So, this is a post that’s been bouncing around in my head, at least in parts and pieces for a while now. I’ll warn you: it’s definitely a rambling and it’s going to be long.
I’ve been doing some thinking lately about the way women approach pregnancy, labour and birth.
Given that pregnancy represents a hugely unfamiliar and often unpredictable world, particularly for first time parents, I can understand the sense of apprehension that I can feel emanating from the women that I meet when they’re having their antenatal appointments and preparing for their births.
It’s my job, as a midwife, to create a space where they can discuss their fears, concerns and hopes, and it’s my job as a midwife to provide information and education to support these women to make choices that resonate with their wishes.
It’s really interesting to see how, over a period of time, as I get to know the women, their language surrounding the impending birth begins to shift, subtly at first from “I can’t, I’m scared, I don’t know”, to “Maybe I can, I’ve been thinking about this, I’d like to discuss this option” to “I think I’m ready, let’s get this show on the road!”
It got me thinking: why is it often our default view as women, to underestimate our ability and capacity to not only grow, but to birth our children? Why do so many of us have this in-built belief that we simply aren’t strong enough for this experience? What is it that we are being told and taught about birth that makes us feel as though it is bigger than what we can possibly achieve?
I remember when I was pregnant with the Boy Child, and I was starting to think about the birth.
“Oh, you’ll need the epidural! Labour really hurts!” declared my mum (I didn’t).
“Do you think you’ll need a Caesar? You just seem too tiny to have a baby?” asked a dear friend of mine (I didn’t).
Their concerns stemmed from their own experiences (in my mum’s case, she DID need an epidural, and in my friend’s case, her own (tiny!) mum had needed caesareans) and came completely from a place of love and concern.
However, these projections sat quietly festering in my own psyche, until I met with my midwife one day, and asked her whether I should just pre-book the epidural.
“Why do you think you’ll need one?” she asked me.
I couldn’t answer her. All I knew was that I didn’t know of anyone who had managed to have a baby without some level of intervention, and the stories that people were telling me were pretty bloody scary. I wasn’t scared as such, but I certainly didn’t have much faith that this little body of mind could do what it needed to do when push came to shove.
“Think about it” she encouraged me, as she handed me some information, and recommended me some reading material. “And we’ll talk again at the next appointment”.
So, I did some reading, and then I did some more, and then some more. And then I asked some questions, and I read some more, and the more I read, the more I learned that not only could I do it, but that I WANTED to.
Now I sit on the other side of the fence in this scenario, and I’m the one giving out information, and watching these women discover the sparks, the flames, and then the fire as they ignite the power that’s within them; that’s been there ALL ALONG, but was hidden beneath the layers of self doubt, fear and social conditioning.
Let me be clear here. I’m not just talking about the mothers who decide to rock their spontaneous, normal births. I’m talking about the mothers who take on all the information that they can, weigh up the risks and benefits, and accept an induction of labour ON THEIR TERMS. I’m talking about the mothers who stand up and own the decision to choose their C-Section, and who tell us what they want from it. I’m talking about the mothers who are unapologetic about the pain relief they demand, and the birth plans they have written, and the fact that no matter what, they are unleashing that birthing warrior.
Every one of these women has discovered that they don’t simply get to participate in their birth, but rather that they completely own it. The rest of us are simply along for the ride.
There is no adequate adjective to describe how that sense of autonomy FEELS.
I know, as a mother, and as a midwife, that positive birth stories are almost always accompanied by a sense of empowerment, regardless of the type of birth. You can see it, in her body language, in her tone, in her face. I did this! I was heard! This was my experience; This was MINE!
What I wish, more than anything else, is that women could feel that way from the very start. That every woman had access to caregivers who would foster that little flame of curiosity, and encourage her to find her own strength, whilst recognising the enormity and magic of the life they are growing, without fearing that her body will fail her when the going gets tough.
It can a bloody hard road to get there.
From the time we can walk and talk, women are “too” something.
Too big, too small, too loud, too quiet, too outgoing, too shy, too weak, too masculine.
Too bookish, too frivolous, too sexual, too prudish, too focused, too distracted.
Too mature, too girlish, too vain, too lazy, too dramatic, too aloof.
There’s always something new that we are prompted to modify, shift, or alter. You know, to create a better version of ourselves. As though who we are, as we are, will never be enough.
And we carry these poisonous little messages with us, all the way through life, or at least up until the point where we realise it’s all complete bullshit.
So how on earth can these beautiful, apprehensive mothers possibly believe me, when they come to see me in their pregnancy, and I tell them that they are just perfect, exactly as they are?
And how can they possibly believe me, if a complication arises, and I try to reassure them that it isn’t their fault? That they haven’t failed, and they haven’t done anything wrong.
In truth, women are already prepared to hear what is wrong with them, and what they need to do better. And they are already prepared to absorb blame for anything, and everything, even though there’s no blame to be laid.
What they aren’t prepared for, and what takes the real work, is convincing them that they are actually incredibly incredible, phenomenally perfect, and extraordinarily ordinary, and that they don’t need to change a thing.
I really think that in order to promote a culture of positive birth, we need to begin by teaching our daughters that they aren’t TOO ANYTHING. That their bodies are strong, and functional, and that they have the capacity to be whatever they want to be. That they don’t need to be shaped into something else, or moulded to fit someone else’s expectations, and that they don’t ever need to be apologetic for being who they are.
If we encourage them to start out their lives as women with that spark already burning in their belly, it’ll be well aflame by the time they need to draw out that power for childbirth. And thus, a cycle of positivity, rather than fear, begins.
If you’ve gotten this far, thank you for reading.
In case you can’t tell, this is one area I feel pretty passionate about, and as the mother of a daughter, it is pretty much my life’s mission to ensure that she grows up understanding that she’s f**king amazing, no modifications required.
And while I’m at it, I’m going to do my very best to make sure that every mother I care for gets to the other side of her labour and birth feeling as though that experience was all hers, and that she is indeed a rockstar.
From the bottom of my feisty, feminist heart,
*image from google….