What Makes A Good Birth?


It’s whatever she wants.

What makes a good birth? 

Is it an unmedicated birth? A vaginal birth? A birth with the least amount of medical intervention possible? A fast birth? An orgasmic birth? A birth where the mother feels completely calm and stays “in control?”

I used to define a “good birth” by what a good birth felt like TO ME.

My “favorite” births to attend were births that were exhilarating, smooth and peaceful. For the mother yes, but even more so, for ME.

13 years of experience as a doula, then as a nurse, my perspective has changed. I have learned — the hard way — that a good birth is not just a picture-perfect birth. A good birth has NOTHING to do with me, or my beliefs.

A good birth is not available exclusively to women who choose to labor unmedicated. It’s not only possible when the woman remains in a perfect state of calm. It’s not limited to an out-of-hospital birth setting, or only achievable with a midwife in attendance. A birth is not only good when everything goes to plan.

Good births can take place anywhere … at home, in a hospital bed, in a birthing pool, in an ambulance, or in an OR. We are not perfect people and we don’t live in a perfect world … why would we expect ~ or want ~ a perfect birth?

Birth is by its very nature, messy and imperfect. That’s what makes it so beautiful, surprising and profound.

Even if labor lasts three long days and nights. A woman supported through the deepest, darkest hours of the third night, while her exhausted family sleeps like the dead and she labors, labors, labors on.

A good birth is one where no one told her what to do, or when, or told her what was best for her. (That’s right, she’s not a child. She can think for herself.) 

A good birth is where she had the time and space to think and feel and trust what decision, what next decision, would be best for her. It might take her twenty minutes or seven hours to be sure.

Women who I’m supporting often ask me what kind of birth I myself had.
You know what, IT DOESN’T EVEN MATTER. 

A good birth is not just a birth that feels right TO ME (as the doula / nurse / healthcare provider). 

The only way a woman can answer that question is to ask herself, trust herself, and listen to her body. I can’t answer that question unless it is me who is giving birth.

A good birth might not even be a birth according to the “best possible evidence.” A panel full of doctorates, physicians and researchers can not teach a woman what it feels like to live in her own body, or what she needs.

What do I steal from a woman’s experience by telling her what is best for her? I diminish the most precious gift (superpower, actually) that she will discover on her journey as mother. Her INTUITION. Me not telling her what to do means that she will have to make her own decision. Her decision might not be perfect, and it might even make things harder for her. But going through hard things might be something she has to do. Hard might be the way she needs to go.

Even if she makes a decision that could make her path more difficult, I’m proud to stay by her side. I’m grateful that she won’t have to do it alone.

A good birth is whatever the woman wants. At a certain point, it is whatever she decides she needs. She won’t know what that is until it’s actually happening. Sometimes it takes years later for her to understand. But when it’s over, she looks into your eyes and says, “I did everything that I could, and I did my very best. I did what I had to do, and I don’t regret a thing.”

Kate Novotny is an experienced L&D nurse, doula, wife and mom. She cares for new moms as a postpartum doula with North Dallas Doula Associates. (Photo credit: Red Plum Photography)

Featured photo (shared with mom’s permission) by Alyson Lofgren Photography

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