What's the big deal about hospital gowns? Does it matter what you wear when you give birth? I believe the answer is an emphatic YES (and NO.... more about that later).
Well, what is the first thing that comes to your mind when you see a hospital gown? Generally, illness or trauma. Hospitals are not generally places that healthy people go to hang out. In fact, the only healthy people that walk themselves into a hospital for treatment are pregnant women! But is pregnancy an illness, or a condition to be treated?
NO. It's a normal bodily function for a female, and usually pregnancy and birth are healthy, uneventful processes for women and their babies. But the first thing that a woman is asked to do when she walks into a hospital is to put on a hospital gown. Why might this be a problem, or the beginning of one? I might even consider it the first intervention, albeit a psychological one.
Clothing can be a powerful statement about who we are. Most women take quite a bit of time picking out their wardrobe, and the way that we dress generally reflects quite a lot about our personality. Uniforms are for...making people more uniform! Reducing the expression of their individuality and personalities. Even changing the way that they think about themselves. Consider that the infamous "Zimbardo Prison Experiment" which demonstrated the power of environment over the mentality of the participants, included changing the uniform, schedule, and food of the participants (sounds like a hospital, doesn't it?). In just 6 days the participants, and the scientists overseeing the experiment, had essentially forgotten who they really were.
Think about it. Who wears uniforms? Some schools require uniforms. Prisoners wear uniforms. Often emplyees wear uniforms to make it clear who they are working for. Their dress then reflects the company that they are employed by, not their own preferences. Each branch of the military has it's own uniform, which is strictly enforced. Hospital patients wear uniforms, usually because regular clothes may get in the way of some treatments that need to be given.
Basically, choosing our own clothing allows us to express our individuality and personality, and uniforms do the exact opposite- they force us to conform to an ideal or image created by someone else.
Why is this especially important during birth? Because despite what we think of when we see a hospital gown, pregnancy and birth are NOT illnesses. Because you, as the mother, are the expert in giving birth to your baby, and you have the right to express your own opinions and ideas on how you should do this. I'm not saying that hospitals give out gowns to force conformity on birthing women, but the psychological effect of a healthy woman putting on the uniform of a sick person cannot be overstated!
I arrived at the hospital with a client in labor. She had carefully picked out a beautiful loose dress to wear while giving birth, and on the hospital tour she had been assured her that she would be able to wear her own clothing if she chose. However, as soon as we arrived, she was told to put on the hospital gown. Her expression, which was confident and powerful, changed to one of doubt and frustration. She expressed her desire to wear her dress, but the nurse and her mother both insisted that the gown would be "easier". (easier for whom?) I reminded her quietly that she had chosen that dress for a reason, and she could still wear it if she chose. She informed the nurse that she would not be wearing the gown, and continued in her labor, powerfully giving birth to her baby 10 hours later, despite back labor and a posterior baby. (Like many women who exercise this right, she had actually removed the dress by the end anyway, and had no clothes on! Which is why I say that it doesn't really matter what you wear in the end...)
The first step in maintaining your identity and purpose in labor just might be opting out of that hospital gown, the uniform of a sick person who needs to be treated and monitored.
Many women choose to wear a sports bra and/or loose skirt during labor, or a tunic or dress. Just choose something comfortable that makes you feel good. Many women end up with no clothes on towards the end of labor, and this is absolutely normal.
If you are planning on getting an epidural or are planning a cesarean, or just think that you would prefer not to make an issue of the hospital gown, there are quite a few companies now making "designer" hospital gowns for mothers in labor. This might be a good compromise, as the hospital is likely to find them interesting but still familiar, and you can still choose a gown that expresses your personality. A drawback here is that they generally aren't cheap, and often run 50$ and up, for a gown that you likely won't be in for long! Here are some places to look-
Lil-Miss Designer Hospital Gowns
MommyMoxie on Etsy
What do you think, will you ditch the hospital gown next time?
I look at birth from the perspective that our bodies are wonderfully made, and if we really believe that and work with the birth process and nourish our bodies properly, they will function optimally, most of the time!