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Natalie Clauss

Birth is not a competition

The births of our children are unique, they shape us throughout our lives. But we are shaped by many things. Something that certainly also shapes the vast majority of us is the meritocracy in which we live.

We always go further, higher, better. We are tough, independent, self-confident and not dependent on help. We live with the idea that we can do anything. If only we try hard enough. If we only want it enough.

Aufnahme eines Siegerpodestes auf einem Sportplatz.

This doesn't stop at work. It applies just as much to our private lives. And yes, in part I also experience that births are a part of it. I notice again and again that there is also a pressure to perform, a competition.

Women outdo each other in their reports. Whether these are really true and births really happened the way they are told is another matter. But here, too, the aim is to outdo each other.

In one sense, it's about who has had the most painful, worst and perhaps even most traumatic experience. Who gets the medal for having endured the greatest suffering. Sometimes it almost sounds that way, exaggerated.

On the other hand, there seems to be this competition as well: Who was able to give birth without pain medication, without intervention, at home, maybe even without a midwife all by themselves? Who had no pain at all and a relaxed, uncomplicated birth that we all dream of?

Sometimes it almost sounds like we really just have to want it enough. Prepare well enough. Just don't be too cerebral, surrender completely and trust our own intuition. Then everything will be fine. Then we don't need any help, no painkillers and no support or accompaniment.

Aufnahme einer 100m-Laufbahn für zwei Läufer.

After all, it is within us. It is our nature to give birth. If we just let go enough, we know how to move, we know what is good for us.

But I don't believe in that. I don't believe that the only perfect birth is the one without pain and without a midwife at home. There are no perfect births at all. Birth is so incredibly individual.

It depends more on our own experience. I almost wrote survival, but that is exactly what it is not. And it's not this perfect simulacrum either. There is so much more in between.

Every birth can be beautiful or cruel from the outside. And then, in the inner experience of us as birth mothers, it can be perceived quite differently.

An emergency C-section with general anesthesia can be traumatizing, but it doesn't have to be. A birth with many interventions can be perceived as bad and stressful, but it does not have to be. A birth alone can be perceived as wonderful, but it doesn't have to be.

It depends on so many factors. Likewise, there is no blanket way to say that a home birth is the best place for all women to give birth. It's so invidual. And it's so important that we don't compare ourselves.

It's important that we are honest with ourselves. That we are honest when we talk about our births. Because of these supposedly perfect births, as they are sometimes described on social media, I think there is an incredible amount of pressure.

But it's not just about our narratives, it's just as much about appreciation. About appreciation for a decision to have a C-section when there was a lack of strength. It's about appreciation for all the women who would rather give birth in a clinic. It's about appreciation for everyone. No matter how the birth went.

Detailaufnahme von Händen, welche sich in der Mitte treffen.

With my first child I had a premature rupture of the membranes, we went to the clinic and nothing happened when contractions started. The cervix didn't open and at some point we decided to have a c-section. That's the short version.

For years I blamed myself, blamed everyone involved. I wanted to do better with my second child, prepared myself meticulously, read many books and planned a home birth. Because I had only heard wonderful reports about it.

Yes, I felt that this birth was wonderful and especially healing. But at some point I realized that I had not failed at my first birth. That I was not and am not a worse mother for our first child because of it.

It was rather the pressure, the pressure to perform, of our society that does not stop at childbearing.

Now I have given birth to three children. Our third child was also born at home. I was strained, but mostly relaxed. I was well prepared and secretly hoped that this time I would be able to do it on my own.

And yet, at a certain point, I wanted my midwife with me. I wanted and needed support. I needed someone who (or rather who in this case), could professionally assess the situation and tell me that all was really well and tell me what point we were at.

No, maybe I am not a master of childbirth as some women are (or as they report) and as a book title made me know. I couldn't give birth all by myself. I didn't want to. I needed support. And that's okay.

But perhaps, rather, we are all masters of birth. Every birth pushes us to our limits, physically and mentally, sometimes beyond.

It's not about competition at all. It is about us and our children, about our experience, our experiences.

I wish that we would support each other more. That we appreciate each other and are there for each other. That we listen to each other. That we don't see birth as an achievement that we have to compare with others.

I wish that we don't judge ourselves and others for whatever choices we make. And if the decision is not to have children, not even then.

Yesterday was Mother's Day. I don't celebrate this day, it's not important to me. Not in its true meaning. But maybe it can be an occasion for more appreciation. For ourselves and for others.

What do you think about it? How did you experience your births? What was it like for you when you first became a mother? Did you feel pressured by reports from others?

I look forward to hearing your thoughts on this.

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