As parents, I believe we all experience the stress of having our choices doubted or disapproved, as well as the relief and often subsequent camaraderie that follows meeting parents of a similar ilk. Pregnancy, birth and parenting bring this up so strongly for us not just because we want the best for our children, but because these life events are deeply transformational rites of passage.
The two major ‘camps’ are the medical, western model of birth and the natural birth movement. This dichotomy creates a strong picture of the “Other”, the one that “I” am NOT:
I would never give birth at home–it’s too dangerous!
Bottlefeeding mothers aren’t as dedicated as breastfeeding mothers.
Parents who don’t vaccinate their kids are taking risks with their kids’ lives
Etcetera, etcetera. Can you hear the shouting yet? As I write this, I recognize the place in myself that wants to be right, that wants to convince. But it is from somewhere deeper than that ego place that I want to communicate and connect from. I want to hear the story of every mother/family I come across. Because in these stories, the places where we have been wounded, the places where we feel shame because we made a decision we probably wouldn’t make now, can begin to soften when we offer compassionate company to one another.
We all need to learn a new language. When we think we know what is right for someone else, we can learn to ask more questions, to open our ears and hearts to the real stories. When we feel fear, doubt or anxiety about what we have experienced, we can learn to be vulnerable and self-reflective about these emotions instead of attacking someone whose individual choices reflect back questions about our own. One excellent resource to help us change the way we communicate–and how we understand our own emotional landscape–is Non-Violent/Compassionate Communication (NVC). Developed by Marshall Rosenberg, NVC creates a space where everyone is heard, where everyone has the chance to be validated for his or her own emotional experience and needs.
There is no one way we will ever all give birth. I do look forward to the day when normal, physiological birth is respected and supported, and the violence that pervades much of our modern, western birth practices is seen for the barbary that it is. As part of my contribution to this outcome, it is my intention to continue removing the plank from my own eye around how I communicate about birth and parenting. The zealousness I feel can fuel my work, but it is humility and compassion that will cross boundaries and connect me to others.
All women who give birth are transformed. Remember that when you see someone parenting in a way unfamiliar to you. Be strong, speak and listen from your heart, and connect to a woman who is innately more your sister in this journey than your adversary. Unjustices committed against women, children and families around birth and reproductive health will only be healed by standing together to assert the truth of our collective humanity.
PS: As I finish writing this I note that I have focused on the communication between parents around different choices. All that I have said can and needs to be applied by birthing professionals as well, on any ‘side’.
PPS: I have included links for a number of articles I read in the past weeks that got me thinking more strongly about all of this. If you know of any other articles that contribute more food for thought to this discussion, please add a link to them in the comments.
“I won’t ask you why you didn’t breastfeed”
“If you are happy with your choices, why does mine bother you so much?”
“Peaceful Revolution: Motherhood and the $13 Billion Guilt”
Center for Non-Violent Communication:
And finally something funny, because we all need to laugh at ourselves and lighten up:
“Dos and Don’ts of Parenting Babies”