On Monday, Jill Dillard of 19 Kids and Counting gave birth to her first child, a healthy, 9lb 10oz baby boy named Israel David Dillard. In the photo they released to the public, Jill and her husband Derick look classically exhausted and happy and in love, and baby Israel looks chubby and adorable. But there's one thing that stuck out at me right away about that picture. It was taken in a hospital.
If you follow 19 Kids and Counting, you probably know that Jill has been training to be a midwife since 2012. She's helped to deliver lots of babies born at home, and was planning on a home birth for herself as well. For whatever reason, it didn't happen. And I'm kind of glad it didn't.
Before I had kids, I was 100 percent pro home birth. I wanted to give birth "naturally" in a tub in my living room, with a midwife and probably a doula, and it was going to be beautiful and awesome and a celebration of womanhood and the most important task my body was meant to do. I'd watched The Business of Being Born with unbridled enthusiasm. I'd read everything by Ina May Gaskin like it was my job. And then I got pregnant with twins (making me high-risk right off the bat), everything went totally wrong, and I gave birth at 25 weeks along after an emergency cerclage and about a month of bed rest.
I learned many, many things from my miserable, awful, wrong-in-every-way birth experience, but mostly I came out on the other side with an intimate understanding of how often things really do go wrong when it comes to pregnancy and childbirth. Advocates of home birth often state that home birth is a completely safe choice for women with normal, healthy pregnancies, and there is research to back that up. It can be easy as a pregnant woman to think that midwife-assisted home birth is the way to go, because we are lucky enough to live in a society where the majority of us have healthy, uneventful pregnancies and deliveries, and so we have the privilege of thinking we'll be one of those women too.
Maybe we don't talk about it much because it's kind of depressing and it's scary, and who wants to be the Negative Nelly talking about worst-case scenarios in front of the happy pregnant woman who will statistically most likely be just fine? But there are lots of us out there -- the women who were on the losing side of the equation, whose babies came early or whose babies came sick, whose babies were delivered stillborn or whose babies had serious complications during an otherwise healthy delivery. And, there are lots of mothers out there who themselves had unforeseen complications, who almost died, or who did actually die. How's that for worst-case scenario?
I know there are many women who have had home births that went swimmingly, and they loved it and would never want to give birth in a hospital. I am happy for those women, because they got to have an amazing experience in one of the most pivotal moments of their lives. But make no mistake: those women are lucky. Those women won the childbirth lottery. Those women were never in a position to have to beg the doctor to use whatever drug or medical technology possible to keep their babies alive. Thank goodness. But many of us were and many of us will be.
There are so many expectations and myths placed on motherhood in this society, and that begins the day a woman gets pregnant. Everything she eats, every activity she participates in, every pound she does or does not gain is criticized. We talk about birth plans, about "natural births," about epidurals and C-sections and circumcisions and breastfeeding every other possible decision a pregnant woman could possibly need to make, and these conversations are loaded with judgment. No matter what, someone, somewhere, will tell you you're doing it wrong.
I'm not thankful for a whole lot about my birth experience (except that it happened, and that we all made it out alive and somehow unscathed), but it did make me realize that as long as the baby comes out, it really doesn't matter how. Having a C-section or an epidural or an induction or a hospital birth doesn't mean you didn't do it "right," that it wasn't "natural," that it wasn't "ideal." It means you did what you had to do to get your baby out. Way to go, mom. You did your job.
If you needed medical intervention, if everything went wrong, if your baby wasn't okay, if YOU weren't okay, it doesn't mean you failed. It doesn't mean you aren't a "real" woman. It doesn't mean you've screwed up the thing your body was designed for. It just means you are part of the population of mothers we don't like to talk about. You just flipped the wrong coin.
I am so, so glad that Jill Dillard had a healthy birth and a healthy, happy baby. She deserves it, just like every other mother does. But I hope we can use her story as a reminder that there is no "right" or "best" way to have a baby. And a reminder that all mothers and babies count, no matter what went down in the delivery room.