NS October 1st, 2010
My son turned two a couple weeks ago. At various points in the day I thought of where I had been in labour and made sure to stop and mark the moment when he had been born, at 4.32pm. When I thought back to his birth, I smiled. I remembered it warmly and fondly and with more than a little joy.
His entrance into the world, in our home, went just as I had hoped. While it was obviously intense, I did not consider it horrendous, overly painful or traumatic. At many points and up until I was nearly ready to begin pushing him out, I was smiling and laughing, so excited to meet my little guy and in awe of my body’s intuitiveness and primal, biologically-designed power.
If I could recreate and live through that day again every year (without adding to my family each time!), I would. Every contraction, every push, every soul-shaking guttural groan, every everything. I want to feel it again because it made me feel so utterly alive, so connected to myself, so grounded and yet so light that I felt as if I could simultaneously meld into the earth with feet of stone and fly far away, up into the clouds.
But I didn’t write about it. I didn’t talk about it. I didn’t share those feelings of nostalgia and joy. I kept my mouth shut and my head down because that is what is expected of me.
Our modern cultural narrative of birth tells me that my experience, my story, does not exist. It’s either all in my head or a bunch of hippy claptrap designed to make other women feel inferior and guilty. Enjoying birth is a privilege I am not allowed to have because so many others have been denied it, through circumstance or luck or whatever forces are behind the story of how our children are born.
Last year, when Noble Boy turned one, I surveyed my view at the apex of the mountain. I know I’m lucky to have even climbed that mountain and that it wasn’t necessarily anything ‘special’ I did or was or knew to get there. I don’t presume to have special powers that other women do not possess or more knowledge than those who had disappointing, interventionist or traumatic births. My birth is in no way a condemnation of anyone else’s. It is simply and only what it actually is: mine.
As a doula, an advocate for mothers and vocal member of the online birth community, I fight tooth and fucking nail for women’s right to choose not to give birth at all, to choose caesareans, to choose hospital birth, to choose narcotic pain relief and as many bells and whistles as they want. I do this alongside my advocacy for those who don’t want drugs, don’t want interventions or don’t want to leave their homes to have their babies.
I am a birth advocate because I believe in women’s autonomy and in their personhood. I believe in mothers’ ability to make their own decisions, lead their own lives and have their own experiences, on their own terms. I respect them. I trust them. I want the best for them.
So when my own experience is sidelined, marginalised, silenced, criticised, dismissed and ridiculed, it hurts. It hurts a hell of a lot. I have to choose my words very carefully when relaying my son’s birth and be sure to throw in self-deprecating remarks and pay penance for not finding it horrible, lest I hurt anyone’s feelings or make them think I’m ‘smug’. The accusations of superiority and patronisation are sometimes implicit and, often times, outright explicit, said to my face with defiance and what appears to (sometimes) be glee.
I guess that’s because it’s socially acceptable to tell a woman she is crazy, ridiculous, smug, flaky, woo woo, arrogant or any other myriad of derogatory terms when she says childbirth was anything but a best forgotten ride to hell and back. Women who say they didn’t find it painful or even found it pleasant are told they are outright lying, the implication being that because the majority experience birth in one way, those who fall outside that ‘norm’ must be disbelieved, discredited or punished.
And no matter how this sounds to anyone, no matter how many accusations of insensitivity or insanity are thrown my way as a result, I think it’s completely ridiculous and more than a little sad that women having joyful, memorable, special (yes, sometimes even pain-free) births that changed them, moved them, empowered them — inexorably and unalterably for the better — are being silenced and shouted down lest anyone with a less-than-ideal birth get their feelings hurt.
How are we ever going to change that narrative and know of more women having positive stories if we don’t hear any or won’t allow them to be told?
I’ve spent months and years walking on eggshells, bending over backwards to make sure that I don’t offend or belittle or minimise other women’s experiences. I strive to face my own little creeping prejudices and biases and correct them before they turn into sweeping generalisations or proclamations of what is Best and True and Noble. I do my best to listen and learn and help when I can and only where I am wanted.
I have no interest in competing for gold in the Birth Olympics but I sure am sick and fucking tired of being told I’d better get off my high horse because there ain’t no medals in this here event, sweetie cakes.
Well you know what? I do have a medal. I have a medal of achievement around my neck and it hangs there, invisible, every day. When I want to feel good about myself or when I am doubting my capacity to cope with something life has thrown at me, I take it from where it hides beneath my heart and gather up all the strength from that place of calm and courage within me from which it came.
But no one else gave it to me, nor did I expect them to. I gave it to myself.
I mark my son’s birth as a victory not because I was competing against anyone else or because I needed to win, but because of how I felt about myself as I made that journey towards the finish line.
The thing is, birth doesn’t even have a finish line; it’s a starting point. So even if one woman’s didn’t go as she’d dreamed, even if that journey ended without the ‘medal’ she yearned for, she still finished the race and that, in itself, is pretty damn amazing. Us mothers are doing what billions of women have been doing for billions of years — giving over their bodies and their lives so that another body and another life might grow and flourish.
Pretty fucking cool, right?
As Dr. Seuss says:
You have brains in your head
You have feet in your shoes
You can steer yourself
any direction you choose
I have no interest in marking out a path or prescribing a method or lifestyle of my choosing for others. Life’s not worth living if it’s under someone else’s thumb, in accordance with their wishes or in conjunction with their views. We’re all individuals and we’re all going to choose and experience things differently so it’s important that we extend respect to those whose life choices and experiences have taken them down paths divergent from our own.
I try my best to practice what I preach but damnit, I expect a little bit of that respect in return. Is that really too much to ask?