As a die-hard, home-birthing, placenta smoothie-prepping, breastmilk-medicating, coconut oil-loving, once-vegan doula and women’s rights advocate, I have a potentially unsettling confession to make. Hearing a woman being told to “trust your body” sincerely pisses me off.
Let me silence all the naysayers by adding that birth is beautiful and breastfeeding is beautiful and when they both work the way they are supposed to, it’s the stuff of Hallmark cards. Really, it is. I wouldn’t still be doing this work if I didn’t love birth, breastfeeding, women and babies, and if I didn’t think that women and babies were capable of accomplishing the work of birth and breastfeeding. Sometimes, the stars perfectly align for a new mom who doesn’t have eleventy-hundred other little runts galloping about screaming for her attention the millisecond she blissfully floats her goddess physique from the birth pool to her postpartum nest, and those stories are so lovely to witness. Reality, though, is often a bit less idyllic.
Here’s the thing. Birth doesn’t always go perfectly, and neither does breastfeeding. Birth and breastfeeding are work.
Birth is messy and raw and unbelievably painful. It’s wondrous and primal. Occasionally, it’s unspeakably tragic. Genetic anomalies happen. Placentas grow over cervixes. Umbilical cords find their way out in front of heads. When women have labored beyond their breaking point, an epidural can be a game-changer. Babies are capable of getting themselves into positions that mean they aren’t able to find their way out vaginally and cesareans save the lives of women and their babies every day.
Breastfeeding is a learned skill set and a pain-free experience requires the participation of two people repeatedly performing multiple tasks correctly for extended periods of time, and one of those people is a baby.
And babies are known for their terrible work ethic.
Exhaustion sets in and sleep is a priority over exclusive breastfeeding sometimes. Tongue ties happen and need revision. Supplemental nursing systems can save a breastfeeding relationship. Nipple confusion, thrush and mastitis hurt, and relief, in whatever form, is precious. Postpartum depression requiring medication is a real thing, and formula isn’t poison.
When a woman encounters a complication that changes her story, trust is irrelevant.
“Whatever happened to Nancy?” “Bear got her… She didn’t trust her body enough.”
Whether birth or breastfeeding works has little to nothing to do with how much a woman trusts her body or the process. In fact, the idea that trust in one’s body is the path to an ideal experience has the potential to be really damaging. Women who trust their bodies encounter complications and anomalies which are unrelated to their measure of trust just as often as women who don’t.
In natural parenting communities, phrases like “trust your body” inundate our conversations and our culture in very powerful ways. We teach classes about trust where we tell women to trust their bodies and their babies while birthing and breastfeeding. I believe that when the focus is on pushing women to trust the entity being interacted with rather than on arming them with the tools they need to make informed and empowered decisions, we offer ineffective support. The truth is that saying “trust your body” has become a platitude that offers little to no real value to women seeking support and it’s offered up as a bandaid for every fearful question or complication we encounter. REAL support is much more comprehensive.
Telling a women to trust her body can be the very platitude which robs of her of her autonomy, in fact. Trust in one’s body is a choice and it might not be the right choice for a woman for a variety of reasons. There are plenty of good reasons that a woman might make the choice to trust her body, but being TOLD to trust her body isn’t one of them.
Instead, why not tell her what the research says about her situation? Why not point her in the direction of a major medical organization’s stance on the matter? Why not inform her of what her options are concerning the complication she’s encountered? Why not link her to a resource which can offer her evidence-based support if you’re unsure of what the right answer for her is? Why not point her in the direction of a person who has more education on the topic at hand?
Seriously, there’s no shame in not having one of these.
In doing any of those things, you offer her real support as she builds a foundation of trust in her OWN competence to make informed choices. It is in this way that she becomes truly empowered. For a woman who is considering formula supplementation, an elective induction, or any other of the many choices she’ll face during her transition to becoming a mother, being armed with a process for navigating the options available to her is so much more valuable than a dime-a-dozen platitude. Trust that.
Amy is mom to 4, ages ranging from 20-7. She’s a homebirthing VBAC mama who is also a WMC Doula, a student midwife, a peer counselor with the Beaumont Breastfeeding Coalition and a local birth rights activist. She and Heather Thomas founded WMC in 2006 and passionately work to improve local birth and parenting options for Southeast Texas families.