Last week Spotify announced a playlist specifically curated to accompany the birth of a child. Unlike the 90,000 user-created birth playlists currently on the service, Spotify’s was developed with the input of Dr. Jacques Moritz, an obstetrician-gynecologist in Manhattan’s New York-Presbyterian Hospital.
Spotify touts its track list as “scientifically designed,” with a quote from Mortiz recommending familiar music as an antidote to the distractions of the delivery room. His selections run to the literal, including Lucinda Williams’s “Fruits of My Labor,” Coldplay’s “Don’t Panic,” and David Bowie’s “Under Pressure.”
Birth playlists, including Spotify’s, present several logistical difficulties. The average first labor lasts 12 to 24 hours. While birth playlist aficionados like to categorize songs to match the stages of labor—soothing songs for early contractions, faster ones for pushing—each stage can vary widely in duration, and no one has time to fiddle with a repeat button when dealing with a dilating cervix.
Playlists can be fun. They are absolutely not necessary. A few years ago I gave birth to my first child and am due to have another in a few months. I didn’t make a playlist. When things got slow in the middle of my daughter’s arrival, we turned on the TV in the corner of the delivery room and watched Saturday Night Live: The Best of Will Ferrell.
If pre-birth plans like playlists help women manage the pain and uncertainty of labor, then they are useful. If they simply add another item to the to-do list and potential guilt to the post-partum fog, they are not.
An ostensibly science-approved track list seems part of a worrying trend in which emerging from labor with a healthy infant and mother is no longer a sufficient goal. Women are being encouraged to strive for a birth experience free of drugs, medical interventions, distractions, and anxiety, with the perfect soundtrack playing in the background. Given the number of variables beyond any party’s control, this is simply not realistic.
I cannot count the number of times I’ve heard a woman recount the birth of her child with a disclaimer about a perceived failure during the process—I pushed too hard, I progressed too slow, I ended up asking for the drugs. Each time this happens I ache for the piece of her happiness she feels compelled to surrender to an unrealistic standard, and seethe at a culture that can’t stop telling women how they’re supposed to be.
So here are some completely unscientific recommendations: Make the birthing playlist if you want. Write the birth plan, down to the scent of candle you’d like wafting through the room. Do whatever you need to do in the weeks and months before your child’s arrival to manage the very natural fears and anxieties that accompany a life-changing event. But if the actual birth differs from the idealized one in your head, do not for a second confuse the reality of an unpredictable experience for a personal failing. Tune that noise out.