Unassisted birth is proclaimed by those who don’t ‘get it’ to be “stunt birthing”. I find this a laughable notion because I’m the least likely person to take unnecessary risks. I may do things that other people find bold, but I do them when I find them to be necessary. I will grant you that coming out of our culture, having no real education on unassisted birth, it would be easy to conclude that this is a reckless and merit-less practice, but I don’t deal in preconceived notions, I deal in what is. The fact is, unassisted birth is one of the safest and most pleasant ways you can give birth (if not THE most) ; birth is far safer than we were culturally conditioned to believe.
I swear, I’m no storm chaser, and I don’t do crazy stuff to exhibit bravado. I’m an introvert. I’m a nerd. I have my pride and will stand my ground, but I don’t look for trouble. I won’t start a fight, but I will jump in to stop a situation from escalating or protect someone from getting hurt. I won’t skydive, but if a plane were about to crash and I had a parachute on, I would find the courage to jump. I will chase after people who rob me, I will prosecute people who’ve harmed me. To me, unassisted birth is not a stunt, and I am not doing a trick and being reckless. I am doing something more like all the latter examples I am giving… something I call “outsmarting the dragon”. It’s self-protection and -preservation, really. It’s not putting yourself in harm’s way, even if that seems like the normal thing to do. Sometimes it’s doing what seems brave only when it’s the right thing to do. It’s chasing the right thing when you recognize what actually IS right.
I am not a stunt birther. Like I tend to remark, “I don’t even like roller coasters.” When I was about 17, fresh out of high school, my boyfriend (who is now my husband) and I went with a bunch of our best friends to a theme park for his birthday. We started the time off with one of the baddest roller coasters they had. I made myself get on, even though it looked very daunting to me. “What are you, a punk?” I said to myself. “It’s just a roller coaster. Be brave. Deal with it.” So I did.
I didn’t enjoy myself like my friends had, no. Everything about it felt wrong to my body. My heart beat fast. My boyfriend watched me in concern as I kept my eyes closed the entire time. I felt as though my breathing was halted. I felt tears welling up as I couldn’t catch my breath. This was a fast and furious ride with long steep dips– those are the worst. I hate the feeling of falling. When we got off, they were all happy at how awesome that ride was, but not me. I was happy it was over, and caught my breath, calmed my heart, and let my watery eyes recover.
We all went on other rides and did the usual theme park stuff, nothing as drastic as the first ride… until the end of the night approached. We had time for just one more ride before we left. It was a roller coaster with a dragon theme. They convinced me to get in line, and I really thought I could do it. However, soon I wasn’t so sure about this one. It didn’t look as bad as the first, but I wasn’t feeling really up to it. The more I considered it, the more I realized how ridiculous it was that I was about to get on something I truly derived no pleasure from in any way, and in fact had no real desire inside to go through with. What was the reason, the purpose? To prove something to myself? I already knew I could do it– I just didn’t want to, didn’t have to. To prove something to my friends? Nah, that’s not my style. I make it a point to befriend people who like me for who I am. I stayed in line the whole time but at the last minute, I decided I wouldn’t get on. It just didn’t feel right to me. I said goodbye and told them all to go ahead without me and I’d meet them on the other side. They actually chastised me, criticized me, were mad with me. They made me feel like I was being a baby. These were my friends, usually very cool people, very tolerant… what did it matter to them that I didn’t want to get on? I wasn’t stopping them from riding. Why would they want me to do something that wasn’t enjoyable to me? I walked out of the line, backtracking through the people, in tears. My boyfriend followed me.
We stood outside the exit waiting for our friends to finish, leaning/sitting against a cement wall. I cried to him that I didn’t understand why they’d want me to do something I was uncomfortable with just for them to have a good time. I couldn’t believe they had made me feel that way about something having to do with personal comfort levels– how silly! We aren’t all daredevils. We don’t all find the same things to be fun. My boyfriend comforted me. Then he said, “Hold on a minute.” He ran over to the gift shop across the way. A few minutes later he returned and handed me a gift. “For you.” He said.
It was a little cup the size of a shot glass that said something along the lines of, “I conquered the dragon”. You know, one of those “I survived the ride” bragging souvenirs. Still wiping away tears, I laughed at him, and said, “But I didn’t even ride the ride!” And I knew what he was going to say in the split second right before he said it: “You did defeat him. You outsmarted him.” I remember smiling at him and hugging him. Even after our friends got off the ride, they were still annoyed with me. We all grew apart eventually. I don’t talk much with them anymore. But, as far as my husband and I go– I still remember that as one of my favorite moments from our story. I don’t know if it translates as such here, but it was romantic, and a great metaphor for us and our life that we’ve faced together. I’ll always remember that moment as one of those perfect ones in life.
Walking away from hospital birth (or even just attended, medicalized birth) was just another way I outsmarted the dragon. I already rode the ride. I knew I wasn’t comfortable with it, knew it didn’t feel right, knew I didn’t like it, even though everyone else was doing it and said it was perfectly safe. I’m still met with such animosity, confusion, and judgment, more than a decade after this event, from those that seem annoyed with me that I walked away and encourage others to walk away (same mess, different dragon). It’s okay. It’s okay to walk away from something you don’t feel right doing. To me, the real stunt is a hospital birth when no emergency to speak of actually exists. To me, that’s the daredevil activity. I don’t feel safe, knowing what I know about it. I know too much to feel safe anymore there. I don’t want to follow the crowd. I am at peace with this, content to walk away.
Listen to your gut. You don’t have to follow the crowd. Peer pressure still exists, even amongst grown women who have become mothers. Or, maybe it’s all of society. It could be your husband, your best (childless) friend, your mother, your neighbor. Everyone may misunderstand you, thinking you are the one with something to prove. But there is no contest here. Ultimately, all of that is an illusion. It is always just you and the dragon, and you get to choose what you will do when confronted with him. All of those people will disappear from the picture when your life is over, and all you will have is your story in full… the choices you made, your reasons why, and what kind of person you were in heart, soul, and character.
Doing what you have to do for yourself without needing the approval or understanding of others is outsmarting the dragon.