How Do You Talk About Controversial Parenting Topics (Without Offending Anyone)?

Every parent thinks they know the best way to raise a child; how do you exchange ideas and discuss tricky topics without causing World War III?

Illuminated Baby’s screening of Birth Story: Ina May Gaskin and the Farm Midwives at Fiberflame last Friday was phenomenal. The place was packed with mamas, babies, and some papas, too, as well as a veritable who’s-who of mid-Hudson Valley midwives, doulas, and the like. Ina May is an incredibly inspirational human being. For me that inspiration goes beyond simply the work she does — which includes not only midwifery, but advocacy and education — to her very manner. She says a lot of really profound, important things, but with humor and an earnestness and humility that is disarming; you don’t feel like you’re getting preached to. You feel like you’re being taught something. It’s kinda magical.

After the film, I moderated a panel of some of the Valley’s own inspiring midwives: Jenna Houston, who has attended 3,000 births, more than double Ina May; Susan Rannestad, one half of “The Susans”; Connie Kieltyka, a home birth midwife from Olivebridge; Nancey Rosensweig, the lone hospital midwife on the panel, who recently joined HealthQuest’s OB/GYN team (the practice formerly known as Women’s Care Center in Rhinebeck); and widely revered doula Mary Riley. As one audience member jokingly pointed out, the panel was “preaching to the choir,” however there were a number of points made and ideas presented that I think always warrant further conversation; there’s one in particular I’d like to bring here.

When I asked Nancey a question, she prefaced her answer by admitting it was hard not to feel a tad bit defensive, since she is a hospital midwife, sitting on a panel of home birth midwives, after a movie about the world’s most famous home birth midwife. It was similar to how I felt sitting there, having chosen to deliver Coraline at a hospital instead of at home. A friend I spoke to after the screening (who had a home birth) expressed a similar feeling for so many of the moms she knew sitting in the room who had hospital births. It seems silly, the subtle yet undeniable insecurity that stems from a paranoia that you may be a fraud.

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I’ve said it here a number of times, and I’ll say it again: How do we talk about these things, these polarizing choices, in a way that informs but doesn’t shame, even inadvertently? Is it possible to share information about things like home births or even cloth diapering without coming across as self-righteous and judgmental? I think yes — Ina May is a beautiful example of this — but it’s a very difficult thing to do. Made even more so by the fact that motherhood is inherently fraught with feelings of inadequacy and shame — as a mother you are constantly worrying that you aren’t doing things “right.” We don’t need to compound that in the name of a cause. But some causes need all the help they can get, especially those of an alternative or controversial nature. Home birth has been grossly mischaracterized in our culture, and people should know that. Does that mean every mother should have a home birth? No. But we should be able to talk about it. But how?

I’m curious to know your thoughts on this. Maybe you, like myself, often bite your tongue so that you don’t seem preachy. Is it what you’re saying, or how you’re saying it? Or maybe you’ve found yourself on the receiving end of a lecture that left you feeling shamed and criticized. How could have the information been presented differently?

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