Lowering our Expectations is not the Answer

When doing work related to birth, I often hear people say that high expectations about birth set us up for disappointment. Some people (including myself at times) seem to think the answer to disappointment in birth is to lower our expectations or to hold our expectations loosely.

“I don’t want to be disappointed, so I have no expectations.”

Being informed is most likely going to increase a woman’s expectations. After becoming informed about how normal birth is, how great it can be for the whole family, how well people can take care of you during this important time, a woman comes to hope for those things. Now, the fact that she has to ‘hope for’ evidence-based family centered gentle care while a baby is coming out of her body is a whole other issue that you’ll hear plenty about from our IBO team, but today I want to talk about a different solution to disappointment.

Rather than lowering our expectations and rather than telling a mom ‘at least she and baby are alive’, lets offer moms time to talk about their disappointments. And lets do this without leaving any room for guilt. Caring for a baby has it’s challenges. We let moms (and dads) complain about lack of sleep without adding after every sentence, “But I do love him and am happy he’s here and healthy.” So what if we start to respond to other disappointments and challenges of parenthood, including labor and birth, with the same understanding? Rather than saying to someone, or telling yourself, “But you have a healthy baby and that’s all that matters” lets try saying some of these things:

“I felt _______ also.”

“It’s okay to feel disappointed about your  (unplanned intervention).”

“It’s normal to feel sad when ____.”

“You’re right, the care provider shouldn’t have _____. I’m so sorry that happened.”

Saying these things to others and to ourselves, and meaning them, will open the door for dialogue about life’s real challenges. It will help us to connect with each other and will fight off one of our worst post partum enemies- loneliness.

Moms, you gave birth, you did great. If you weren’t treated well and supported fully, if it didn’t go as you’d hoped, if you feel bad about some aspect of your birth or becoming a mom, that’s okay. And we are here for you.

-Michelle G

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