Monday, December 20, 2010

The "F" Word

What is the "F" word in birth?  Got your attention?  You're thinking I'm going to start using profanity here, don't you?  OK, I'm not.  My least favorite word that is thrown around in regards to a laboring woman and a new mom is "Failed."

I've heard references here and other places about failing natural birth because they had an epidural or c-section.  I hate to think of a woman starting out motherhood with this forced -- or self-inflicted -- label.

"Failure to Progress" is the second most common reason given for a c-section -- second only to having had a c-section previously. If you have taken my class, you know how I feel about this "diagnosis."  I can't imagine who thought it was a good idea to tell a woman she "failed to progress."  What was the thought process, who agreed it was a good name, and why on earth do we keep calling it this?!   I don't really believe that it even exists.  I believe that what it really means is: 
1) You did not dilate on our time-clock and your time is out;
2) This induction has failed but we are in too deep at this point and you are expecting a baby out of this ordeal, so we'll throw the blame back on you by telling you that you failed to progress;
3) We might even throw in a CPD diagnosis (the your-baby-is-too-big phenomenon) for good measure;  
4) This is not the Olive Garden -- you cannot sit at this table all night.  The lobby is full and your table is needed.  The servers only have 3 tables and they need to make money.  They can't do that if you occupy this table for their entire shift.

There are many things that contribute to labor taking a long time, but that is not really the point of this post.  Suffice to say,  if a woman is treated respectfully and with encouragement and patience, with care providers trying to get to the root of the "problem," we would have more women birthing their babies vaginally.  

For the sake of this post, let's say that the first-time mom, recovering from a "failed-to-progress" c-section is now trying to breastfeed her baby.  Is she confident that her body is going to produce milk for her baby?  Her body just "failed" her in childbirth, so why should she expect any different from breastfeeding?  It may not even be a conscious thought, but the subconscious is very powerful.  Women who have a c-section are only half as likely to breastfeed their babies as women who birth vaginally.

I believe that people who get information, practice their childbirth method of choice (no matter what that may be), choose their care providers carefully, hire a doula, and basically put their ducks in a row, stack the odds in their favor.  Things might not go as planned, but you did what was necessary on the front end.

I may have told this story before, but indulge me -- now's a great time to bring it out again.  After my friend Jenni gave birth to her first baby (without pain medication), her baby was very lethargic.  She simply could not get the baby to latch on for hours.  There was so much pressure in the hospital to either get the baby to latch or to give the baby a bottle of formula.  She was pretty upset because she really wanted to breastfeed.  We were on the phone (I was in Albuquerque and she was in Salt Lake) and she made a comment about "one out of two wasn't bad."  She had had her natural birth, but just wasn't going to be able to breastfeed.  I told her if she was going to choose one of the two, it should have been breastfeeding.  Her response?  A very hoarse, "Now you tell me!"  Jenni went on to breastfeed her baby for 19 months.

So, yes, birth is so very important, but it is also a few hours of your entire life.  (It's hard for me to say those words, as you can imagine.)  If a mom is so upset about the birth, breastfeeding can be a lifeline for her and her baby.  The Pregnancy Edition of Mothering magazine just had a great article on this topic.  Those hours you will spend breastfeeding and holding your baby are gold.  Wearing your baby, holding your baby, sleeping side by side, getting to know his/her cues.  The kind of parent you become to your child -- this is what ultimately matters.

I am getting off on a tangent.  Coming back to the "F" word -- Ladies, let's not beat ourselves up!  Let's just remove the "F" word from our vocabulary, shall we?  It has no place in our lives.  It's impossible to build self-esteem in ourselves or our children when this word is a part of our lives.   I can't think of a single good reason to use the word "failure" or "failed."  For the record, I would never tell any of my students they "failed" if they had an epidural or c-section.  That is the absolute last thing I would ever want them to think or believe about themselves.  Motherhood is hard enough without being called the "F" word.


Pamela said...

'So, yes, birth is so very important, but it is also a few hours of your entire life.'
WOW! I had never thought it that way...that may have just been my aha moment right there after having 2 attempts at natural birth end up in c-sections ( and having to literally battle my way to a successful breastfeeding relationship with my first (! Thank you, thank you, thank you for putting it into perspective for me!

Jessi said...

Absolutely awesome post.

Thank you.

Flo said...

What about succesfully not progessing?? or succesfully stalling???or accomplished's all about how you word things!!!

Rebecca said...

I totally agree. I had a c-section with my first baby, but I breastfed him for 2 years. I have always said that if I had to pick just one (the natural birth I planned OR breastfeeding), I would pick breastfeeding for all the reasons you mentioned. It gave me my confidence back after a grueling birth ordeal.

Anonymous said...

I like your post. I had a very speedy natural delivery, but have had trouble producing milk. My 11-week-old breastfeeds some and also has formula. When she was loosing weight and I started supplementing, I felt really I had failed. It took me a while to get over that. I haven't failed. We do what works for us.

Mellanie said...

Beautifully written Donna! I totally agree! (Especially about the breastfeeding part!)

Anonymous said...

Have you and my husband been co-conspiring? Thanks, Donna! I will work on using the "F" word less. You know me and my potty mouth.

Heidi K said...

You forgot the diagnosis of "failure to thrive" for a new baby that isn't gaining weight back fast enough. When Elli was tiny, I looked at her file while the doctor was out of the room and saw that written on her folder. It broke my heart. Not a good thing to see when you are breastfeeding for the first time. I thought Everett would get the same label after being so sick but my new peditrician said she never uses that label because it is a cruel label given to the mother. Thank you Dr. Archer.

Michael said...

Awesome post!! I "failed" natural labor, receiving an epidural after 30hrs. I also "failed" to progress, and had a c-section. I even "failed" at exclusive breastfeeding, and gave my son a bottle because my nipples were sore and I was exhausted. But-- I figured out through my journey, I *never* failed my son! He's a happy healthy 4 year old now!

Tammy said...

Love it!

Joslyn Solomon said...

I like the idea of it, but the problem I see here is that posts like this tell moms that they "failed" to be "educated" or "stand up for themselves".... so it continues the cycle.