How I "Failed" My First Client as a Birth Doula

Rethink Birth

What is Birth Shame?

Unfortunately, it’s something that is insidious, and had taken hold of me even after my own babies were born.

Birth shame is what happens when we (consciously or subconsciously) judge so-called natural birth as best - and judge any interventions, complications, or deviations from the original, “perfect” birth plan as less-than.

Feeling shame around birth outcomes harms mothers and babies, doulas and birth professionals alike.

Birth shame colored my early experiences as a doula, and I am grateful that I learned, in time, to view birth thru a more compassionate and objective lens than what I started with.

The first birth I ever attended as a doula was supposed to be a homebirth, but it ended up being a Cesarean.

I felt tragic, so sad for my client. Not only did she end up in hospital, but with a surgical birth, too! A Cesarean birth wasn't what she expected!

I almost felt responsible for her birth outcome, as if I had somehow failed her because things didn’t go as planned.

It took me a long time before I realized that she was pleased with her birth experience, and so grateful for my help.

She didn't blame me for anything....and on the contrary, she remembers her birth fondly because of my presence there!

YEARS later, she wrote me a review and a thank-you note that touched me deeply.
Here’s what she said:

Finally, it dawned on me that her feelings about her birth were what really mattered.

Her birth deeply affected the way I view my role as a birth professional...

It made me realize that I never want to perpetuate birth shame.

I deeply respect and honor natural childbirth. I wouldn't be in this line of work if I didn't! However--I am now well aware that it’s not the ideal path for everyone.

Mothering is hard enough without swallowing a heap of guilt about what kind of birth you ended up having. Sometimes, things are simply out of our hands.

Even if I can't personally relate to another woman's choices, I still believe in her as a person who's doing her best, who deeply loves her child.

That means I will support her in whatever her wishes are for her birth, without agenda or judgment.

So, I'm not going to demonize epidurals or pain medicine in my holistic birth courses.

I will give you honest and factual information about the pros and cons of each, however.

I will share about the delicious rush of oxytocin you experience right after an unmedicated birth - and I’ll clarify that epidurals affect your hormones, which does affect baby - even though it’s accurate that the epidural medicine itself never crosses the placenta.

These are facts, and we can share facts without a side-helping of guilt or pressure to do things one way or another. To truly present an informed choice, we must demand an accurate portrayal of every option.

Natural birth at home is often incredible, but I recognize that birth is a sacred, transformational experience - and it is our feelings and our degree of autonomy and empowerment that define how any birth is experienced.

Mother’s feelings are what matter most - period.

I don't want any woman, anywhere, to feel ashamed about her birth outcome.

Sometimes, when we’re under pressure … we all make different choices than we originally imagined we would - and that’s okay.

In my work as a doula and birth educator, I endeavor to make women aware of what their choices really are.

Not just to inform, but to make women aware that it’s entirely reasonable to demand to be properly informed—!

I want women to feel confident and free in the choices they are making - whether or not I understand or agree with them.

If you're facing a Cesearean, I want to help you to feel safe, supported, and at peace with that reality.

You are welcome in feeling however you feel about that….whether you're sad, scared … or maybe ... secretly kind of relieved that you don't have to push.

Psst - it doesn't have to be a secret!

Owning your feelings is the path to empowerment.

Your feelings about birth, whatever they may be, are valid - and you deserve a safe space to express them.

You can have the most highly trained professionals in the world advising you, but ultimately, YOU are giving birth - you and your baby are the stars of your life's drama.

Can you have a good birth by just following doctors' orders and doing what you're told?  

Absolutely....but I may delicately, lovingly ask - who's defined ‘good’ for you?  

No, I don't want your answer. I'm just inviting you to think about it, Love.

I now realize that the ‘right’ or ‘best’ way to give birth is exquisitely subjective.

It's a process, a flow, a dance of intricate potentiality, unique to each woman and her baby.

Yes, one's fears, hopes, and expectations can and do come into play.

They may ultimately affect or even limit your choices - by interfering with your mental and emotional capacity to handle labor.

Perhaps now is the time to start digging deeper into our feelings about birth - right now, today. research shows that fear literally changes the structure of our DNA molecules and makes us more susceptible to a wide array of health challenges. Fear inhibits our immune response, too.

Feeling birth shame, guilt, or fear are things that can be released (try my free course, Releasing Birth Fears). It helps if you can begin by uncovering your subconscious beliefs about birth, women, and mothering...


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