Yesterday I had the honor and privilege of attending a birth. It is beyond amazing to watch a baby enter the world. And driving home, I was thinking about how cool birth is, how powerful it is, how powerful a woman is to give birth – and yet so many women fear it.
You have to be incredibly strong to push a baby out. There is no way around that. Giving birth is a feat of superhuman strength. Why on earth do women sit around with each other, disparaging birth and scaring our daughters with how terrifying and painful it is? We could be telling our childless friends that we got to be a real-life superhero with tremendous strength, that we are in awe of how powerful our bodies are, and instead we sow seeds of fear. We could tell our daughters that one day they will get to do something miraculous, and instead we terrify them and assure them it’s too difficult. Why do women rob each other of this incredible power?
That is a question with a lot of psychological baggage that I am not qualified to unpack. However, I think a big part of it is that we (women) and we (culture) fear women being powerful. (I know I am sounding like a crazy feminist. I assure you, I am not. I like guys to open the door for me, I appreciate being addressed as ma’am, and I am a stay-at-home mom – which to real feminists makes me basically unempowered.) I read an article this week about the physiological connection between the brain and vagina and, while the article focuses on female sexuality/sensuality, I think a lot of the points apply to birth as well. (Go read it. It’s a fascinating article.) It talks about how the complexity of the neural network in the female pelvis basically means that whatever happens in or to the vagina impacts the woman as a person – for better or worse. This means an orgasm can be transcendent, but also explains why rape is so utterly devastating. Birth is just as powerful. Barbara Katz Rothman says, “Birth is not only about making babies. Birth is about making mothers – strong, competent, capable mothers who trust themselves and know their inner strength.” Giving birth changes a woman deeply – she is now a mother, and the way in which she gives birth influences how she processes that. Did she come away awed by her own strength and power, or seeing herself as a victim? And this happens with each birth, not just the first one.
I saw this picture a few years ago and was stunned by what the mom said about this moment:
I begin to scream “I LOVE YOU BABY!!” over and over again as his body delivers. I can’t stop myself from saying it. I’m so overjoyed. I feel like a lion roaring these words. I feel ferocious and strong. I feel beautiful and powerful. I feel completely conscious and primitive.
Why would you not want this? We get a limited number of opportunities in this life to be a lion, and instead we have multitudes of women playing cards or watching a movie during labor because they are numb to the powerful work their bodies are doing. Does giving birth without pain medication hurt? Yes. Yes, it does. But you know what? Any time you look at a difficult endeavor, think you can’t do it, and then conquer it, you grow an enormous amount of respect for yourself. You grow as a person. In 2008 I trained for and ran a marathon and it was hard, it was painful, there were so many times during those months I thought I couldn’t possibly do it…and then I did it anyway. The human body is capable of extraordinary things. YOUR human body is capable of extraordinary things – things that are superhuman. Don’t sell yourself short.
Then, when we’re done talking about how awful birth is, conversation turns to the leftovers. Stretch marks. Saggy boobs. General flabbiness. This body, this body that does incredible things, shows it…and we hate the evidence. Carrying babies changes your body. Giving birth changes your body. Nursing babies changes your body. These are all changes that are SUPPOSED to happen. They are what your body was made to do. A caterpillar is SUPPOSED to turn into a butterfly. Do we disparage the butterfly? No, we honor the change. My mind has changed – I don’t think the way I did 5 or 10 years ago. I’ve read books, talked to different people, thought new thoughts, had wonderful life experiences, changed my opinions. I don’t call those changes ugly. I call them growth, education, wisdom, maturity. I’m glad I don’t think the way I did when I was 17; why would I want my body to be the same? That 17-year-old body had accomplished nothing but breathing and digesting for 17 years. The body that I have now has done incredible things – and shows it. In no other area do we belittle the change that comes with growth – only our bodies are insulted. Other changes are honored as good, even beautiful; sadly, changes to our bodies are hated.
“With great power comes great responsibility.” – Voltaire. The first responsibility is to acknowledge that power, in order to wield it well. Birth is an enormous, powerful event in a woman’s life, and when you accept that the power is in yourself, it can be a transformative, amazing experience.