“Natural Birth” Doesn’t Mean What You Think It Means

April is Cesarean Awareness Month. As a doula, I see social media ranging through three main ideas. From other doulas, I see the statistics that 1 in 3 women has a cesarean birth. I am that 1 in 3. I see the validation that cesarean is a valid choice, or, if unexpected, a valid way of birthing a baby when labor or baby takes a turn. From the mothers on my personal feed, I see the stories of cesarean births and the feelings that go along with it. And then, while scrolling through the feed, I see, “Did you have a natural birth or a cesarean birth?” Well, you see, I had both. (While my internal voice is like, Did I really just read that question?! Please don’t make me become unhinged. I haven’t had enough coffee today. ) To say that I didn’t have a “natural” birth is pretty heinous. I conceived, I carried a tiny human near enough to term that he survived, I went into labor, and I had a baby. Yes, I had a little help when it became impossible for me to safely deliver vaginally. But I didn’t have an artificial or alien birth, which I think “natural” implies. How many years did it take for me to say I “gave birth” to my son? Oh, iunno, about three years…


For many people, “Natural birth” means an unmedicated birth. No medication, no epidural…just you and the strength of your own body. To divide the families into “natural” OR “cesarean” takes away from the thousands of people who choose medication for birth. Not to mention creating a terribly yucky feeling for cesarean birth. There’s been many a fiery conversation at Burke Casa about the stigma that comes along with cesarean birth. Or the warrior-ness that comes from an un-medicated birth. I’m a hardcore doula that feels that mothers are influenced by society on how to feel about their birth, do have feelings of their own mixed in with the society influenced feels, and that those feelings impact their first moments as a family. Those feelings can affect bonding, breastfeeding, and the entire family’s overall well-being. I’m married to a guy that sees birth as a means to an end – where the end is a beautiful baby safely on the outside of your body. Our convos get real interesting.  My guy isn’t sure there’s a whole lot of feeling that goes on at birth. He thinks thoughts create feelings and if your feelings suck, realign your thoughts. But even he can see that birth stigma is crap. So many of our conversations start with, “I read this birth article…” (Flattery, man. Seriously. If I read about corporate accounting would he be as in love with me as I am when he presents me with research or tabloid birth stories before I can even have the first cuppa of the day?)

So many women throw their un-medicated or “natural birth” in the faces of their own family members. Things like, “Oh, well, you had an epidural. You aren’t as strong as I am.” I am not dissing un-medicated birth. I think un-medicated birth is powerful, and it is an achievement for that mother in terms of how she birthed. But it’s her achievement alone. And it’s only  truly her achievement if she chose that method of birth, and wasn’t pressured into it by what she should do. I think it’s equally an achievement to chose the health of your baby, and to choose, or to have to choose, to surrender your birth goals for a cesarean birth.

I think every birth is an achievement. It’s a culmination that leads straight into the beginning of nurturing your new family dynamic. No one, in my opinion, is a lesser woman or mother because of her method of birth.

I’m just going to come out and say that I think birth stigma is complete and total bullshit. If a family interviews me as says they plan to have a “natural birth” I’ll know that they mean an unmedicated vaginal birth and I’ll support them in that choice. I’m just as well versed in how to achieve that as I am in how to support cesarean birth. However, if they end up greeting their baby through cesarean birth, I’m not going to say, “Welp, you didn’t have a natural birth after all!” Yes, you did. Because to imply that something “unnatural” happened is messed up.

In my work, we learn how to really communicate with our clients and to talk in positive and affirming ways. We don’t use words intentionally that can be flipped to mean something negative. Instead of saying. “You’re not….” (whatever the issue is) we find a way to turn it into an affirmation instead of a criticism. In real life terms, it’s as simple as the difference between saying, “if you” and “when you” when you know that someone is in the process of attaining something they want. You don’t say, “If you finish college, …” to someone really gungho about college. If you have a question, you say, “When you, …” So the divide between natural than becomes unnatural. It’s like yes and no, do and do not, black and white, wet and dry. When people talk of “natural” anything in terms of parenting it only creates a grey area that makes people feel like crap. Even the people who did achieve the societal fantasy of what that means and is portrayed in films and lifestyle blogs. If you’re reading this and you had an unmedicated birth, you’re probably ready to punch me. It would be fair if you’re like, “Are you freaking kidding me? I worked my ass off for that!” Yes, you did. But did you ever have those moments where you wondered what people thought about that, or you wondered if you did it right, or enough? Yeah, that’s every mom. And those feelings don’t come from within is, they come from around us. And I wish none of us ever had to feel any of those feels.

And I don’t have just the dislike of the stigma for cesarean births because I’m feeling defensive of my own birth journey or anything like that. I dislike the social stigma all moms face. You don’t need to birth vaginally to be a mother. You don’t have to have an unmedicated birth to show your strength. You’re not weak if you get an epidural. You’re not a failure. You don’t need to prove yourself. You don’t need to question your scale of “natural”. 

I want to see families that have embraced their own path, dive deep into the wilderness of birth, are ecstatic to see their new baby, and smile when they think of the birth of their baby. Birth, despite far reaching social media and the people you haven’t seen in five years that suddenly flock to your house, is a private event. All that truly matters is that you don’t defend your choices to anyone. I’ve told you what I want to see, but it doesn’t matter what I want to see. What do you want?

Rock on with your bad self and welcome to the world of natural motherhood. It’s that absolutely weird and wonderful place where you can’t believe you made a tiny human and will also probably Google at least once how to remove poo from your baby’s hair. Poo in hair has the same effect on the hair no matter who you are or how you birthed!

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