picked up a couple of things, put them back, and then came across HypnoBirthing: The Mongan Method: A natural approach to a safe, easier, more comfortable birthing. I almost skipped right over it on the shelf for fear it was too hippie for me, but something compelled me to grab it and check it out.

Later that night I asked on Twitter if anyone had used hypnobirthing. Expecting crickets, I was surprised at the onslaught of responses I got from women who not only used it but credited it with giving them the birth experience they had hoped for. So I cracked open the book and contained therein was not only a method of birthing but a philosophy.

For me, it wasn’t the philosophy itself that was interesting. It was the notion that a particular kind of birth experience is something we can discuss and aim for and hopefully achieve with a bit of insight and some tools to help us get there.

I don’t know what my birth experience will be this time around. I’m trying to have an open mind and accept whatever happens (though I’m already enjoying the novelty of the early signs of labour I’m experiencing). But regardless of how this next, and presumably last, birth experience turns out, at least this time around I feel better informed.


I’m interested in hearing about your experiences with birth conversations – let me know in the comments.

Just so you know: The link to the hypnobirthing book above is an affiliate link. I really like this book and am grateful to have found it, and if you choose to buy it also I’ll get a penny or two when I accumulate enough for Amazon to actually pay me.



  1. I love to talk birthing experiences but I hesitate to bring it up because there are so many people who look at me like I have two heads when I tell my story. However, if my positive outcome is to be credited to anyone, it is because of the great and open conversations that I was having over the past two decades with women from all walks of life about their birth experiences. I went from being terrified in my teens and never wanting to birth a child to being confident and at peace with the process. Women should be given the knowledge they need to make decisions instead of leaving their fate in the hands of the doctors.

  2. I always knew I did not want an epidural. My mother didn’t have one with me and I figured if women all over the world for centuries could have babies without them, why couldn’t I?

    And then I got scared.

    Terrified about the pain.

    But after taking a breathing course, upping my yoga practice, reading many books (Misconceptions: Truth, Lies, and the Unexpected on the Journey to Motherhood by Naomi Wolf and being one of my favorite) and seeing “The Business of Being Born”, I vowed not to have a C-section or any drugs and I was lucky I was able to deliver naturally. And I’m very proud of that. Within hours, I was able to get up out of bed and use the bathroom.

    It’s not for everyone and complications do sometimes occur while in the labor & delivery room and I was prepared for the worst case scenario, but I made a conscience decision, labored at home with a doula and everything went (pretty much) according to plan.

    I’m glad the decision was mine and not left up to doctors.

  3. I’m sure I’m going to catch hell for saying this, but I believe we spend too much time talking about the wrong stuff I know. I know. Grab the rope and string me up. We talk about doctors and hospitals and insurance companies who undermine the process but what about our role as moms to be? Do we talk enough about taking ownership of the process NOT bc the medical community are money-loving people who live in fear of malpractice suits but bc that’s what responsible women do?

    I can honestly say I had two very different birth experiences. My first: long, painful, awful. It was. I’m not going to lie. But I don’t fault the experts or a lack of discussion. I blame ME I knew what books, classes, groups, etc were out there. I didn’t take part in much of them. My choice. Part of it was naiveity for sure, but a lot of it was the fact that I didnt take advantage of the resources available. I should have done more research. I should have read more books. I should have done a lot.

    And in the end, I did. With baby #2 I took a natural child birth class to become as educated as possible. The issue of drugs wasn’t too important to me, it was all about being informed. My second birth was light years better.

    The common denominator in both scenarios is ME. Few people are unaware of what resources are available. But they have to be willing to do the work, ask the questions, make educated decisions, and fight to stand by them

    . Also, if I have learned ANYTHING In my meager 9 years of parenting it is this: the child birth experience is such a tiny portion of your motherhood. In the grand picture of all you will do, try, succeed at, fail at, and learn- the few hours of labor and delivery in most cases will become a distant memory because you are so busy mothering. I believe we should put in perspective. We should be educated, we should tap into the resources available to us, we should support and encourage one another. But we should not expect anyone else to do it for us. And if it doesn’t go as planned but everyone is alive and healthy… Count our blessings, learn and move on

    • I don’t disagree with you. It is up to us, for sure, but I also think our society as a whole needs to bring this into the mainstream more. (And for goodness’ sake, Hollywood needs to stop with the portrayal of labour as water breaking and rushing to the hospital screaming.)

      And I also agree that we need to talk about our roles as moms-to-be. As someone who experienced PPD, I really think that’s something that should be part of our dialogue rather than just the oohing and ahhing over having a baby. But I do think the birth experience is part of that, because it’s all tied in to what we think we “should” do as mothers.

  4. My first labour started as I’d hoped, naturally. (I’d been scheduled for an induction a day before my due date as the baby was measuring large. I was NOT a fan of the idea.) Everything went smoothly until the actual birth itself, as my doctor made the decision, without consulting me or informing me beforehand, that he was going to intervene and take the baby out with a vacuum. My baby was pulled out, and had a large bruise on his face and minor lacerations on his forehead. I was dazed, confused and bleeding severely. It took me weeks to recover, as I’d lost a lot of blood and had to have an iron transfusion (I refused a blood transfusion). I didn’t feel like I had control over what was happening. In a way, I blame the epidural I begged for 5 hours into contractions. I keep thinking, what if I had just held out? Maybe then the labour wouldn’t have stalled.

    So my second time round? I told my doctor (a different one) that I wanted a natural birth, and I’d rather not opt for an epidural if possible.

    True to his nature, my second came easily, without fuss, 3 hours after contractions started, and I had the best birth experience ever. I actually felt high after that. I was discharged from hospital a mere 36 hours after he was born and was up and about immediately. All I had was some gas, which I had to self-administer (by holding the mask to my face and breathing in hard). I don’t think it helped at all with the pain, as I felt everything, but it helped me focus on my breathing. And the effects run out after 15 seconds, so I’m sure the ‘high’ didn’t come from the gas. :)

    This is to say, that every birth is different. My mindset was different. And I think though I can’t prove, that it helped. So I think you’re on track to a good experience. Good luck and I’m so excited! Can’t wait to meet ‘Hector’. :)

    • Ugh, that first one sounds awful. How frustrating. I’m so glad you had a good experience the second time. I’m going to try to channel that high. :)

  5. I had two different birth experiences. One failed epidural, one successful epidural; one where I tried pain meds before the epi, one where I didn’t; one where it took me forever to dilate, one where it happened quickly; one where I never felt the urge to push, one where I pushed and pushed and pushed in every possible position. Both ended in c-sections. I’ve come to terms with it, and my body had some things working against it from the beginning (lots of abdominal scar tissue from childhood surgery). I think I was actually more disappointed with my second c-section because I was so very informed and wanted a successful vbac very, very badly. But I also got over it more quickly. (I have heard such wonderful things about Hypnobirthing, though, and I have my fingers crossed for a positive birth experience for you this time.)

    • I’m a little worried about not having a VBAC this time because it does seem like I should be able to, you know? But we’ll see. If not, I will come to you for advice on getting over it. :)

  6. Interesting. I had friends who kinda raised some issues with us about birthing/parenting (natural childbirth, co-sleeping) that made us talk about it. They also recommended books like Henci Goer’s The Thinking Woman’s Guide to a Better Birth (which I’d also recommend) and Robert Bradley’s Husband-Coached Childbirth (also good). About a month into prenatal care, we switched from a doctor to a midwife and our midwives were great about talking with us about our options. In fact, they presented everything as an option; you can get _________ and here’s the pros and cons to doing that. So we talked a lot about what we wanted.

    For my second, I ended up in a very stressful hospital/doctor situation where I had to switch doctors in the last month and didn’t like my new doctor. So I did a TON of research at our library and online and discovered Sheila Kitzinger’s books (LOVE them) and Ina May Gaskin (also good). Again, that led to a lot of conversation with a friend of mine who had a terrible first birth experience (hospital in Australia) and then basically freebirthed her next two children (only her husband and a friend with her at home during the both), as well as with my husband and my doctor (though she didn’t listen to me).

    Now I’m expecting number three and I haven’t dug out my birth books yet, but I do have a great group of midwives out here and a definite idea, from my first two births, about what I want from this one. So I think that birth conversations are important, because I had them all the way through all of my pregnancies with a number of friends, and it did make all the difference in my experiences. :)

    • I wish I’d known you before Connor was born! I’m normally the kind of person who does a lot of reading like that and I’m not sure why I didn’t. I think in some ways it’s a sign of how pervasive the typical expectations of birth are in our culture.

  7. Best blog post I’ve read in a long time, and great discussion in the comments!

    Of course, reading this, I feel guilty about getting an epidural both times. Maybe if I had just stuck it out? Read about hypnobirthing? Done more yoga? Had a midwife? But I don’t think that is the point.

    I think it is brilliant that you are advocating for being more informed about the birth process. One thing I have noticed is that it isn’t from our doctors that we get this information. We have to take this responsibility upon ourselves. Our doctors have one point of view, and it might not be the only option available.

    • I think this can be the negative result of these conversations- guilt. That being said, I do NOT think we should stop talking about them. As in said in my comment earlier, it’s a ll about 2 things: 1. Education and making informed choices that you and your partner feel good about, and 2. When it’s all said and done: perspective. Birth is a tiny portion if the pie that is motherhood. And there will be soo many things to feel guilty about;) So let’s give ourselves a break on this one;)

    • Thanks Laura! And don’t feel guilty. One thing I really don’t like about a lot of these natural birth books is that they make it sound like epidurals are the devil’s work. I think sometimes they’re needed, and sometimes that’s just the woman’s preference. And so what?

      I’m looking forward to the time when the mainstream medical field is a little bit more vocal about this. I’m sure we’ll get there.

  8. I love this post and love the comments even more.
    When I had my first I happened upon midwifery and switched from my doctor to the midwives because I thought that they were just “better care”. I took a “Birthing From Within” class and read Ina May, but didn’t really think about it. I didn’t take much ownership for my birth. He was born on my couch as we couldn’t make it to the hospital. That birth just happened.
    The second one, I listened to my body more. Took more control. Told the midwives exactly what I wanted. Had him at home. It was a much more powerful experience than the first. I was excited to meet him.
    The third one was interesting, and I have yet to submit my birth story to the world for him even though he is almost 3. I was ready. I listened to my body as I did the second, but something was missing. I am still not sure what it was, but I just was done with birth, and being a “birth junkie” (I had just given up my role as VP of Birth Unlimited) and his birth was my most difficult by far.
    I really believe what Barbara Harper says, “Birth doesn’t happen between your legs, it happens between your ears.”

    • He was born on your couch?! Wow. That must have been an experience.

      I love that you were more proactive with your second and feel like it was a more empowering experience. I think that says a lot about why this is important.

      And I totally agree with the quote. Trying to keep that in mind!

  9. You are so right. I had 2 c-sections and I was so surprised by how guilty I felt after the first one. I felt like I cheated. I’m so glad that you are talking openly about this!

    • I get the feeling like you cheated thing. I sort of felt that way, but I think for me it was more that I felt I WAS cheated. Like I deserved a different birth experience and had it taken away. Not a terribly productive way to feel, but there you go.

  10. Congratulations on your upcoming blessed arrival. :) This is a great post and love the discussion too! Stopping by from SITS!

  11. Births are so important. I hope you get the experience you so desire, whatever that may be.

  12. You know how I mourned my first c-section. It was really hard for me.

    The second one? Not at all. Maybe it was that I chose it, maybe it was that the recovery was easier. Maybe it was the confirmation from the doctor in the OR that a VBAC wouldn’t have been a good idea for me. Whatever it was, though, I’m okay with it.

    Good luck, friend. You’ll do great, whatever happens. Can’t wait to hear!

  13. Reading this post and the conversations were difficult for me. You know my stories: first c-section was an emergency, unconscious, a classical incision, 8 hours before I saw my baby, followed by a crazy infection that lasted days. Not at all the birth I was looking for when I hired a doula and opted for no medication.

    But I was happy to read Natalie’s post, as I too knew the second birth would be a c-section, so I felt more in control, having chosen to have a second baby that way. And I too was relieved that I was having surgery when there was a knot in the umbilical cord and abnormalities with my placenta.

    But I do feel cheated still, that I never got to have a baby as a woman should. So if you’re able to deliver naturally, I will be thrilled. :) But, if (big IF) it isn’t meant to be, know that all of your feelings are justified and ok, and that you have lots of support of people who get it. And when I see my daughters’ faces, I thank God every day that I was just able to have two healthy girls in the end.

    Good luck honey!!

  14. Terri Spaulding says:

    Even though childbirth for me seems a lifetime ago, it is something you never really forget. While I had both my boys without an epidural, I never think of that as doing it “correctly.” I did make a conscious choice the first time to do it naturally, but that was more a reflection of the times, no one was really advocating for epidurals then. And after the not so pleasant side effects of giving birth to a 10 pound 9 ounce boy, vaginally, with no drugs, I was hoping to make the second birth easier with the help of an epidural. Timing failed me there, and I wasn’t allowed to get one. But pretty much any baby smaller than the first was going to feel easier, and since my second son was only 9 pounds, it was!

    I feel bad for those having had a c-section, if they are made to feel like they were cheating. They were cheated perhaps, of the awesome feeling of pushing that baby into the world, but definitely not cheating. Everyone’s bodies are created differently, react differently and no two births are ever the same. So why should the birth experience be labeled right or wrong?

    I do agree with reading and researching ahead. The more you know….we all pray for healthy babies, and healthy moms. So just throw away any guilt about your birth experience and celebrate the life you were part of creating.

    PS. I think the skin to skin thing they do now, immediately after birth is so much better than hiw they used to do it. My babies were whisked away ASAP!

  15. Whoops.

  16. This is great. I had a great experience but still walked away thinking I could have done better. I think due to the competition mentality around birth. I thought “oh I could have been better a pushing”. But seriously what did I want? As if 2.5hrs no drugs wasn’t good enough? I wish we would just share more without the horror stories. I mean who wins? The lady with the worst birth? Fastest? Etc etc

  17. I never really had a plan going into labour.
    I knew that I needed the epidural (so said my neurosurgeon) and that I should be prepared for a c-section because they were unsure if my spine could handle the pushing.
    So I read up on both.
    I wish that I had words of wisdom. Each delivery is probably going to be different than the last but you’ll be a bit more educated than the last time.
    I know that you’re going to do magnificently.
    I know it.

  18. Really interesting post, Robin! I love the concept of having a philosophy for anything and everything – and you’re right. It makes sense to have one for birthing! I’m really looking forward to hearing more about your learnings and experiences!

  19. very interesting!

  20. I lucked out with my oldest because my mom had only had C-sections. I knew that she was stuck breech, and I was not comfortable with doing a version. Neither was my OB. With the gestational diabetes, they did not feel comfortable. What helped me was the validation from the OB who delivered her telling me that she would not have turned at all. She was so big. She was quite literally stuck.

    I did all the research with my second as well. I tossed and turned and made the decision to have a repeat C-section. I felt more comfortable being in control and delivering at the hospital closer to me where I knew the nurses and lactation consultants. I think there needs to be more of a dialogue like this instead of the horror stories that are talked about at baby showers. Why can’t we have an open and honest conversation about what worked and what didn’t? This was thought-provoking for me.


  1. […] I’ve never done this before, this whole labour thing. I know all the terms – all the normals and typicals and what-to-expects – but I’ve never experienced them firsthand. 10 days ago, all I wanted was to experience them firsthand. […]

  2. […] probably know that the whole birth experience thing is kind of one of my passions, right? I spent four years being righteously pissed off about […]

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