“All that matters is healthy mom and healthy baby”

I am going baby crazy here, so bear with me as I dive back into this topic.

I hear the title quote a LOT. It is constantly coming out of the mouths of those who are negating the need for birth plans, or even for mom to really do much more than check into the hospital and leave herself in the capable hands of her doctors. It also comes from those scoffing at “birth rape” or those who claim that a natural birth can be an empowering or healing experience.

But how true is it?

Obviously it is true that healthy mom and healthy baby are of utmost importance. But is that all there is to it?

I don’t think so.

This came to mind when reading on “My OB Said What?!?” A recent quote was:

Ten more seconds.

Not that shocking a quote, is it? To put in in context, this was an OB after a mother asked three times that a vaginal exam be stopped. Three times. If the patient had time to ask three times, there was time for a simple dilation check to be over. There was no crises going on. Here’s the submitter’s semi-full story:

I explained to the doctor that I wasn’t comfortable with exams due to past sexual abuse. She rolled her eyes. I felt like that stupid and difficult patient, so I consented.

Part way through I asked her to stop. She didn’t. I asked again. Nothing. I flat out told her “you need to get your hands out of me right now” and she told me “ten more seconds” and kept going. I’m pretty sure she swept my membranes even though I had already said I didn’t consent to that before the exam took place. Then she lectured me about how “a baby was going to come out of there” and I basically needed to deal.

I was too afraid to do anything and ended up crying and apologizing when it was all said and done.

That’s right. A sexual abuse victim who was having a traumatic reaction to hands inside her genitals when it was unnecessary, and a doctor refusing to respect her wishes that she stop.

Then I read another comment by another poster:

At the hospital I had my first child at if you refused an exam they would have other nurses come in the room, hold you down, pry your legs apart and do the exam anyway.

This is unbelievable to me. And it tells me that, despite the good experiences most people have, there are some truly horrible doctors, nurses, and hospitals out there, and going through birth where you are belittled, dismissed, and physically assaulted in the name of taking care of you, you may well suffer trauma from it.

And that is to be expected. There is nothing wrong with feeling traumatized when someone pries your legs open and forcibly inserts something into your vagina while you tell them to stop.

And yet, when these mothers then go on to have midwife assisted births, which studies have shown to be just as safe in outcome as hospital births, they are dismissed, laughed at, belittled. When women say they want to “take birth back” or find something more in future births, they are told that “all that matters is a healthy mom and healthy baby” and so they should be at a hospital where that is the most likely outcome (supposedly).

I’m sorry, but that is not all that matters.

If a woman is raped, and later goes on to find a loving partner who she decides to have children with, is all that matters conception? No! And in fact, she is encouraged to “take back” her sexuality, and grow confident and comfortable with herself and her body through positive acts of sex. That first act of sex after the rape is a massive deal – it can bring back the trauma, or it can help her move beyond it. It matters. And she is encouraged to make it, and all future experiences, as good as possible.

If someone goes out to drive their first time and gets t-boned and injured and sees injury to others, are they just thrown back in the same car on the same road and told that all that matters is they get to their destination? Of course not. Getting in the car might be a step. Driving again might be a hard place to get back to. But that first successful drive is incredibly empowering, and should be. Of course you want everyone to be happy and healthy at the end of it, but chances are they will be, and there is so much more to it than that.

Heck, a person’s first sex act or first time driving is a milestone, too! And there is much more to it than just the outcome. Avoiding STDs or car accidents are not the only thing that is important. The experience matters.

So why do we say it doesn’t for birth?

Why are new moms belittled for caring about how their birth goes? For doing research and having opinions? Yes, if they try to plan things to the minute that is not reasonable. Yes, if they decide they want a drug-free birth and then do nothing to prepare for it that is not reasonable. But many moms do their research and do their homework and are prepared for deviation from the “plan,” but just want respect and autonomy while they birth. Why is that a bad thing?

And even more so, why are moms who have a traumatic birth experience, like those described above, told to just get over it and move on, because they are alive and so is their baby? Why can we not respect the trauma they went through? And why, when they try to “take back” their birth the next time, is that in any way a bad thing?

It is such a double standard. And it is so hurtful. Being misunderstood, being belittled for reasonable feelings, being told to just “get over it” by those who don’t understand makes the whole experience hurt so much more.

I don’t get it.

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9 Comments

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9 responses to ““All that matters is healthy mom and healthy baby”

  1. Girl, you need to stop reading that site! You are a smart, educated woman with healthy, well formed opinions. You already know what you are looking for in a doctor / midwife / birth experience. I believe that forums like that are a good resource. Excellent places to vent when something has happened to you. Wonderful support groups when you need it. You’ve already gleaned the main message of that site – take control and don’t allow a medical professional to dictate your birth experience. Continuing to fill your head with negative images is not a helpful path. You are beginning a journey that will eventually be very hormone-packed and emotionally charged. Staying positive won’t always be easy. If you surround yourself with negative images and information, it will be even harder.

    • :-) In my defense, the site doesn’t really upset me. Doctors say stupid shit, what I really like is the community of women who are very supportive of each other in the comments. I don’t really worry about ending up in a situation like the posters are in, because I am not someone who just picks a doc and goes and I have NO trouble leaving if something upsets me. But you have a point :-)

      I will also say the healthy mom healthy baby I wrote about here isn’t from the site but IRL. I just don’t like quoting from IRL when I can, so the site is easy.

      Point taken, though :-)

  2. Bee

    Thank you for this. I’m the girl that submitted the “ten more seconds” post. I pretty much just bawled my eyes out reading this, but it was a good kind of thing. It’s just good to know that other people understand that there is more to it than a healthy baby.

    So many people that I know and love have said some pretty hurtful thing over my son’s ‘birth’. Things like “the doctor was just doing her job” or “all that matters is a healthy baby”. It’s like they throw my feelings and emotions over what happened out the window. I’m so, so, so grateful for my healthy baby. I’m so grateful that we are both okay now. But that doesn’t mean that I’m not hurt and upset over what happened. I struggled with PSTD for a long time after his birth (maybe still struggling?). Family and friends making statements like that only hurt more.

    I totally agree that you have to stay positive. But, just.. thank you for writing this. It helps those of us that need to hear it (or read it). ♥

    • Thank you for sharing your story. For so long I have felt a sense of wrongness when people say the title quote, but I couldn’t put my finger on why. Now I can, so I feel more at peace with it as I go forward with my own natural birth plans. Because I can guarantee I will hear this from many people I know. And if I do end up with a traumatic experience, now I can name the feelings better so I should be able to process it better. So thank you.

    • Bee, the horror of what you endured is beyond the pale. Thank you for being brave enough to share it. Huuuuuuge hugs to you.

  3. C.Pratt

    I tend to read that site a little too much myself :) I’m not sure what purpose it serves except to assure me I’m not crazy for caring so much who attends my births (one of the most vulnerable times a person will ever experience). I am a 2 time homebirther and wish the culture around birth would change with all my heart so that people can see how beautiful birth can be when you are supported by people that you know and trust, even when it doesn’t go perfectly. I’ve seen nearly every one of my friend’s babies being harmed by being delivered prematurely and ending up in NICU so doc’s can avoid liability, or by c-sections that never should have happened, or by hospital born illnesses like menengitis. And each time the mom was unwilling to question what is really going on because they ARE grateful thier baby is ok after all of that, so they are ashamed to admit thier own pain.

    This really is a civil rights issue, and though it may not be healthy to stress about, I think you are wise to listen to your instincts and try to understand your own feelings. Also I apreciate you taking the time to talk about it. Awareness almost never comes without a light being shined on the facts; those who can see what is happening should speak up. Thank you.

    • Agreed, there’s something reassuring about hearing you’re not crazy when most of the world says you are! And also agreed, I hear so many birth stories I cringe at, even though they are told by happy, satisfied people. I do want to get these kind of thoughts out there because I do think they are important, and if not for a friend who introduced me to the concept of natural birth I wouldn’t have found it myself until after at least one medicalized delivery. The conversation is worth having. And for me it’s worth it, even if it’s only with myself to help me process it.

  4. I respect you so much. I know we are night and day in most of our feelings on things like this, in that I am all kinds of laid back while accepting you are more scenarios driven. But please try to dial it back, just a little bit.
    There are always going to ber extreme stories from both ends of the child birth spectrum. You surround yourself with the right team of midwife and a midwife friendly ob who is a back up you are comfortable with and you’ll be fine. Those l&d nurses are amazing women, you’ll be in great hands.

    Now go get yourself knocked up : )

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