It’s fairly against the grain for doulas to avoid the phrase “birth is beautiful,” so this is a #unpopularopinion post.
Before we share with you our reasons for not using this phrase, we want to clarify a couple things:
We still treasure the beautiful moments of birth we’re privileged to witness, and honor moments of beauty parents recount to us from their births.
If you experienced birth as beautiful, we’re so glad and we have absolutely nothing against you.
If you happen to be a birth professional who does use this phrase, we have absolutely nothing against you.
If you have not experienced birth to be beautiful but you still believe birth to be beautiful, we have absolutely nothing against you.
Our opinion on this topic doesn’t mean that we think poorly of others who don’t share our perspective.
Why does this matter to us?
Many doulas, childbirth educators, midwives, and other birth professionals entered this field because of their love for birth as a beautiful event. You have only to look at some compilations of birth photography images to know that there CAN be beautiful moments in birth.
But when birth professionals and parents use phrases like this online or in person, it’s important to remember that often their audience may include people who have experienced birth as NOT beautiful, as well as people who have not experienced birth yet and have doubts, fears, or concerns about what the process might be like.
For parents who haven’t yet experienced birth, being surrounded by well-meaning expressions of “birth is beautiful” can actually lead to possible disappointment and trauma from a birth experience that doesn’t match up with that expectation. We wrote lots more about that in our post about birth affirmations.
As birth professionals, we think it’s really important to be careful with the language we use to talk about birth. (If you want to read more about our #unpopularopinions check out this post about why we don’t share birth stories on our blog.)
Here are five reasons why we avoid using the phrase “birth is beautiful”:
Every birth is different.
Birth can be experienced as ecstatic, traumatic, and anything in between. Making a blanket statement like “birth is beautiful” ignores the immense variation in the extraordinarily personal experience that is birth.
Even for parents who have experienced a birth they describe as beautiful, they may also experience a birth they wouldn’t describe that way. If birth is reliably anything, it’s reliably unpredictable.
Birth is made up of many moments. Some may be beautiful, and others may not be.
Even though we avoid using the phrase “birth is beautiful,” we don’t deny that certain moments during birth CAN be beautiful! But… many moments in birth are not. We don’t know many people who would classify vomiting, severe shaking, the chills, or feeling like you need to pee and not being able to go to the bathroom as beautiful.
We love working with our clients to recognize moments of their births that were positive (and even beautiful)! But birth is an intense physical process, and those sorts of bodily experiences just aren’t always gorgeous in each and every moment.
This phrase can be extremely invalidating and hurtful to people who experienced a version of birth they don’t define as beautiful.
For parents who have experienced difficult, traumatic, or other versions of birth they wouldn’t describe as beautiful, hearing birth professionals and other parents use this phrase can be off-putting. It can come off as naive, uninformed, or inexperienced. Or, it can induce feelings of guilt and shame.
“If birth is beautiful but MY birth wasn’t beautiful, what did I do wrong?”
We work with a good number of families who have been through difficult birth experiences of all shapes and sizes, so we’re always conscientious of the fact that our words may be reaching their ears.
The best things in life are not always all-beautiful.
Take traveling. Some of life’s most meaningful experiences can be wrapped up in trips, near or far, long or short. But traveling isn’t always beautiful, is it? What about feelings of exhaustion (jet lag anyone?), confusion, feeling lost, stress, getting sick while away from the comforts of home…? Do those more difficult aspects detract from the wonder, inspiration, or special memories experienced while traveling? The answer to that question may be different for everyone!
Many new parents describe birth and/or new parenthood as the best and worst thing that has happened to them. There can be so many conflicting emotions all at once that it’s difficult to choose a word like “beautiful” to cover all of those aspects of the journey.
“Birth is beautiful” reduces the transformative experience of birth into something one-dimensional.
In our eyes, birth has the ability to be MORE than beautiful - it can be transformational. Transformation can bring wisdom, challenge, growth, intensity, meaning, and so much more.
Because birth can be a powerful transformation, it can raise some pretty difficult issues for some people. Lost loved ones, infertility struggles, difficult family relationships, physical, sexual, or emotional abuse, and so much more can come up in the labor room. For many parents, birth feels more like the underworld than something they’d describe as beautiful (one reason we love to use the hero’s journey as a metaphor for birth).
Britta Bushnell, Ph.D. is one of our mentors. She is a childbirth educator, author, and guide for parents navigating pregnancy, birth, and new parenthood. We love this quote on her Instagram: “Giving birth transforms all involved. When a baby is born, so is a family.”
Recognizing birth as a transformational rite of passage can bring so much more depth to the experience, rather than flattening birth into something only described as pretty or special or beautiful.
We love to give parents permission to feel all their feelings about birth - not just the “nice” ones.