“Did you have a normal birth?” the doctor asks.
Well, first time round I had a 28 hour labour but my son got stuck so I had an episiotomy and forceps followed by a severe hemorrhage, bakri ballon inserted to compress my uterus, two blood transfusions and lots of stitches.
Second time round my daughter had shoulder dystocia – her shoulders got stuck after her head was out – so a few midwifes put me in a yoga position while another stuck her hands inside me with no pain relief to free my 9lb 14 daughter. Lots more stitches.
But if what you actually mean is, did I have a vaginal birth?
I have been asked this question multiple times since I gave birth to my children and every time it makes me want to shout – just say the word vagina! You are a health professional. I am a mum. We’re all adults here.
Because what exactly is normal? Is a c-section an abnormal way to give birth?
Technically, a normal birth is defined as needing no or little medical intervention but even so, that would categorise my second birth as normal – which it was anything but! And in my experience, they have only ever been asking it to mean vaginal or c-section and have not been interested in any further details.
Using the word normal is damaging. It invalidates a woman’s experience. It simplifies what is usually the most profound moment in her life. And it belittles any trauma she has suffered.
I suffered PTSD after my traumatic birth with Miss A and it took me a long while to get the help I needed. I have dealt with those feelings now but every time I get asked this question they rise to the top again, the fear and pain simmer to the surface.
I just want to look them in the eye and say “No, I had two painful, terrifying, out of control births that ripped my body apart and played havoc with my mental health. Is that normal?”
The language that healthcare professionals use is very important and can have a profound effect on the women they are treating. It might be what they are taught to say in medical school but that doesn’t mean it’s right or helpful.
Simply asking ‘How was your birth? would be a much better way to open the conversation and may even be the opportunity some women need to seek help instead of feeling stigmatised and silenced.
Here are some thoughts from other mums:
‘Normal is such a horrid word isn’t it a…it implies somehow you fall short. When I have been asked this I just smile and say my babies were both struggling so I had a c-section but inside I wince and feel a little judged,’ Becky, A Beautiful Space
‘Perhaps if the question was asked along the lines of “what kind of birth did you have?” it would be better all round. That way there wouldn’t be any perceived assumptions to deal with. I had three vaginal births but only the second one would be considered a “normal” birth as the first was forceps and the last was breech., Louise, Little Hearts Big Love
‘It annoys me so much! I have no problems in saying I had a c-section and an emergency one at that. But when I hear that term ‘normal’, it makes me very cross because I still gave birth and it doesn’t mean myself or my daughter are ‘abnormal’!’ Carol. Virtually All Sorts
‘I got asked if I had “normal births” with my daughters. I said “my first yes, my second no”, he replied with “OK the second was a cesarean”. I looked down and said “no, the second was a stillbirth”. It wouldn’t have offended me normally but now it really does sting. I don’t think the term “normal” should be used because anyway a child is born is normal.’ Chloe, Chloe Louise Gibbons
‘I’ve had one spontaneous labour and four inductions and, although I wasn’t offended by the term normal, I found it a strange term to use. I understand the need to differentiate between a vaginal birth and a c-section, but labelling one type of birth normal surely indicates that anything other is abnormal, which I really don’t like!’ Laura, Five Little Doves
‘I saw the midwife for the first time this pregnancy only a few weeks ago, and they ask that exact thing – “Did you have a normal birth?” I genuinely had to ask her what on earth she meant?! What’s normal?! I didn’t get offended by it, but how can one type of birth be classed as normal? Does that include pain relief? Stitches? What??’ Sarah, Whimsical Mumblings
‘Oh crikey! It’s awful isn’t it? They need to define normal. I guess they mean vaginal but what if you had an episiotomy? If your baby was unwell? Is that ‘normal’? They need to be more specific.’ Erica, Incidental Parent
‘I assume by normal they mean natural which means (to them) vaginal. But that would only really be the case if there was no intervention of any case. Technically I had a vaginal birth first time but I don’t class as a normal birth at all because of the extreme interventions (giant forceps and huge episistomy) required to get her out in theatre. Personally I think ‘Was there any intervention needed during delivery?’ Would be a better question.’ Amy, All About Mummy
What has been your experience?