“All that matters is a healthy baby.” Can we PLEASE stop saying that?! Of course, when a woman is having a baby, a healthy baby is THE most important thing! But it is not the ONLY important thing. It is not “ALL” that matters! I am in no way diminishing the importance of the baby being healthy. So, I want to repeat this: A healthy baby is the most important thing. At the same time, it is not the only thing that matters.
Bear with me here, because I am going to ramble and hopefully I get my point across…
The mother – the one who is generally responsible for the 24-hour-a-day care for this baby – her emotional and physical health matters as well. She is a human being and she matters, too. Her health matters (both physical and mental). Her feelings are valid.
Words hold weight. While the ubiquitous statement is well-meaning, it can be dismissive and damaging to a new mother who feels sad or traumatized by her birth experience.
It all begins here… when a mother’s health (mental or physical) is irrelevant. When a woman is pregnant, everyone takes care of her. Strangers give up their seats and hold open doors. She typically has at least a dozen doctor appointments during her pregnancy. Friends and family cater to her comfort and well-being. But once the baby is born, the woman is often invisible. She usually just goes to the doctor one time, six weeks postpartum. The focus is on the child, and not the mother. The mother just disappears. I wonder if this is a factor in why postpartum depression rates are so high. A woman’s physical and mental health are last in line after she has a baby, and that needs to change.
A friend just found out that she must have a cesarean birth for her first child, due next week. While she knows that the most important thing is her baby’s health (and this is why she is having the cesarean), she is sad. She won’t have the vaginal birth she hoped for, planned for and expected. When talking to me about her feelings, she said (through tears), “I know, all that matters is a healthy baby!”. UGH! It got me so angry that this is already in her head. She was already devaluing her feelings. Of course, it is what matters most, and that is why she is going along with the plan for a cesarean. But it’s not the only thing that matters… her emotions matter! She is allowed to grieve the loss of the birth she wanted. And we should have sympathy for that.
I had a difficult birth experience with my second child. While I know people who had way worse experiences, this one really traumatized me. I cried a lot in the months that followed, and many people said something along the lines of, “well, all that matters is you have a healthy baby now!”. OF COURSE, I’m thrilled that my son came out of it healthy. OF COURSE, that is absolutely THE most important thing! But those comments made me feel like my feelings should be put aside and I was just selfish to still be upset about what happened because I had the only thing that mattered: a healthy baby.
A new mom can feel disappointed about her birth and still be madly in love with, and thankful for her healthy baby. The statement, “all that matters is a healthy baby”, suggests that a woman should dismiss her own feelings and only feel gratitude. When in fact, she can be grateful her baby is healthy, and at the same time be sad that the birth didn’t go as she hoped. If it rains on your wedding day and you didn’t get the outdoor beach wedding you hoped and planned for, no one says to you that you should just be grateful you married the love of your life. They know you are in love with your spouse and so happy to have committed to this person, while at the same time, you are sad that the day you dreamed of and planned for did not go as you wanted. Let’s imagine you finally go on your dream week-long vacation to Tahiti, but you are sick in the hospital for five days while there. Imagine this sickness may have some longer-term effects on you (similar to a physically or emotionally traumatic childbirth). Would your friends say, “The only thing that matters is that you were able to vacation in Tahiti”? No!
As a mother who has had three babies, the health and safety of my children is the most important thing in the world to me. It was the most important thing to me on the days they were born. At the very same time, I had both positive and negative emotional and physical effects from each of their births. The birth of your child can be a transformative event for many women. When this is an unpleasant or scary experience, it can have profound effects on a woman, especially when mixed with all the postpartum hormones!