Each and every one of us has been born. And many of us will give birth ourselves. Birth is a human experience that touches us all, and there are common threads in birth that tie us all together. However, the birth experience, just like the human experience, can vary greatly. Isn’t that an intriguing and beautiful thing—that our lives and births are complex and not a cookie-cutter experience?

This is also an incredibly difficult thing. Our culture very much encourages a duality mindset. A duality mindset happens when we separate people, ideas, or lifestyles as “us versus them,” or “either/or,” or “black and white.” It forces us to pick one “side.” Part of a duality mindset is natural: our brains want to sort things quickly to help make sense of them. But a duality mindset can also be incredibly damaging, especially when we are working towards change, and community. Duality can make us feel like it’s us versus them, the right way to birth versus the wrong way to birth, the judgmental parents versus the open-minded ones.  Is this really true though? Is this the only way we can live? Is this the best way to live and improve birth?

Often times it feels much safer to surround ourselves with people of like-mind. There is a place for being around people where you don’t have to worry about filtering yourself. But there is also great power in being in community with people who may be different. There is power in removing the “us versus them” mindset and seeking common ground, searching for the ways in which our hearts are the same. There is healing when we step out of duality and connect on all of the ways we can love each other.

We see duality in the advocacy side of birth work, as we work to address systematic problems and improve birth outcomes as a whole. This process is even more political and controversial than birth itself. It is like so many other great causes: many wonderful and intelligent people have the same heart and goals, but may see different paths to achieve those goals. That is okay! For advocates who work to address poverty, there isn’t just one solution, there are many. It is a complex issue, and therefore needs multi-faceted approaches to meet the varied needs. The work of improving birth is the same.

As we are working on our multi-faceted approaches, though, we still need to work against duality. Duality that excludes, that says “my” way is the only way, and that places different approaches or people as the “other.” Duality takes the focus away from the end goal, to blaming each other, to distancing ourselves from each other, and excluding those who may be the most alone. I would suggest that there is a better way, and that we can support each other in our differences in a way that is truly transformative and impactful.

I will continue to encourage this inclusive approach because I have seen the impact it can have first-hand.  I have seen breastfeeding mothers offer relief and love when a friend says they just can’t do it anymore and want to formula feed. I have seen mothers who chose an elective cesarean empower their friends who needed someone to believe in them for their ability to birth without medication. Our postpartum support group is so powerful. We have women there who believe that the natural birth community hurts women, truly supporting women who believe firmly in natural birth as the best way, and vice versa. How is this possible? Because they see each other’s hearts. They trust each other that they are each trying to love their children in the absolute best way possible.

Isn’t that our common need? To be trusted as mothers trying to love our children? To be trusted as women to make decisions for our own bodies during birth?

We must also address racism and classism as we discuss ways to improve birth. Some advocacy paths may be incredibly effective, but totally inaccessible to families without financial means. Are we working on making each project/initiative/effort to improve birth truly accessible? Are there providers of color involved in the process? If not, then we are contributing to exclusivity, and only improving birth for a select few.

I truly believe that if we are to improve birth for anyone, we must improve birth for everyone. And it requires a strong community of women coming together through our varied human experiences to do so. Exclusion, duality, the “other” mindset does not heal our hearts or birth culture. We can offer information on birth choices, and then truly empower women by encouraging them to learn and choose for themselves, and then trusting that choice. It is not empowering if we offer information or our opinion or our perspective, but do not support others if they choose a different path. Truly supporting women means supporting women different than ourselves. And I believe this is possible, because I witness it regularly!

I will continue to work to provide increased education on physiologic birth, local resources, informed consent, and options for women. And I will support all birthing choices, because I understand that our options and choices are not simple, our needs are not the same, and I do not know more about another woman’s life than she does.

Where do we start? Start with a question. What could this mother be going through that I don’t know about? Start with assuming the best about each other, and always assuming that other people know something that you can learn from. Community is built upon empathy, and trust, and vulnerability. Let’s not build walls that keep out anyone different, but let’s lean in to radically support each other. This is no easy task. It’s uncomfortable, and requires work. But I believe in its power, and believe as we do this work we will watch our community heal and improve for generations to come.