Why We Need to Stop “Labor Shame”

Why We Need to Stop “Labor Shame”


I’m not going to get an epidural. I’m just not. I want it to be all “natural.”

I told myself that over and over during my pregnancy. I had my own personal reasons for not wanting to get an epidural, but if I’m honest, part of my rationale was also influenced by the cultural belief that I would be seen as “weak” if I got one. I’d become afraid that people would think I couldn’t handle labor and that this would somehow make me less of the feisty feminist I consider myself to be.

Ultimately these conversations and comments about my birthing choices led me to experience “labor shame.” In a nutshell, this is the phenomenon of others shaming a mom for the manner in which she brought her baby into the world.

When I went into labor I went in with the intention to forgo an epidural, but then the reality of labor set in — I endured hours of tortuous labor before I couldn’t handle it anymore and so I asked, no demanded, an epidural. I remember getting my epidural, having my baby, and being one happy little camper.

Afterwards, when people asked me about my birth experience, I was surprised at how split, bold and at times unwanted the opinions over my birthing decisions were.  Some people were very pro-epidural and would say things like “Anyone who wants to do it ‘naturally’ is crazy” and “I had an epidural with all of my kids, and they turned out fine,” or “See, I told you that you would want the epidural.

Then I would talk to people who were the other extreme and would act disappointed in me for “caving in.” They would say things like, “you totally could have done it” and “you know epidurals are bad for the baby, don’t you?”

All of these comments led me to one conclusion when it comes to “labor shaming” — people should just shut their mouths.

Each birth experience is unique. No one can know how it is going to go or what that particular woman is going to experience. For some women, epidurals are the best option. For some, a C-section is what is best for the baby. Then of course there are some women who do it “naturally” (I hate calling it “natural” because it immediately puts any other birth experience in the “unnatural” category.)

Birth is beautiful. I will always vividly remember everything about my birth story. I don’t want people tainting it by making me feel ashamed about my personal decisions during labor. I have also wondered if “labor shame” is a factor in postpartum depression.  I know I beat myself up for choosing the epidural weeks after my son’s birth.

I would encourage everyone to be aware of their words when talking to women about her birth story. No matter what your personal “birth preference” is, keep it to yourself. You have no idea what that mama had to go through, and bottom line, it isn’t your business.

Each birth story is different and should be an empowering experience for women, instead of a shaming one.

Cover image courtesy of Shutterstock.