Pass It On
Midwifery Today, Issue 140, Winter 2021.
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When I entered the world of birth and midwifery in 1985, pregnant with my first child and determined to have a natural birth, there was no internet, no social media, and no famous overnight “influencers,” as we know them today. I needed information, so I devoured Ina May Gaskin’s Spiritual Midwifery and La Leche League’s The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding. I sat cross-legged on the floor in my Bradley Method childbirth classes and La Leche League meetings. I watched birthing videos on a VCR. I “discovered” Midwifery Today and Mothering magazines. Everything was hands-on, personal, and face-to-face. Information was not as readily available, but we knew our sources personally, shared meals and birth stories with them, breastfed our babies side-by-side, and often attended each other’s births. It was a way of learning that was ancient and organic: women teaching women. It was beautiful.
We were part of a movement and we knew it. We were reclaiming birth and breastfeeding. Our mothers were the post-World War II generation that birthed in the 1950s in hospitals with “twilight sleep” and routine forceps. We were absolutely determined to resist unnecessary intervention and we knew that it mattered: that it would only take a single generation (ours) for normal birth to pass out of our mainstream culture altogether.
We were unapologetic. We knew that normal birth at home and without intervention was better than hospital birth. We also knew that breastfeeding was far superior for mothers and babies. We knew we were strong and brave to make those choices for ourselves and our babies and to teach and promote and educate and provide those things in our communities. We did not mince words. Mothers and babies were depending on us.
Three decades later, my daughter became pregnant with my first grandchild. I supported her as I watched her access midwifery care for a homebirth and gather information on online forums for new and expectant mothers. And while I marveled at how much information was available at (literally) her fingertips, I noticed a few other things as well. Things that disturbed me deeply.
I noticed that it was no longer okay to say that normal birth and breastfeeding were best for mother and baby. It was simply a choice among many, an item on a menu, a preference. In fact, if you shared “too proudly” about your homebirth and breastfeeding experience, you were accused of being narrow-minded, insensitive, and bullying. Let’s not get radical about it.
I noticed that while there was a lot of information out there, a lot of it was wrong. So much that was being shared came from unreliable or unknown sources and was being passed along like the game we played in grade school called “Whisper Down the Alley.” With each repetition, the information became twisted until it was unrecognizable. Who could you trust?
I also noticed that women on social media could be mean. Things no one would dare say while sitting cross-legged on the floor in someone’s living room were fair game when everyone was faceless on a social media platform. I found this incredibly sad. And while there were women truly there to help and support others (my daughter included), new mothers often had to wade through so much mean-spirited commentary to get to the support they were seeking.
So, in the spirit of my generation, I am going to say some things here that I think need to be said, and I am saying them for the young mothers today who are courageously choosing normal birth and breastfeeding in this generation:
- Homebirth is normal birth.
- Birth without intervention is possible and it is best for you and your baby. Routine intervention in childbirth is rooted in the medical and patriarchal model, and it introduces tremendous risk to you and your baby. It almost always leads to further intervention, and further risk.
- Breastfeeding is the best way to feed your baby Nothing else compares or even comes close. Almost everyone can breastfeed, given information and support. You can do it.
- You can do it all. And Mama, when you do, shout it from the rooftops. We are always only one generation away from losing the legacy of normal birth and breastfeeding. It’s your turn to pass it on.