The XX Factor

Mean Girls in Labor

Colleen Oakley, writing on Lemondrop , says, “I’ve decided on natural childbirth. So why won’t you leave me alone?” Apparently, lately, her conversations with other women have gone something like this: They ask about her birth plans, she answers, they giggle. I don’t know Colleen, but I have to admit to indulging in an eye roll at her expense already this morning. She’s right-it’s not the most supportive response to her decision. So why isn’t her news met with a rousing “You go, girl”?

In defense of all the mean women, I’d say this: Yes, we’re generally glad that, as you say, we have “choices.” But it’s not really your choice that’s promoting the knowing laughter, it’s this statement: “We can choose (thanks to advances in medical technology) what kind of birth experience we want to have.”

She points out that the judging goes both ways-that women who advocate a natural childbirth can be just as dismissive of those who don’t. And in much of what she’s talking about, I hear an element of defensiveness-birthing babies has become fraught with politics and polemics, and in hearing someone else declare their allegiance to either side of the debate, many women tend to sense a judgement on the births they’ve already had. But it isn’t a judgment on their “choices,” because what women who’ve already given birth know is that you really don’t get to “choose your birth experience.” (Wouldn’t that be awesome?) Even the best births involve elements of luck and timing that are far out of our control, and therein lies the snickering.

I’ve given birth four times, and my experiences have run the gamut from the all-natural to the C-section. Not one of those was my “choice.” (My midwife wouldn’t ante up the good stuff.) You really just never know. A little more support across the childbearing spectrum would indeed be a good thing. But don’t judge your friends by those poorly hidden snorts. Chances are they hope only for the best for you. It’s just that they know you, too, may be a little wiser-and a little inclined to enjoy your hard-earned wisdom-by this time next year.