There is a secret in our culture, but it is not that women are strong. Why some birth quotes may be damaging to women.

Strong Woman

Image ©Deirdrie Cullen

The truth is, in our culture, strength is simply not always enough to carry a woman through the birthing journey.

There is a current trend in online social networking sites that cater to birthing women to broadcast empowering quotes about birth.  Many of these quotes are wonderful reminders of the power and strength of women’s bodies and minds.  Many quotes are testimonies to the transformative power of birth.  But a few of them are easily misinterpreted, and can – when taken out of context – increase the misunderstanding and confusion that surround traumatic birth.  Some quotes, if misread, serve to place birth as a competitive act, pitting women against each other.  Others appear to point the finger at the woman herself as being to blame for a less-than-great birth, even though that interpretation is unlikely intended by either the author, or those who post the quote online.  We are concerned about the impact of these quotes on women recovering from a traumatic birth, and also on women in general, as they perpetuate myths that potentially prevent women from supporting each other in the early mothering phase.

Our article below focuses on one of these quotes, in an effort to explain our concerns, and place the quotes within a context that enables women to better understand their birth experiences, without feeling blamed or like a failure.

By the authors of new book, How to Heal a Bad Birth: making sense, making peace and moving on.

There is a secret in our culture

There is a well-known quote about birth that receives a lot of airplay within the birthing community, and is used a great deal on natural birth blogs, websites and in chat forum signatures .  The quote, by Laura Stavoe Harm, reads : “There is a secret in our culture and it is not that birth is painful but that women are strong”.

The intent of this quote might appear as an acknowledgement of women’s power and determination, and a direct counterattack on our culture’s approach to birth.  It could be seen as refuting the notion that ‘birth is painful and something to be feared’.  But this quote actually has the potential to continue the myths that abound about birth, and especially traumatic birth.

Discomfort with the message

At a Baby Expo we worked at a few years ago, we shared a stall with some wonderful local birthing groups.  Our own posters on the wall behind us asked, “Scared of Birth?”, and “Had a Bad Birth?”, and alongside, one of the groups had placed a laminated version of Laura Stavoe Harm’s quote.  We spent the day offering information and support to many women struggling with the aftermath of their births, some shedding quiet tears right there in the Convention Centre.  We shared that is was ok to ‘not feel grateful’ and to grieve their experience.  And we gradually became more and more uncomfortable with that birth quote on the wall behind us.  Eventually, we explained to the convenor of the stall, who had placed the quote there, our concerns with the sign.  She listened carefully, then stood up and took it straight down, saying she understood, and she’d never thought about it like that before.  And we’d like to share with you why we are uncomfortable about this quote’s popularity, and the possible misinterpretations of its meaning…and what this can mean for a woman who has experienced a disappointing, difficult or traumatic birth.

Self-blame after a traumatic birth

If I had read a quote like that in the months after my own traumatic birth, it would have added to the emotional pain & confusion I was already in.  I had laboured for 30 hours, 22 of those without pain relief, and then succumbed to a caesarean that there is a good chance that I did not need.  It was a long, arduous journey to meeting my son, and left me emotionally shattered, physically fragile, and bereft of the ‘good stuff’ we anticipate that goes along with the arrival of our first child.

I was vulnerable afterwards to all the messages that abound about ‘You should be grateful’, and meanwhile, I felt I’d let my baby down, and failed miserably, by ending up with a caesarean.  I doubted my ability to birth, and felt less of a woman because of this.

But saying to me after a birth like that, that the secret is not that birth is painful, but that women are strong would have been like a knife twisting in my chest. It says immediately to me that ‘you should have been stronger’.  And maybe also “If you were strong, your birth wouldn’t be bothering you now”.

Implications and assumptions

There is a hidden implication in that quote.  It says there is a secret…and implies that somehow knowing that secret would change things.  It implies that if only women were told this secret, then things would be different.   To me, the natural assumption would be as follows : “There is a secret in our culture…and if you knew this, it would have meant that you would have had a vaginal birth, and not had a traumatic birth or a caesarean.”    And to me, there is the implication then, that if I’d just been strong, then I wouldn’t be feeling so wretched now.

I was already ‘putting myself through the wringer’, asking, “Why couldn’t I handle the pain?  Why couldn’t I have a natural birth?  Why was my whole world falling apart due to the trauma of the birth?”  And, basically, this quote was telling me that I’d failed just because I wasn’t strong enough.

Excuse me?  I laboured – drug-free – for 22 hours, without appropriate support, and with a posterior baby. I lived through the agonising experience of having to remain completely still, whilst having powerful contractions, to get a needle stuck into my spine.  I lay quietly and wrestled with growing fears as I was cut open – while I was awake –  in order to meet my child.  And I wasn’t strong?

Why this quote is damaging

The reason this quote is so damaging for a traumatised woman, is that it is not true.  The secret is not that women are strong.  The truth is, in our culture, strength is simply not always enough to carry a woman through the birthing journey.

I was incredibly strong in my birth…but it was not enough to ward off the lack of good support & the poor care I received from the midwife in attendance.  I knew birth was painful – no-one had to tell me that.  But what no-one did tell me, was that birth hurts more when we are frightened and out-of-control and feel unsafe.  And I certainly felt all of those!

The truth about strength

The truth is – strength cannot combat inadequate antenatal education, and a maternal health system that requires birth to present in a uniform fashion, that is, “if your birth isn’t ‘textbook’, then we have to make it fit the system”.

The truth is – the key to a birthing woman’s strength, (and the key to her labour progressing well), lies in her ability to be vulnerable, and open, and to surrender wholly to the experience that is overwhelming her entire body and mind.  That’s when the hormones that progress labour do their work best.  But she can’t risk being vulnerable and surrendering if she feels powerless or scared, or intimidated or even violated.

So really, it has nothing to do with just having strength, but plenty to do with creating a situation where a woman is able to unleash her strength.  And this requires excellent and empowering antenatal education, and informed support people who understand why and how to advocate for the woman, and to protect her space.

The real secret

So what is the secret then, if it is not that women are strong?

The secret is that women cannot feel their strength unless they feel safe and supported and nurtured, and trusting of their body’s ability.

So how do they get these things?  Firstly, it is hard for women to feel safe and supported and nurtured unless their support people understand the importance of this for labour progression and emotional health, so great communication and education is vital.  And how do women gain trust in their body?  Not just by blindly ‘trusting’, but by being given appropriate evidence-based information and the sharing of knowledge that enables birth to earn their trust.

Because they don’t know that, women (including myself) blame themselves when their bodies do what they have been designed to do and shut down when they feel unsafe.   Women blame themselves when they begin to ‘friend-make’ with the very carers who are undermining them, because they have no choice…they need them for their survival.   (this ‘friend-making’ is an adrenalin hormonal response too, designed to ensure survival)

How we go into birth

Many natural birth advocates talk of the amazing hormones of childbirth.  They are right – they are amazing. But they are not available if the woman is scared out of her brain, or left alone in a room to labour when she is needing support, or given antenatal education that does not enable her to trust her body’s ability, or talked down to & patted on the head with a ‘don’t worry your pretty head’ attitude, or not had her questions answered.  Yet this is how many, many women go into birth.

And these women who are birthing in this way have not failed. Really, they have been failed…by our system, our antenatal education, and even our culture in its attitudes to birth.   If she is well-supported by her carers and her knowledge, a woman does have access to those amazing hormones.  I know – I have experienced them with my second birth, and they were amazing.  But this time, I felt safe, supported, respected, acknowledged, and had a new understanding of birth.

Fierceness or vulnerability?

Laura Stavoe Harm’s quote could be interpreted as suggesting that women who ‘give in’ to the pain of childbirth are weak (as opposed to strong).   Another way I have seen it written is that women need to be ‘fierce’.  But the issue here is really one of vulnerability.

In my first birth, I was vulnerable.  But there is no way I was weak. The system weakened me by taking away my power, by abandoning my birthing body & my birthing mind, by withdrawing their Birth Centre philosophy when I went in the ‘un-textbook’ basket.  Did I fail because I was not fierce enough?  Of course not…I had no information that taught me I had anything to be fierce about…and certainly no possibility (due to lack of support) to perhaps find this intuitively. I had no inkling that I would be offered anything in that birth that was not in my best interest.  My Birth Centre midwife did not come with me to the epidural and then caesarean.  No Birth Centre midwife visited me afterwards, in the 7 days I was in hospital.   I felt a failure and a reject.  Weakened…but not by my own doing.

I was vulnerable in my second birth too.  But this time, my fierceness was enabled and applauded and honoured  by my midwife and my well-informed support people .   I had access to different information, and, through copious research and reading (and even witnessing my niece enter the world)… birth had gained my trust.  And I was enabled to open up to the enormity of the experience, and had a beautiful VBAC.

Releasing the myths

I remember being at a BBQ when my son was a couple of years old, and I was still emotionally very fragile from the birth.  An acquaintance was talking about her smooth-sailing Birth Centre birth.  She said she guessed her birth went so well because she was ‘so determined’.  This completely crushed me.  Did I ‘fail’ in my birth because I was not determined enough?  Because I was not strong enough?   I was lucky – Deb saw my face, and pulled me aside to explain the things this woman had access to that I had not.  Then I could see that it was not that she was more determined, just that she had (amongst other things) better care, a more straightforward labour, and a one-on-one relationship with a midwife that she knew.  But what about all those women who don’t have a ‘Deb’ to release them from these misperceptions about birth?

We’ve met incredibly strong women who have faced insurmountable odds in a traumatic birthing situation. It is not dictated by whether they are birthing in hospital or at home.  It has nothing to do with their strength.  It has to do with being in a situation to have that strength honoured and enabled to unfurl because the woman is safe, and knows it.  This is only possible when a woman has exceptional antenatal education, and exceptional communication between herself and her carer, and has exceptional support people who are informed as to the importance of the woman feeling safe and unobserved, and who themselves trust birth.  And unless women know this, they will continue to blame themselves, and remain ‘stuck’ in their healing.

It depends on where you are

Maybe it is all a matter of ‘where you are’ in your understanding of birth, as to how you interpret this, and other, quotes.  If I had read Laura Stavoe Harm’s quote midway through my second pregnancy, my response would likely have been…  “Yes!”.  But by then I had a wealth of new information about birth, and was beginning to see just was required for a birthing woman to feel safe.

I also knew by then, without a doubt, that the things that had ‘gone wrong’ in my first birth were not because I wasn’t strong enough. And yes, I needed to hear that women were strong as I prepared for this next birth, but, without the insights I now had, I may have misinterpreted it to mean that ‘strength’ was what I needed…rather than an environment where my strength could be best supported and enabled to blossom.

Concerns over misinterpretation

Shortly prior to the completion of this article, we discovered another birth quote posted to a popular Facebook page that has over 6000 members.  The quote, by Virginia Di Orio, reads :  “Just as a woman’s heart knows how and when to pump, her lungs to inhale, and her hand to pull back from fire, so she knows when and how to give birth.”   This quote has the same potential to be misinterpreted, especially by a woman who feels she failed in birth.

Whilst we agree with this quote, we’d like to add : “A woman (in our culture) knows when and how to give birth…if she receives appropriate antenatal education for herself (& her support people) that explains & honours her body’s capabilities, & has exceptional support and care from a known caregiver, & has the chance to develop a trust in birth and her body based on facts.”

It’s not a matter of being strong enough to ‘just trust’. There is much that needs to be in place for a woman to be able to ‘go there’ and listen to her body, and in many situations, things aren’t in place for that to occur. Most women have no knowledge that this is even important, which is not their fault. If we go back to the analogies in this quote : if a woman is frightened and feels out-of-control and has no support or understanding of what is happening to her…her heart rate will change, her breathing rate will change, her tolerance to pain can change, and her ability to draw on her innate birthing wisdom may be compromised too.

Taking care in our messages to women

This is why both Deb and I have concerns about the potential for certain quotes to be taken out of context, and the incorrect (or rather, incomplete) messages they then convey about birth.  We know many wonderful natural birth advocates who use Laura Stavoe Harm’s quote, and we honour the wonderful work they do…and we also know that they do not ever mean any harm by it.  We know that they are trying to remind women that birth is not something to be scared of, and to garner their inner strength that can often get lost in the disempowering maternal health system of today.

We hope that in expressing our views about this much-loved quote that we are bringing to the fore what it is like for a traumatised woman who is struggling to find validation for her experience.

We need to take care with every message we deliver to women about birth, and ensure that each message honours that every woman at every moment is making the best decisions she can for herself and her child, with the information she has.

And the truth is…that can take a mountain of strength.

©Melissa Bruijn and Debby Gould, Birthtalk 2010

Melissa and Debby are the authors of How to Heal a Bad Birth : making sense, making peace and moving on. This ground-breaking self-help book takes the reader on a ‘Choose your own adventure’ style of healing journey… because every woman’s path to healing will be different. The pages are filled with heartfelt quotes from women, facts and insights about birth trauma, and ideas for dealing with common emotions that arise such as sadness, guilt, feelings of failure, anger and partner issues. There are step-by-step tools for healing, and immense support and compassion contained within these pages. Say the authors : “For the past 14 years we’ve been working with women after a traumatic birth in our ‘Healing From Birth’ support sessions. Because we’ve see the impact birth can have, we are gentle with women’s hearts as they step forward and acknowledge that they are ready to take the journey to healing. And we are with you all the way.”

Image ©Deirdrie Cullen

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  1. Thanks Melissa, lovely timing. This is just what I needed to read this week! And yes, it depends on where you are.. and talking about being a strong women in context is important. Love the blog. Skyexx

    1. Thanks so much, Skye – glad you are enjoying the blog 🙂

  2. Lucie · · Reply

    I have read this quote on a forum members signature .. I felt the same way you do about it.. I thought “hang on.. I WAS strong.. I WAS determined” .. I know now I was failed by my midwife and hospital experience.. I was not emotionally supported (except by my husband, he was fantastic but was also left traumatised). You guys never fail to amaze me with your awsome, inspiring articles 🙂

  3. Angie · · Reply

    I totally agree with you Melissa!
    There are many quotes that I find very empowering & supportive but that is because of how I perceive those quotes & what they mean for me personally. Some quotes can be a help to other women but I prefer not to assume & if I do share I try to remember to also share what the quote means for me. It makes it more personal so others are less likely to get offended or depressed.
    Thanks for being brave enough to write this Melissa & Debbie! 🙂

    1. Thanks, Angie – you are so right – the context makes such a difference 🙂

  4. Belinda · · Reply

    Thanks Melissa,

    I remember feeling like so much of a failure after my birth because despite being determined I was really let down by my MW and other support people on the day and after 36 hrs had a c/s…. My sister was one of those wonderful birth workers and having heard all about birth as an ‘initiation” prior to birth I felt like I had failed that initiation into womanhood. Looking back now I know my 42+ week pregnacy and long labour also didn’t fit the birth centre model….and whilst in labour is not the right time to fight the system. I do take both sides of the meaning for those quotes and think we really have to have a very sensitive space for those traumatised from their births

    1. Thanks for your comment, Belinda – I like the way you talk about ‘a sensitive space’ – that’s exactly what is needed 🙂

      1. Belinda · ·

        Your welcome Mel,

        I think that truly strong people will be gentle and caring of the weak and hurt in our culture. It is like the fine line between being aggressive and assertive. There is a difference between the strength that is just able to defend only it’s own needs without thought for others and those people who are like a castle to others. Able to defend from without and protect those within. All the strong women in our culture need to be watchful and aware of the people around them and sensitive to their needs otherwise I think they just come across as bulldozers with their opinions and cause the hurt themselves, just as blithely unaware of what they are doing, as the OB’s and MW’s who often begin the damage, unaware that whilst they are “helping” they are actually hurting.

  5. jeanne · · Reply

    Hey it is true that the quotation is a positive thing. What you described as your birth experience proves your strength. It was surely a journey that you and your child had to have to make you what you have become and begun to this day.
    Never feel bad about doing the best you could have done under any circumstance.
    I had 3 great homebirths and I can easily say there has been times when I have had “good birth guilt” akin to survivors guilt.
    When my babes were young the playgroups, gyms, classroms all the mums sadly had birth trauma or intervention. If I mentioned my good, drama free births I was almost shunned, “not part of the group” I think what you are doing is now is fantastic and demonstrates the female strength.
    Enpowerment is key, however sometimes how and when our little ones arrive on this planet is not always up to us. Perhaps it is thier journey of arrival as much as it our journey of growth and discovery.

    1. Hi, Jeanne – thanks for your comment.

      We agree that there is positive that can be taken out of this quote, which is absolutely its intention. However we are exploring the different messages it can give, as a way to increase empathy and understanding between women.

      Also thank you for acknowledging my strength in my first birth. However, I think maybe I should make it clear that I don’t feel bad about doing the best I could have done – I know I did the best I could, and that I did not fail. Thank you for saying that, though, as I appreciate you are wanting to be supportive.

      And I completely agree with you that my birth experience proves my strength. But the point of the article was to say that ‘strength’ is not merely ‘ability to handle pain’, which is what this quote can imply. Despite labouring for 30 hrs, I did not FEEL strong afterwards – I felt damaged and broken and unable to mother well, because I did not have adequate support and education and care during the experience. Deb from Birthtalk also had a 30 hr labour for her first birth. But because she was beautifully supported, and had a level of understanding about birth beyond most first-time mothers, she emerged feeling , “Wow, I am amazing!”.

      And I do not believe a traumatic birth is a journey that my child and I ‘had to have’. Deb and I don’t believe ANY woman ‘needs’ to have a traumatic birth for personal growth. If the antenatal education and support is appropriate, then women will make an emotional journey throughout pregnancy that offers many challenges and opportunities for growth and gifts in preparation for motherhood. And then, if the birth is challenging, then it will offer many further gifts and insights…but trauma does not have to be a part of that.

      My son’s birth WAS a gift – it enabled me to meet so many amazing women in the healing journey, and learn so much about myself, and cement my relationship with my partner (eventually!), and paved the way for my daughter’s empowering birth. But it was not necessary, or the journey that we ‘had to have’. I find it hard to see how it could be ‘necessary’ for him to have a mother who was emotionally shattered for the first 2 years of his life.

      We agree with you that ‘Empowerment is key’, which is why we run Antenatal Courses attended by first-time mothers…it is our aim that they NEVER need to experience trauma as part of their experience of birth, yet gain all the wonderful blessings birth has to offer whatever path it may take. They are the same blessings I received from my son’s birth…I just had to fight so hard to find them.

      It is so wonderful that you have had 3 empowering births, and I definitely understand what you are saying about ‘good birth guilt’. Which is partly why we have written this article 🙂

      Thank you again for your insights and comments, Jeanne.

  6. Helen · · Reply

    Thanks for that Melissa.

    Very powerful article, feel like it really hit the nail on the head. I still feel massive guilt about my ‘failure’ when i read about the strength and courage women need to have the perfect birth and find it very hard to stomach some of these well intended comments. I feel that although i was very well educated and aware of how to achieve a good outcome, I was let down by my support and environment.

    Thanks again for helping to put things into perspective. 🙂

    1. You are most welcome, Helen 🙂

  7. I can appreciate your sentiment, but I do not believe the quote is harmful. Ultimately, it is the woman’s responsibility to learn about birth, the caregivers she chooses and how she will approach the giving birth.
    I had a very traumatic birth myself, but even though I was wronged by my caregivers, I had to accept my own responsibility and learn from it and move on. This experience led me to become and doula and childbirth educator. Birth is painful for some women, but not for others. Pain does not have to equal suffering, and I think we all agree that no woman should suffer in birth. Interestingly, when women have been surveyed about their experiences, the amount of pain had no bearing on whether or not they were happy with their experiences. What mattered was how well they were supported and whether or not they played an active role in advocating for themselves.

    1. Hi Kathryn, thanks for your comment. I think you have somehow misunderstood our article.

      Rather than expressing a sentiment, we are offering sound reasons why we need to be careful with the messages we give birthing women, and how these may be interpreted. You are right – women do need to take responsibility to learn about birth…but most women believe they are doing just that…and to the best of their abilities, with the information available to them, they are. We can’t blame women for not having access to appropriate information.

      I read copious amounts before my first birth – just about every book available in the bookstores. This was before the internet was widely available, so I had no inkling that I wasn’t doing everything that I possibly could to be responsible and be informed. I simply had no idea I needed to be informed about our health system…that kind of information was not readily accessible. I did not know I might need someone to advocate for me. In our culture, most people are trained to just ‘trust the experts’, and I believed that doing so would result in the outcome of healthy mother healthy child, and I thought that would include ’emotionally healthy’. I was not being irresponsible, and neither are the millions of other women like me.

      And yes, I learned many many lessons, and my son’s birth gave me many gifts. But they are gifts I was unable to see when I felt such a failure, and was blaming myself, and had guilt piled on me by those who thought I should ‘just be grateful’. My awareness of the gifts could only come after I understood just what happened, and began to process and heal.

      Also, I’m not sure I understand the reason for your comments about pain in childbirth…we have not anywhere said that it is the pain in childbirth that causes trauma or suffering. We say that the pain is worse when a woman is unsupported.

      This article is about strength, not pain. We completely agree that women’s experiences of birth are not determined by the level of pain, but the level of support and degree to which the woman was involved in the decision-making. That’s pretty much what this article is about : the fact that it is not ‘ability to get through pain’ that makes a woman strong and makes birth a good experience, but that good support and education, (that includes the understanding of the importance in being involved in decision-making) can enable a woman to unleash her strength, reduce the pain, or give her more ability to cope with the pain, and have a positive experience.

      Thanks again for sharing your interpretation of our words, and I hope that clarifies where we were coming from.

    2. “What mattered was how well they were supported and whether or not they played an active role in advocating for themselves.”

      Kathyrn I have to disagree with your sentiment here. When you are in a birth space where you feel violated and powerless, where you are struck dumb and overwhelmed, it’s pretty impossible to play an active role in advocating for yourself. 100% the reponsibility of the support team to protect women who may find themselves in this sort of vulnerable place. to say otherwise is akin to saying that women who are raped are partly to blame if they don’t fight back hard enough.

      I was the most well read mum to be on the planet, had a private midwife, a detailed birth plan, and thought I’d assembled a strong team, but none of that protected me from a traumatic experience that profoundly affected my experience of mothering in the early months.

      Birth trauma can happen to anyone!!!!

      I still feel a tremendous amount of guilt for failing to ‘advocate’ for myself, after 30 straight hours of labour and a 3rd degree tear.

      I agree women should be encouraged to educate themselves, but ultimately the vulnerable are not responsible for neglect by others. To suggest such a thing just adds to the pain women who have had such an experience feel. Thoughts that I am responsible for what happened have actually stopped me from seeking help to heal from this birth for 2 years. I think we need to understand that what might be a true perspective from someone who has already completed their healing journey, could be harmful/prevent someone still suffering from a trauma from commencing their own healing journey.

  8. AMAZING article! Passed it on to a lovely friend who is planning for a VBAC.

    1. Thanks, heaps 🙂 🙂

  9. marinda · · Reply

    Thank you for this article. I needed to read something like this. It is so true that often times women feel torn about their birth experience. I recently had my second baby. I had a c/s with my first and planned to have a VBAC with my second. I am a doula and childbirth educator, and felt that maybe I had missed something the first time that would allow for a VBAC the second time. I entered my birth just as powerful as I had the first. This time I felt I had better support (a MW instead of an OB and 2 doulas) and was sure of the outcome. I ended up with a repeat c/.s after 50 hours of laboring and pushing. I had a fantastic surgeon who actually LOOKED at my pelvis while he was doing the c/s. He gave me the strength of knowing what was going on with my body. He explained thar my hips were indeed misshapen. He never told me I couldn’t have a vaginal birth, just that it was unlikely.
    It was so hard for me to feel I had failed again. In our culture, especially in the natural birth circles, c-sections are viewed as failures. I think this is part of the reason they can be so hard on mothers.
    thank you!!!

    1. You are very welcome, Marinda – and we appreciate your insights from your own experience.

  10. This was an EXCELLENT article! Women should be treasured, honored, celebrated regarless of the birthing experience. Lots of education needs to be done and personally, out of the hospitals. Thank you for sharing this.

    1. Thanks for your comment, Lesly – and we agree 🙂

  11. Becks · · Reply

    I enjoyed reading this very much. I do, however, have a question: Why can the quote not be applied to a woman who has had a cesaerean birth? A C-Section birth is still a birth. Incision pain is still pain. Those women are so very, very strong as well as brave.
    I know that the quote originated within the natural childbirth culture, but it need not apply exclusively to natural vaginal homebirths. I guess I just don’t see why a women who had a C-Section has to be ashamed and can’t be proud of what her body has done. Sad, yes, if the birth experience wasn’t what she wished, but does the problem not lie in some part with the rest of us if we’ve created a culture in which we presume that the only birth to be proud of and apply our quotes to are ‘natural’ ones?

    1. You are absolutely right :). There are various ways this quote can be interpreted and some of its positivity can be applied to a woman having had a caesarean birth as well. However, as stated, we need to take care with the messages we may inadvertently give to many women with regard this quote. Our issue is with the definition of ‘strength in birth’ that can be implied in this quote. We have the same concerns about this quote whether it is applied to natural birth or caesarean birth. We know many, many strong women who have had traumatic caesareans. We know many, many strong women who have had traumatic natural births (and some of these were homebirths). Our concern is that any of these women may misinterpret that quote, and see it as applying to themselves, and conclude
      that they have ‘not been strong enough’, and that this is why they feel bad. You are right – a big part of the problem lies with our culture, which is largely due to lack of information rather than a direct desire to harm. And that is why we have started this blog, to offer information that tells the truth about traumatic birth, and hopefully this can lead to change!

    2. So true! I and I totally agree!

  12. thisisme · · Reply

    I totally understand where you are coming from here, but the part I have a hard time with is that now every one has to walk on egg shells at ALL times for fear of what a quote (that could be very powerful to many women) may possibly affect another ,by the way they “receive/interpret it”. I don’t see the quote the way you see it here. I do understand in the context of the expo, but in every day terms I think it is just a way of saying that we shouldn’t fear birth, we are stronger than fear…But on the other hand, because we don’t have a 100% perfect/ideal birth (and who does???) doesn’t mean that WE failed or aren’t strong…it is because the SYSTEM/SOCIETY/NATURE failed US! It’s like the breastfeeding/formula debate, of course we want to do ALL we can to encourage moms to try to breastfeed or keep breastfeeding, but should we walk on egg shells for all those who failed for one reason or another even though it is most likely NOT their fault but the system/nature? How do we encourage other moms and be positive and proud at the same time as not to want to hurt the moms who have had a bad experience? I just don’t think it’s fair to say that we shouldn’t use this quote or others just because someone else may take it differently or feel hurt by it when it is not intended that way at all and could be helpful and encouraging to MANY. The other quote you posted I think points to the fact that every day we are told we are not qualified to birth our babies, we have no knowledge of birth and need an “expert” to do it all for us…Dr’s are always saying, well how did you know to push (or, I’ll tell you how/when to push)? um really? how DOESN’T a woman know to push! Or like the monty pithon skit where they are prepping the mom to birth and she says, “what do I do?” And he says, “NOTHING you aren’t QUALIFIED!” If a woman is left alone and is in labor, trust me, that baby would come OUT… the point is, your body DOES know what to do and we aren’t lifeless creatures who need someone to rip our baby from our loin while we lay there lifeless.

    Now I just feel like every time I want to “encourage/support” moms to breastfeed or take control of their birth etc.., I am going to be worried about who all is going to be “offended/hurt” and not be proud/free to just share my love/joy/passion etc… 😦

    I feel sorry for ANY mom who has had any amount of birth trauma, it’s not fair, and I wish I could change it or take it away, I feel like that is the best way to do that is by encouraging other moms in any way we can.

    1. Thanks for your comment. We do acknowledge your frustration in how to go about inspiring women about the potential empowerment from birth without inadvertently damaging others. It is important to know that one aim does not exclude the other, nor mean you must ‘walk on eggshells’, but is does require being mindful, plus further examination, thought and reflection.

      Giving access to information that can increase the likelihood of a positive & empowering experience, and reduce the emotional fallout after a less-than-great experience, is not ‘walking on eggshells’.

      If you are hearing – from our article (and from the comments underneath) – that a woman may interpret that quote a certain way, then to us, it makes sense to put the quote within a context that enables her to understand the truth about our system, and her body. We are sure you would likely pride yourself on having a woman-centred approach in your services, so we would imagine you would be always searching for ways to better meet the needs of the women in your care. Hearing that a message you thought was crystal clear is being misinterpreted is surely cause to question how you can ensure that the women you support are getting correct messages.

      We are not sure what you mean by ‘everyday terms’…the context of the Expo is not dissimilar to the context of everyday life…you can’t predict when a vulnerable woman is going to come across that quote. It might be in a magazine or online, and the interpretation that we have explained is equally as likely in those situations too. Saying that in ‘everyday terms’ the quote means that we shouldn¹t fear birth, and that we are stronger than fear still doesn’t mean much to a woman who has experienced a very frightening birth, and is considering not having more children because it was so bad,and has no framework for understanding what happened. None of this is about having a ‘100% perfect ideal birth’…none of the women who feel bad are just complaining about not ‘getting a perfect birth’.

      There is no need for ‘walking on eggshells’ when offering birth education…or breastfeeding education. That is doing women a disservice, and disempowering them, when you could be enabling them to understand their own situation and taking steps to process and work through their birthing or breastfeeding experience. Rather than encouraging mothers to try to breastfeed or to have a particular type of birth, it makes more sense to look carefully at the reasons why they are considering not breastfeeding, or whether they are making their birthing decisions from knowledge or fear, and addressing their very real concerns and fears and worries. This involves getting down to the oft-hidden truths about breastfeeding or birth, and mythbusting all the misperceptions and myths and family legends that have been passed down. This then enables them to see the reasons why other women may have had an easier journey, and see that it likely had little to do with them, and much more to do with the information they had, the support they had, their own unique situation, and the hormones they had available as a result of their situation (this is applicable in a breastfeeding OR a birthing situation). It is equally possible to be positive about breastfeeding whilst at the same time supporting those who have had a rough trot in that area. Just as it is equally possible to be positive about the possibilities for a positive, empowering birth whilst at the same time supporting those who have had a rough trot in THIS area.

      You say that you ‘don’t think it’s fair to say that we shouldn’t use this quote or others’. We have not said in our article that you shouldn’t use this quote, or others. We have suggested being aware of the messages it may convey to all women, not just those vulnerable after a traumatic birth. If the use of a particular quote encourages women to feel ‘better than’ or ‘worse than’ another woman because of her birth experience, then is that really a quote you want to use without explaining the wider context?

      You believe this quote might be helpful and encouraging to many women…but we believe it is also causing harm, if it is continuing the misperception that ‘strength’ is what is needed, rather than an environment where strength can be best supported and enabled to blossom. What happens then, if some of these women to whom you are presenting this quote go on to have a traumatic birth? Then they may believe that the things that had ‘gone wrong’ in their birth were because they weren’t strong enough. And the cycle of self-blame begins again. Whereas, if you presented the quote within context, and expanded upon its meaning, you are offering women a chance to make sense of birth and begin to explore what birthing strength means for them. Isn’t that more empowering? And also more all-encompassing (that is, it includes both those women wanting to feel positive about birth, and also those who have been traumatised by birth)?

      You comment that now you ‘feel like every time I want to “encourage/support” moms to breastfeed or take control of their birth etc.., I am going to be worried about who all is going to be “offended/hurt” and not be proud/free to just share my love/joy/passion etc’. We believe that you do need to be mindful of all women, and whilst passion is fantastic, of more importance is what the women need. Is it more important to be proud and free, or to be compassionate and honest? Is it not vitally important to be certain that you are really listening to women and offering education that truly supports their needs? Rather than being ‘worried about who is going to be offended’ by what you say, perhaps it would be better to be sure that what you are saying is all-encompassing of all women. That is truly possible.

      We believe you sincerely do feel for women who have had a traumatic birth. But it is impossible to change it or take it away ­ even by ‘encouraging other mums in any way we can’, as you suggest. This is especially true if that ‘any way we can’ includes denying them access to information that could not only enhance their birthing experience, but also enable them to have compassion and understanding for those who have had a negative birth. This is what is potentially going to happen if the true meaning of this and other birth quotes are not explored and explained. It is happening now, which is why we have had such an overwhelmingly positive response to this article. And while we can’t change or take away a woman’s traumatic birth, we can make changes within our culture that enable these women to be fully supported and validated, give them tools to process and heal, and hopefully prevent other women from following a similar path. Surely this is the aim of all good antenatal education?

  13. Thank you for this article. You took the time to articulate something that isn’t easy to explain. YES!
    The seed for self-blame is planted before the birth, and the mind finds every opportunity to “water” that seed via the written word, comments from others, images on screen, etc. after the trauma.
    May we quiet the parts that judge and criticize (ourselves & others), and water the seeds of gentle forgiveness, understanding, and love.
    Again, thank you for these important words!

    1. Thanks for what you have written here, Nancy, we appreciate it 🙂

    2. Nancy, you said what I was thinking. I agree 100%.

  14. Thank you for this enlightening article. My sister is planning a home-birth VBAC and having never had a baby I am struggling to understand all that she has gone through and is going through. You have helped me in my journey to support her. She is such an inspiring woman and I am so proud that she has chosen to surround herself with a great support network after a traumatic first birth.

    1. That means so much to us, Lauren, to know that our work is perhaps enabling women to come together in support, especially at such a vulnerable time. We are inspired by your willingness to explore your sister’s experience, and take that journey to support her. Thank you so much for sharing that with us 🙂

  15. kathy osborne · · Reply

    thank you again melissa and debby for educating on the issue of birth trauma. so many women, including myself, are affected in their mothering and how they feel as a woman, due to having a birth where the support person acted in a disrespectful and disempowering way. i want to, in the future, work with birthing women. i find your information and approach insightful. when i embark on my birth support journey, i want to be mindful of your approach in supporting women in their own healing and education.

    1. Thank you so much, Kathy, and best wishes in your future journey in birth support 🙂

  16. Wow. You truly hit the nail on the head in your analysis of the potential harm that these “empowering” birth quotes can do! The aspects that you hit on in this post are well in line with the philosophies of my certifying organization, BirthWorks, Intl. ( And I am grateful to see such a balanced post. When we are passionate about birth, it is so easy to polorize the the extreme “NCB” perspective. But polarizing eventually alienates many people. And birth is not as straight forward as some extremist NCB’s may think.

    Thank you for taking the time to consider how we can best help women, rather than simply regurgitating the same old birth quotes.

    1. You are most welcome – thank you for taking the time to comment on our blog 🙂

  17. While I agree that the quotes you cite can create the “knife twisting in the chest” sensation in many of us with birth trauma. I will disagree about the commonly held view that labours progress well when the woman feels safe and is able to surrender to the experience. While the lack of this will often cause dystocia, it is far from the solution to all “poor progress” in labour. Pathologies of many different varieties come into play regardless of the woman’s education, ability to relax, care providers, and environment.
    Even with amazing care providers, great environments, educated and relaxed women we end up with cesareans (and other extreme interventions) for various reasons in ~ 5%+ of cases. This is the nature of birth, as an extreme variant of the nature of life…
    It sucks to fall into that small percentage and it takes an even stronger woman to make it through.

    1. Hi – thanks for your comment. You are absolutely right that there are a small percentage of cases where caesareans or extreme interventions are required. And it can absolutely “suck” as you put it to be in that situation and certainly requires immense strength to make it through.

      However we are not merely expressing a ‘commonly held view’ when we mention the benefit to labour progress from a woman feeling safe and thus able to surrender emotionally to the experience. Our article does not offer feeling safe and being able to surrender as ‘the solution to all poor progress in labour’. You are right – pathologies do come into play, even in the most ideal of environments, and even when women receive excellent antenatal education.

      We do, however, offer these situations as a woman’s best chance for her hormones to be able to do their job, which is to progress labour, reduce the pain, and prepare for the task of mothering (amongst other things). We are also aware that many women are not birthing in this kind of environment or receiving this excellent support and education. We understand that you have an awareness of this, however we offer the benefits of these based on research, not just as a ‘view’.

      There is research to support this phenomenon, in all mammals, not just humans. Dr Michel Odent is a French researcher, surgeon & pioneer of natural birth. He believes that, if we can be more respectful of our mammalian roots, and the hormones that we share, we can have more chance of a straightforward birth ourselves.

      Dr Sarah Buckley, author of “Gentle Birth, Gentle Mothering”, says, “All mammals seek a safe place to give birth. This “nesting” instinct may be due to an increase in levels of prolactin, which is sometimes referred to as the nesting hormone…Even after labour has started, there are certain conditions that will slow, or even stop the process. If the fight-or-flight hormones are activated by feelings of fear or danger, contractions will slow down. Our mammalian bodies are designed to give birth in the wilds, where it is an advantage to postpone labour when there is danger, and to seek safety.” (this is quoted from Dr Buckley’s article “Pain in Labour : Hormones are your Helpers”)

      You also describe the nature of birth as being an extreme variant of the nature of life, of which we agree. Nowhere do we suggest using good support, good education, and good care as a means to ‘beat’ nature. We are inviting women to explore how having these things in place can give womens bodies the best chance to do what nature designed them to do.

      Just as importantly, for those women whose “nature’s course” may be one of those variants, or for those who choose to follow a different course, we want them to receive as many of the emotional and physical benefits of birth. This can enable them to go forth into their parenting role as easily and joyfully as possible.

      These ‘variant’ situations need not be traumatic…and in fact are less likely to be so if a woman has the right education and support. A caesarean does not need to be traumatic, although it can definitely be disappointing and initially devastating. However, in our experience, women who end up with caesareans who did not initially desire to have one, and who are beautifully supported by their education, support team and carers, can go on to recover emotionally and integrate their experience. Yes, they experience disappointment, and sadness, and some grief as they let go of the birth they had planned. But, because the caesarean was not traumatic, and because often they have negotiated access to the ‘good’ hormones (via skin-to-skin, and breastfeeding etc), they are able to process these emotions with understanding. A woman can grow and garner many gifts from such a birth. It does take a strong woman to make it through such an experience, as you say, and we have seen many such strong women grow stronger with great support.

      We believe that feeling safe and being able to surrender to the experience are vital in any birth, and we have seen the ripple effect of this many times. Women are so amazing.

  18. Thanks so much Melissa and Deb, I really appreciate your insights so that we can all be sensitive in how we approach women, birth and especially woman who have had traumatic births. And I appreciate your willingness to look at some “sacred cows”!!
    My deep gratitude to you for all you do in Birthtalk and for the wealth of knowledge, skill and wisdom you have amassed over the years in service of mothers, babies, fathers and families.

    1. Thank you Sarah – and we in turn are so grateful for your work, and your gentle presence in the global birthing community. We very much appreciate your comments 🙂

  19. Very interesting perspective and insights. Thanks for this.

    Do you think that a woman would need excellent prenatal education and strong support if she lived in a place where the midwives model of care was standard of care? I guess my question is: do you think this is important to get through birth or to get through our current maternity care system?

    1. Thank you for your comment, and for raising a great question 🙂 We believe – and have seen countless anecdotal evidence to support this – that excellent prenatal education and strong support are important in ANY model of care. A midwifery model of care offers some fantastic opportunities for great individual education, one-on-one communication and the developing of a relationship with the carer who will be with you as you labour…but it is not foolproof. We have women come to our “Healing From Birth” group who have experienced a traumatic birth, not only under private obstetrical care or public care, but also in midwifery-run Birth Centres, and also in a homebirth. It is still vital that the woman receives high quality education, and excellent support to chart the course throughout pregnancy, and then birthing, and into motherhood. And a midwifery model of care, whilst often offering more opportunities for this, and more often high levels of satisfaction from women, does not guarantee this.

      The other hurdle facing women, no matter which model of care they choose, is their perception of birth. This perception is formed via cultural values, family history and the way birth is represented in our society. Our culture generally promotes and values self sufficiency, control in our lives and the mental strength to overcome or ignore most physical or emotional adversity. This is in stark contrast to the journey through pregnancy to birth and motherhood, where we must stop and honour our body’s needs, where we need to find the strength in being vulnerable and allowing the process to unfold rather than controlling it whilst allowing ourselves to accept support and nuturing. This is often a challenge for many women, but with the understanding of why this is important comes the strength to do so whilst feeling safe, hence one of the goals of good education.

      Womens’ experience and understanding of birth is rarely first hand but comes rather through the media and friends’ stories of their own births. The media feeds us movies, sitcoms & glossy magazines which tend to sensationalise birth without offering perspective and insight . And often women’s own friends may present their ‘horror stories’ in a context that does not allow for processing or understanding about what happened and how things could have been different.

      Beyond this, there is a fairly broad underlying cultural view that birth is something unfortunate that women need to go through to get a baby out. However, we have found that with good education (and mythbusting along the way) many start to see it as an opportunity for an amazing experience, offering personal growth with benefits for both mother, partner and baby…not only at the time but also with their transition into their new family.

      So, in answer to your question, women do need this excellent education and support not just because of our maternity system, not to get through birth, but also to address any misperceptions they may have of birth. No matter where, how, and with whom they are birthing, women need to know what is important in birth to increase their chances of emerging positive, confident and strong, and be able to work with their carer to create an environment where that is possible. That’s what we do at Birthtalk 🙂
      © 2010

      1. I just had to say thank you to both for such a thought provoking conversation.

        Elizabeth, your question summed up my feelings exactly as I have often felt that it was the maternity system and health professionals who had let me down.

        Birthtalk, your response was fantasitc, really made me think about some things in a different light. The opinions and advice that you bring to the issues are just amazing. I always enjoy reading both articles and the discussions which arise. Thank you again for everything that you do!

  20. This post brought back so many memories for me. My first birth was a miserable experience; I delivered vaginally but otherwise had pretty much every other intervention I had not wanted. My OB assured me that everything on my list was only performed when necessary — yeah, right — but, like the author, I had no reason to believe that anyone would suggest anything that was not in my best interest. My labor stalled (because, I am certain, my MIL “stopped by to visit” and stayed for 5 hours; my husband would not get rid of her until the third time I asked him) and I spent 12 hours at 7 centimeters dilation, after which I agreed to pitocin and an epidural. My son was born 4 hours later, so I suppose it helped, but I felt crushed. I was absolutely devastated and incredibly angry at my husband. It was hard to talk about; appallingly, my own mother told me I should focus on having a healthy baby, and be thankful for that. It was healing, over time, to breastfeed my son, and talk things out with my family. Grieving my birth was painful and complicated but worth the emotional investment. My next two births took place at home with a midwife and were vastly better experiences. I’ve been honored to be able to offer support to other grieving Mamas — it has been really empowering to empathize with them, and be the first to encourage them to grieve instead of brushing it aside. Thank you for a great post!

  21. WOW…THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR SHARING THIS! I though I was totally alone in my thoughts, but now I see I am not! I know for some woman this is their mantra but it always made me feel stupid or in some way “not strong” because my body did not work as is should have 4 times and I ended up with 4 cesareans. Some would say this is all my fault, some who truly support me, just offer support after the fact but this quote was given to me to “give me strength” and really all it did was put a huge boulder on my back to perform. You see for c-section moms who are going for a VBAC, HBAC, UBAC even after multiple C’s or what have you, the pressure is already on but you add on stuff like this and boy I’ll tell you!! It just seems like too many people in the natural birthing community (there are exceptions I’m sure :D) don’t truly understand the pressures that the a VBACing woman face emotionally, maybe on paper (physically they have it down), but I can honestly say that I felt like if I had moments of weakness, heads were going to roll! Put things like this “encouraging quote” into the mix and a mom somewhere is bound to feel that she can’t do it. Her birth support can know EVERYTHING about the labor progression but if the mother feels pushed, pressured or any form of performance anxiety and the support doesn’t truly support her she will more than likely fail in her attempts…

  22. elizabeth · · Reply

    My first’s birth was a tramatic experience and I wish I could go back and change it with the knowledge I know now. I was so scared from her birth experience that I went into my second with total fear. When I became pregnant with my third I was determined to do it my way and only my way, which meant that I would do it natural and would not be induced. Well, for some reason I still approached this birth with fear that something would go wrong. Well, when I 38 weeks my OB said I had to be induced and if refused I was being a bad mother and was putting my baby in danger(when the real reason behind his decision was that I had fast labors and he wanted to be able to control the sitution instead of letting nature take it course). So I did put my foot down and said if you want to induce then he could do it by breaking my water instead of giving me pitocin. So the day arrived and he broke my water and then as I put it “all hell broke loose”. My computer that showed my contractions broke so in comes a computer repair man. I was doing fine still hadn’t had any drugs and was approaching 6 centimeters, that’s when the nurse or as I refer to her the “warden” came in and started saying over and over and in front of my mother and mother-in-law(who by the way my mother never went into labor, she had 2 c-sections and my mother-in-law is my husband step mother, so neither woman had been through labor), that I needed to get the epidural now, now, now. So my mother and mother-in-law started nagging me just like the nurse, my husband God love him had to step out at this point, he doesn’t do good in small spaces or being cooped up and he had been by my side for two hours straight and needed to get out. Without my coach(husband), who totally supported my natural route, I was left to try to fight with three nagging woman telling in the middle of contractions, that I needed to get the epidural, finally not in my best mind and unable to think I gave in and had the epidural at 6 centimeters. After the epidural was given, they had to give me pitocin after all, cause my contractions were slowing down and of course that can’t happen cause your on a “time frame” to deliver. I begged them to turn off the epidural when I got close to delivery, but they said they weren’t allowed to do that. When I got close and wanted to push I was then “violated” by the nurse as she put her hand down there to hold the baby’s head in cause the doctor wasn’t there yet. It took me years to get over this experience and I’m finally ready to try again to have another baby, my way, at a birth center with a midwife who I consider more a friend than a provider. I also have decided to become a doula so I can give other woman a chance to have the birth the want and deserve. I totaly agree with your article cause I’m so tired of the world telling woman that if everything doesn’t go right we are failures, that’s how I felt for years after the birth of my thrid, that because I was bullied into having a epidural I was a failure, and after being “beaten” up by my providers I was wrong for not speaking up.

  23. Melissa · · Reply

    Great article and I agree it is the context that can make all the difference. It is also at what stage a woman is after her traumatic birth that lets those quotes be interpreted differently.

    I had a traumatic hospital vbac attempt ending in repeat c/s over 5 years ago, but recently attempted a home birth. I fall into the category of judgement where it is percieved that because my hb ended in surgery that I took the ‘easy’ way out or as you wrote, I was not strong enough. I laboured at home and actively pushed for over 6 hrs at home and then another 2 hours at hospital…yep to me that is pretty strong, even determined, but many (most) people just put my birth in the too posh to push, just had surgery basket. Sad but true that the efforts of women are not recognised or valued in birth.

    Thanks for writing,


  24. This is the most resonant piece of writing I’ve read so far, since the birth of my son 4 and a bit years ago (serendipitously tumbled upon while visiting Facebook). Thank you!


  25. Thank you for this. I strongly resent the idea that I wasn’t “strong” enough. I challenge any woman who believes that of me to endure ten or twelve hours of back-to-back transition contractions and then tell me cheerfully that if I’d (take your pick!) surrendered to the pain, been better-prepared, not acknowledged the pain as pain, what have you, that I’d not have wound up with a transfer and an epidural. And I had planned a homebirth with a midwife! Oh, and the transfer wasn’t my idea anyway; my midwife, husband, and mother decided for me, and quite frankly I was in no state to have an opinion at that point. I had been awake and in labor for about twenty hours and hadn’t been able to keep any food or drink down for about twelve.

    1. Megan Drechsler · · Reply

      Hey Amelia
      I am also still processing my birth which is eerily similar to yours…also in a planned homebirth, also in transition for hours, also transferred to hospital for an epi and then having to take all the crap that went along with being in that hell that is the hospital labor ward.
      If you want to make contact look me up on facebook.
      I would love to talk to another woman with the same experience, it might help us both

  26. Sharron · · Reply

    22 years later, my traumatic births still cause confusion and pain. There are many more of these beautiful quotes that feel different once your birth is not the one you worked for. Women in our society have many obstacles between the heart of these sentiments and the reality of their circumstances.

  27. We recently received an email from Laura Stavoe herself, who penned the quote that our article is about. To read her email, see our latest blogpost, titled “Laura Stavoe speaks – why she wrote : “There is a secret in our culture and it is not that birth is painful but that women are strong.” We invite you to read her response to us here :

  28. What a wonderful wonderful article ! It makes me more determined as a Childbirth Educator to give woman the tools they need to create a safe birthing environment. The appropriate caregiver is instrumental as well as excellent educated birth support.
    I am struck by the statement that you had no idea they would do things that were not in your best interest..
    I struggle with this in every class I teach, how to relay this without undermining caregivers ..
    I am going to do my very best to give some solid education based on what you have written about !

  29. Wonderful points you make. I love this quote, because I did get to have one of those wonderful births. It’s nice to see the point of view from someone who birthed differently than they would have liked. I think ALL women are strong, no matter how they birth. Mothers who birth via C-section are sacrificing a lot for their babies and it takes a lot of strength and bravery to go that route. It doesn’t make them lesser women, nor weak because for some reason or another they did not have a vaginal birth. I’m definitely in huge opposition to the “unnecesesarean”, but who is to determine what was unnecessary? We can’t change the past- we can only change how we look at it. You did the best you could with what you had at that point, and you ARE strong. Kudos to you, momma, and thank you tremendously for sharing your insight.

  30. Thank you so much for this post. My sister delivered her baby via c-section on the 8th after 14 hours of un-medicated labor. Her baby was posterior as well, and, though I suspected that to be the case, I’m not a doctor, nurse, midwife or doula and I had never been to an un-medicated birth before.She couldn’t afford a professional doula, so, I stood in as a birth coach for her. I feel as though I failed her. She was SO STRONG and so brave, but her doctor was not interested in avoiding a c-section from the beginning! She treated my sister with contempt and administered very rough vaginal exams. I was traumatized myself from the whole experience. Though I think that my sister’s c-section could have been avoided with better care providers, that choice was not open to her. My sister IS a strong woman, and I pray that next time, she has better, more supportive care providers.

  31. I love this quote!! It actually reminds me of something that my midwife said while i was in active intense labor and saying “i can’t do this”. She said “They (the contractions) are strong because you are strong”. I think i just take a different interpretation from this quote. I take the secret of women being strong to mean that women are so much stronger physically and emotionally than we give them credit for. It takes a very strong woman to go through an intense labor and traumatic c-section and still have the strength to put aside her own healing and recovery to bond/nurse her newborn and care for them. Something i learned from my own birth experience is that strength in birth is not measured physically but emotionally. You have to be emotionally strong. No amount of physical strength is going to give you an uncomplicated birth and for that matter no amount of emotional strength will either. However emotional strength is what helps you push through and heal once your child is born. I had a very intense labor which ended in an emergency ambulance ride to the hospital from a birth center and into an operating room to be put under general anesthesia and “miss” the birth of my son. The doctors have no idea why my son’s heart rate was decelerating so drastically and i know that my c-section was not because i wasn’t physically strong enough but i also know that if i wasn’t emotional strong i never would have made it through that experience. We are strong to go through horrible experiences and with time to heal it can help you realize how strong you really are, how much you can endure and still keep fighting for the ones you love!

  32. Amen. It’s taken me months of therapy to know that I am strong and it took incredible strength to survive my daughter’s birth.

  33. Again, another fantastic article. I am still healing from my traumatic birth but I am feeling a whole lot better than I did when he was born. People don’t don’t realise the power of words and how they can cut you like a knife, so many people feel that they can comment about how you should and shouldn’t feel after your birth – especially people that haven’t given birth!!

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