Don’t be a Martyr: Who Birthed Better?

mar·tyr [mahr-ter] noun – A person who is put to death or endures great suffering on behalf of any belief, principle, or cause: a martyr to the cause of social justice.


Recently, I was reminiscing about Charlie’s birth and those first precious few weeks. I like to read through my birth story from time to time, to remind myself exactly how our little family of 3 came to be. But this time, while perusing the paragraphs, the strangest thing happened… I couldn’t remember the pain. I am pretty sure it hurt, I wrote that it hurt…I even remember thinking that I’d rather jump out the window at one point. But, I thought for sure I had to be exaggerating – did it really hurt that bad? It couldn’t have.

They say that happens. A 1999 study showed that five years after birth, 49% of women rated their pain as less severe than they did 2 months postpartum. So, I guess that explains why most moms tell new moms-to-be that labor just feels like “period cramps.”

Back when I first got pregnant, I thought long and hard about my birth plan and how I wanted to give birth. As I said in my birth story, “my goal was to go natural, but I had no intention of being a martyr – if it hurt like a motha, I would go for the epidural.” Little did I know how much the use of this term, martyr, would eventually grow to annoy the hell out of me.

I chose to go epidural free for a variety of reasons.

  • I didn’t want a big, sharp thing going into my spine
  • I didn’t want to risk that the drugs would cross the placenta and have adverse effects on the baby
  • I didn’t want to have to be given Pitocin
  • I didn’t want to increase my risk of c-section, given my platelet issues
  • I wanted to be mobile, retain the ability to feel my legs and not pee in a bag
  • I didn’t want to get the shakes…or long term back pain….or nerve damage
  • I was told by a few moms (including my own) that it “wasn’t that bad”…If they could do it, I could do it.

While I had this lengthy list of reasons, I also understood that sometimes what happens during the birth process is completely out of our control. And just because an epidural might cause something, doesn’t mean it will. So I went into my labor with a plan and an open mind.

After becoming a mother, I learned that there is a hidden layer to the mommy wars that you don’t really get to see until you actively expel a human from your nethers. It’s a little game called “Who Birthed Better” and – spoiler alert – it wasn’t you. Natural birth, water birth, home birth, c-section, VBAC, repeat c, hypnobirth, hypno-baby birth (yes, they are different!), Bradley Method birth, epidural birth, light-narcotic cocktail birth (that was me!), silent birth, and on, and on, and on. No matter how you got that baby out, there is always someone else that did it better/faster/harder/better.

There is an incessant, competitive, one-upmanship that is happening between mothers. Just like we judge each other on breastfeeding, it happens with birth too.

Oh, you were in labor for 20 hours?  36 hours here.

Oh, you had an epidural? Too bad. Well, I didn’t need one because I have, like, a really high tolerance for pain.

Oh, you were in pain? I got the epi and it was so easy!

So, you had a c-section? That’s too bad you’ll never know what it really feels like to actually have a baby then.

You couldn’t VBAC? Weird, I did twice.

Here’s an idea…STFU! Personally, I don’t really care how your child came out of you – it’s pretty amazing that you, ya know, grew a human.

I ended up giving birth with minimal intervention – 2 shots of Nubain, a dose of anti-nausea meds, and some Tums. I call that minimal, but other mothers may point out the fact that I can’t claim a natural birth. And the anti-martyrs will just tell me, “Girl, you’re crazy!” Whatever. Having given birth without an epidural, I can wholeheartedly say that I understand why a woman might want one. But I also understand why a woman wouldn’t. And I can completely understand the gravity of something requiring a c-section and/or change in birth plan.

It’s funny, no matter who I tell my birth story to, I can sense that the other person is either sucking in the sweet smell of victory (because they birthed harder) or they think I am nuts for experiencing 36 hours of pain for “no reason.” Judging one another is just an inherent trait these days. I even had an ex-colleague (and c-section mother) try to “set me straight” just after I gave birth. “You are so crazy, I don’t see why you didn’t just get the drugs. You’re not a martyr,” she said. ::facepunch::

I have to admit, that last scenario makes me the most irritated, because I find that women that had epidurals or c-sections are the first to jump on anyone that judges them for their decision (or lack of ability I control their outcome). Yet I find that judge-y pot seems to be calling the judge-y kettle black just as often. I don’t understand why we can’t just all give each other credit where credit is due. Giving birth is hard, no matter how you cut it/push it/vacuum-extract it.

Now, I hate that phrase, “don’t be a martyr.” Personally, I didn’t know that birthing a baby like millions of women have done for many, many years made me a martyr. And now that I’m one of the 49% in the post-hormonal bliss of a “not-so-bad” labor, I really don’t feel like I suffered or sacrificed or felt tortured during my birth. As mothers, I think we all suffer and sacrifice at some point. And when our children hit puberty, I’m pretty sure that’s when the torture will begin. So, if I’m a martyr, you must be a martyr too. Tell me, mama, how does it feel?

4 thoughts on “Don’t be a Martyr: Who Birthed Better?

  1. Here, here! A direct quote from the birth story I wrote in my journal “If there’s one thing that the labor experience taught me, it’s that it’s hard work… and I have so much respect for any woman who succeeds (c-section, epidural, natural, whatever, there’s no getting around it, it’s hard!)” There is no easy or best way to have a baby!

  2. Michelle, seriously, I love reading your blogs. The mother/parenthood/birthing judgement wars suck. Of any process that happens to the human body, the process of child birth is so unpredicatable. Granted there are choices we make in labor, but how can we repeatedly judge each other for something that is so out of our control? And, yes, it is crazy how the mind tricks you into forgetting what labor REALLY felt like….

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