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As a totally avid homebirth-planner, I wouldn't have believed, a year ago, how totally OK I've ended up being with our son's surgical birth. I agree that it's too bad so many of us end up feeling judged or like we have to hide our pride in birthing (by whatever means) -- you did an awsome job, I know I did a totally awesome job, women who feel compromised by their birth experiences have done an awesome job just surviving the often-fear-charged management of birth. Yes it's a crying shame so many mothers are denied access to the birth they envision -- and it's too bad we feel that if one type of experience is called good, then another type must be being called not-good.

Hey how's that little bebe doing? Now that you're initiated into the which-birth-is-best crapola all mothers seem forced to wade through, it's time for some restful exclamations of how darling your tiny one is. (Resting up, of course, for the time somebody has an opinion about CIO or jobs for mommy or bottlefeeding).


As always, eloquently spoken. I agree with the PP though, you ought to be still high off the smell of your newborn's head and sweet baby breath. You're making the rest of us look bad! ;)


WOW. That was amazingly well said. I haven't even given birth yet, and I read your story feeling awed, and like I would never possibly be that brave, that badass, and you have every right to feel proud. But, I also felt like--"Why can't we ALL have Louises?? Why can't we all have hands-on care and the best possible combo of medical intervention (Yay oxygen!), midwifery, and self-reliance? I DO think the system needs to be changed, and we as women, all of us, have an obligation to demand better care, better birthing experiences. Better for each of us is a relative term. Some of us WILL need to be on medications during pregnancy, some of us will need medication during birth, and some of us may need c-sections, but we each deserve to be as educated and respected in the process as possible. And, you are so amazingly right, that there has to be a way to have this dialogue, this unity, without this jumping all over each other's choices. You Rock, Jo.


Well said, Jo. Very well said.


Delurking to say congratulations on the birth of your daughter, and also to leap into this discussion. Or discussion aftermath, I guess. First, thank you so much for recounting your birth story-- you are rightfully proud of what you did.

My feelings around the births of my children are very complicated, because I felt about childbirth like you do-- that I wanted as natural a birth as I could safely get by with. And I wanted it really badly. For me, things went very wrong with all three of my deliveries (at the end it turns out all for the same reason). The lucky thing, really, is how badly they went, because afterward there was no doubt in my mind that none of us would have been here without my three (three!!!) emergency caesarians.

I couldn't agree with you more that birth is a profound, life changing event. You come out the other side changed, permanently. No one could have told me that before I experienced it. I witnessed the birth of my niece, who was born with very minimal intervention, and I was blown away by how literal the word labor is, what damned hard work it is. I wanted the sense of accomplishment of doing it that way, though it's a bit like running a marathon-- I don't want to run a marathon, I want to HAVE run one. I feel a permanent niggling sadness that I had the birth experiences that I did, although without them I would not have my beautiful children. And they make great dramatic stories. Here's to you and to your strength and determination, that you got the birth experience you wanted.


Well said. I think that what I am careful of being is "smug" because I did it one way and not another. Because I dont think being smug is an attractive thing. I feel very proud that I managed to give birth but the fact that both my SILs did it in shorter time and with a lot less complaining does niggle at me. As you said I wish I'd been more gracious. Ah well. Maybe next time (hysterical laughter).


Thanks for the discussion, sentiments and articulation; 5 months after my labor and I'm still so fucking proud I can't even begin to explain it to anyone - because hey, everyone does it - but this is me! and I did it! and out came him! And just thinking about it agian I get a rush of adrenaline.
Just wanted to mention one other thing: I think we sometimes forget to say, yes, there is a problem with medical practices and hospital tend to psh towards c-sections - but they truly are sometimes necessary, and then thank god they're around. I'm remembering a recent article in the NYT about the horrors of women living with fistulas after births in places where there is no easy access to a hospital. The idea that Mollie mentioned, that a 'too-small pelvis' is an urban myth - gah. Try that out on the women who tried to push the too-big baby through a too-small pelvis and are now living with the resulting damage.
PS: Noodle kugel is yucky, IMHO. But hey, if you choose to go down that road -if you didn't have the strength to keep going and ended up bowing to the standard protocols, who am I to criticize you?

Emma also Jane

As usual a wonderful post, Jo. The only thing I could add is that if one is lucky enough to do it more than once, every one is different, and every one brings you a different set of things to be proud of. I felt like you do after my first, natural birth. I felt just as proud bringing my premature emergency c-section twins home aftre 2 weeks in the NICU. I had a different kind of strength when my Mickey was born naturally but spent his first week in NICU, and then when my Lilli was born by scheduled C-section. I don't judge other women because I *am* many birth stories myself. You do the best you can, and if you are fortunate and strong you get children. And then you do the best you can. And if you are fortunate and strong, you get adult children. Enjoy Sophia. She has a really impressive mother.


I want to thank you for sharing your birth story. I think it is important for women who have not yet given birth, like myself, to have an opportunity to read about and watch as many honest, real birth stories as possible. (That is, if they're interested. And I am.) We don't have enough opportunities in our culture to witness birth, which makes it difficult to imagine our own births realistically. And whatever kind of birth you have, I think it must help to have some idea what the range of possibilities are, including the whole range of possible interactions and "interventions." Knowing what other women have accomplished and how they feel about it helps us prepare for what might happen, and that is a significant gift.


The latest issue of "BrainChild" has an essay called "Here Comes The Judgment". The author (Eileen Flanagan) is basically asking, "How do you fight against junk food (e.g. corporate marketing) without judging other parents for what they feed their kids?" While junk food is a hugely different issue than childbirth, I think the core of her question is pertinent. How do activists struggle against the medical model of childbirth while also supporting those women who rely on it (for whatever reasons), and recognizing that medical intervention is sometimes absolutely necessary? How do we promote breastfeeding while also acknowledging that there are situations where it doesn't work or is not the right choice? I think that your posts (and the comments) open the door for these kinds of conversations.
Like you, I feel that my childbirth experiences (in a hospital, with epidurals) were transformative and actually made me LESS judgmental of other women's choices. And now that my children are getting older, your midwife's words continue to ring in my ears: "This is not the hardest thing you will do for this baby."
Congratulations on your new baby. ;)


About that NY Times article and all those "too-small" pelvises: the article somehow failed to mention "excision," otherwise known as female genital mutilation.

We're not talking about babies who didn't fit through the pelvis. They did fit through the pelvis. We're talking about perineal tears because the vagina was surgically altered prior to pregnancy. The local birth attendants are accustomed to this, and traditionally cut women toward the rectum so the babies will come out. Sometimes it heals and sometimes it doesn't.

Better access to cesarean section isn't the best solution to this problem.


At the risk of making you feel as though I'm somehow begrudging you your personal transformation, I think Mollie may have simply been saying that statements such as this -

"And it is, most of the time, an unparalleled personal transformation as well, for the mother. And often it's the experience of literal birth that touches off the greater transformation of becoming a mother."

- in a sense constitutes an essentialist generalization that trends toward diminishing the motherhood of women who did not give birth. At one time, you were very excited to be an adoptive mother. I can't imagine you'd have agreed that giving birth is the only (or the best) way to become "transformed" into a parent.

You also said, "But right now I have a hard time imagining that what I learned about myself, my will, my strength and my weakness, will ever leave me, or will ever cease to inform the way I mother my daughter."

That's very beautiful, and very important. But many of us learned similar things about ourselves from journies *other than* labor and delivery. I have to admit, I'm a bit surprised to hear you valorize giving birth as "THE rite of passage" for women. Maybe that's why some people are gently challenging your assertions. Because you don't merely say that giving birth was the most important journey *for you*. Instead, you make sweeping claims about its importance in general, in life, for everyone. And that doesn't leave open the possibility of outstanding, transformative mothering by women who didn't experience it, or who experienced it in a different way (e.g. epidural, c-section).

And that kind of stinks.


"I think we all get our birth stories, and we all ought to be proud of them, hey, even if they don't involve giving birth per se, but are about adoption or some other means."

Amen, Jo. My birth story involves a nightmare 17-hour plane ride to the other side of the world and two weeks in a Chinese hotel with a screaming, grieving toddler. And I'm fucking proud that we got through that strong and whole and came out the other side as a family. I don't know the manner in which my daughter came into the world, but I know how she came to me, and that's the important thing.

I feel badly for the women who don't have the birth experience they envisioned, and who end up feeling sad or bitter or judged because of it. Becoming a mother is the thing to be proud of, no matter how it came about.


I read all 4 parts of your birth story. I was really happy for you and so enjoyed your writing style as well. I, however, didn't read the comments until you highlighted them in this post.

My first birth experience was not what I had hoped for and I ended up with a c-section. I felt like such a failure etc. I know, I had a healthy, perfect baby and I was so grateful for that, but I couldn't help my feeling of disappointment and failure over how he got here.

I didn't feel at all like you were critizing or judging how anyone else birthed,actually quite the opposite.

Congratulations Jo and thanks too! These posts along with the reactions helped me see that I have come a long way. I no longer feel that disappointment, sensitivity or envy towards others who achieve the birth I had hoped for.


Well said. I also didn't feel like you were judging anyone else. You were relating your personal story and how it was amazing to you. Although I have to say - since I'm due any day now - it was a little scary to read. But scary in a good way because it just proved that women can do this even though it hurts and is scary. So, thank you.


getupgrrl, I don't read sentences containing "most of the time" or "often" as meaning "only" or "best".

shamhat, I've seen you picking up a lot of flack for you posts, but I do appreciate what you contribute. The NYT article is very interesting in that it doesn't mention FGM. Makes you wonder if they are trying for whatever reason, to scare American women into the hospital. Why would NYT want to do that?

jo, thank you for writing your birth story. it's wonderful perspective for all of us facing our first birth. scary good reality.


wow. Big controversy. I'm not sure over what. I think you were clearly explaining how you felt.

But my take on birth is that no matter who does it or how it happens, it is a very intense experience. This includes being there for a birth, or experiencing it as the first time you hold your adopted child. There is NOTHING more intense.

And last time I looked at adopting, it was about as difficult as labor. The time and stress and fear and wondering...even if you adopt you are still "giving birth" in that you are feeling the same intense emotions that anybody would.

Of course, that's my take on it. Just because my intense emotional event happened while in a hospital with a premature delivery after severe preeclampsia...doesn't make it less valid. If my next intense emotional experience is a homebirth is won't be more or less valid that the other. Even if I can't get pregnant again (and KEEP it), and we adopt a child, that will not change the intensity of my emotions about that birth that I have experienced (a child entering our lives, holding that child, loving that child, etc.).

A child arriving in your life, no matter HOW it happens, is an intense experience. We all ought to be proud of all we went through to get to that point, no matter what that "all" entailed (c-section, homebirth, hospital, surrogate, adoption, etc.). So what if the process was completely different? We all made it, and we are ALL experiencing very intense emotions.


Love ya, Jo. You're striking a great balance here.

Laura C

I don't think this is even about being mothers/having children. I think this is about women. When I write about my experiences, the "for me" is implied isn't it? I mean do I have to type over and over after every feeling statement the phrase "for me"?

Why would Jo talking about Jo's life lead me to feel defensive if her experience hasn't been the same as mine? Are we (as a community of women) unable to allow/accept/welcome the ridiculously complex levels of diversity of personal experience? Can't I be proud of my experience while you are simultaneously proud of your own?

What's with the need to constantly compare/contrast/relate? There is no 'normal', no 'right', no one way. Her 'x' is parallel to my 'y' experience because we are peers, because we are parallels in the crazy world.

Does her awesome birth experience threaten other women? No. Do you begrudge her pride in herself? Does seeing someone standing tall, being unapologetic, not asking for your approval, bother you that much?

And I'm not trying to be all blamey with the you's in my post. I don't know who you are. I don't know Jo. None of yall know me. I'm not trying to inflame anything. I just think we (as women) waste so much time feeling hurt by what other women say. Let's just stop that, ok? Just don't feel hurt by it anymore. I know emotions don't often work like that, but let's give it our best try. Jo loves us in internet land, that's why she writes. She loves us, we love her, her baby looks very cute and pink. It's all love and sharing.


Maybe I'm just not so deep or philosophical to call the birth of my children a personal transformation. Perhaps it was all the drugs I was on. :) Or perhaps its just my personality. While I'm not without some sense of awe for the miracle that is childbirth, I'm a pretty practical gal who also recognizes that people do it every day, all different ways, with varying results. And I just think what happens AFTER, when I love and nurture my children is what's going to affect their future. Doesn't really matter to me how they got here. Just so that they're here now.


Your last paragraph sums it up so beautifully. Thank you for not fostering division between women who make different choices or have dissimilar experiences.

Kristyn Eagleton

Love this post! You remind me of how I felt after giving birth to my daughter. 24 hours of labor which included 3 hours of pushing with no drugs. I just felt like a total bad ass after I gave birth. And I was on that high for a long time. 5 months later I was pregnant again but this time I had a c-section. And I still felt like a bad ass after surgery! Birthing, no matter how you do it is just awesome.


I agree that all of our stories on how we gave birth to our children are valid. Mine also meant something to me. It was a hospital birth, but I never had an epidural, and I was strangely calm through the whole event. I didn't even know how calm until I watched the videotape a year later. I know why I was that calm though, even without drugs. We knew our daughter had something wrong with her right lung and we were worried if she'd be in any distress after she was born. She was on a ventilator for the first 24 hours and had her breathing carefully monitored until the surgery was over and she went home 10 days later. I knew I had to be calm and strong because we had more storms yet to weather on that journey.

That experience meant touched me deeply and on a daily basis I try to get back that calm, strong feeling I had in the 21 hours I labored to have her.


But see, getupgrrl, that's exactly what I'm *not* saying!

"But many of us learned similar things about ourselves from journies *other than* labor and delivery. I have to admit, I'm a bit surprised to hear you valorize giving birth as "THE rite of passage" for women. Maybe that's why some people are gently challenging your assertions. Because you don't merely say that giving birth was the most important journey *for you*. Instead, you make sweeping claims about its importance in general, in life, for everyone. And that doesn't leave open the possibility of outstanding, transformative mothering by women who didn't experience it, or who experienced it in a different way (e.g. epidural, c-section)."

I thought -- and I don't have time to go back and quote exactly where, but maybe in the previous post -- but I thought I'd been very clear on that point, that there are many ways to come to this transformation, all equally valid. I thought I'd said that, and I certainly believe it.

At the same time, I stand by what I said about birth in general: it IS transformative. THAT DOESN'T MEAN THAT OTHER TRANSFORMATIONS AREN'T EQUALLY POWERFUL OR VALID -- it only means that birth is a huge transformation, and culturally speaking, looking back over eons of human experience, it is the essential transformation. Everyone is born. Birth is an essential part of life, separate from mothering. And many women who give birth are changed by it -- but again, that doesn't mean that those who don't give birth AREN'T changed equally.

When I speak about the importance birth in general, I'm speaking from an anthropological perspective. And there is no denying that birth is necessary for the continuation of life. That in no way takes away from other ways of becoming a mother! That's not what I'm saying here.

Does that clarify my position a little better? How on earth is anyone getting "birth is the only way to become a mother" from "I think we all get our birth stories, and we all ought to be proud of them, hey, even if they don't involve giving birth per se, but are about adoption or some other means. We all become mothers somehow, some of us without even having children, if you follow me. We all enter this phase of life. However we get there it's amazing, and each woman's own story needs to be honored."

I'm rather upset that this point is not clear.


This is going to be a long one, hold on. First, some background:

I'll confess, I haven't read the comments on the other posts (yet), so I don't have the full discussion in mind. I didn't know there was a controversy/discussion going on until I read this post.

I don't have any children. I don't know if I ever will. I am not (to the best of my knowlege) infertile, and I haven't gotten to a point in my life where I am even comfortable with the idea of having a baby, and yet I read all these birth stories and I am engrossed with them. They are an insight to a world I haven't seen yet, and to one I might never see.

You have every damn right to be proud of yourself, Jo. Hell, I'm proud of you, and I only know you through what you choose to share with strangers. I am not offended by your pride or your insights. But then again, I don't have any reason to be - there's nothing in my life that compares to that experience.

I have to say, though, that if I were an adoptive mom or had my child through a surrogate that some of the language you use might have offended me slightly. I understand your meaning, and I agree that birthing a child is an amazing, trying experience that probably makes you a stronger person, one more better-equipped emotionally to raise your child. No, here's a better way to put it: it makes you more aware of your strengths as a person, and that is helpful. I don't doubt that for a second.

I do, however, feel that there are other ways, other birth experiences that can (and do) give that same benefit to a parent-to-be. One such person is GetupGrrl - her experience, her emotions, her transformation has been well-documented, and I'm sure that no one who read her experience would say that she hasn't found herself in the process.

Another example of a person finding themselves through the process of getting a baby (as opposed to having a baby, I guess) is fathers. Every father. Are fathers less strong parents than mothers, because they didn't go through the experience? No.

From what I've seen, everyone, every single person involved, goes through a transformation with an addition to a family. And it makes them all stronger people, better parents.

I guess what I mean to say is that there isn't a finite pool of pride. Jo's pride in her birth story shouldn't take pride away from anyone else's pride in theirs.

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