So I have been thinking a lot about this post that Kate wrote a few days ago. She wrote it in response to this other one.
I have so much ricocheting around inside my head about this that I'm not even sure how to begin to begin.
I'll start then, by saying that I have some experience here. I've had an emergency C-section seven weeks before my baby's due date; an at-home, quiet, midwife-assisted birth; and two hospital births – one pretty okay and one a little more hurty and scary. And a miscarriage, which I chose to deal with surgically rather than on my body's own time.
Honestly? I will tell you that giving birth to Sophie at home with my mom and my friend and my midwife helping me was far and away the most incredible and amazing experience I will ever have. I get why there is a movement to educate women about birth, to encourage them to birth at home, to bring birth a step back from the medical world. I believe most births can safely take place outside a hospital setting. I'm not a huge fan of IVs, monitors, blood pressure cuffs, and laboring flat on your back in a too-bright place that smells like antiseptic and foamy hand soap. I think that it would be really super cool if every woman who wanted to could have the chance to have her baby at home. Rah, rah, rah, homebirths rock, more women should try it, I'm a huge fan.
I will also tell you that I'd intended to deliver Willow at home, too. Instead, a long chain of events that really did nearly kill me and her both ended with her delivery via C-section seven weeks early. She was bundled up and taken away so fast after she was born, and I didn't see her again for such a long time. 24 hours, maybe? 36? I don't remember anymore. After her birth, especially when I knew that she had problems (a hole in her heart, difficulty eating, general tinyness) and I could not go see her, I felt so lost and helpless.
But when I see a childbirth professional, a woman whose life work it is to support and help other women, write: "your birth is the most important event in shaping your life as a mother," I cannot help but have a physical reaction. In this case, I looked at my monitor like it just sprouted a tongue and licked my nose. I squinted my eyes and dropped my jaw open, pulled my head back and said, The hell it is! What are you TALKING ABOUT? Why would you SAY THAT?
Backing up a little. Before I had my emergency C-section, I was talking about home birth with a woman I used to know. And she told me of a friend who'd had an unplanned and, in her opinion, unnecessary, C-section, and how this woman had been in grief counseling for it for over three years.
I didn't say what was on my mind, because it wasn't at all nice. It was something about how I thought that was a huge waste of time, seeing as how she had this perfectly healthy, sweet little child who was here wanting to be held and loved and played with. But, you know, I hadn't had a C-section myself, and I had had that fantastic homebirth. So, maybe, I thought, maybe the bad birth made this woman feel as terrible as my good birth had made me feel powerful. Maybe I was being a little judgy about the grief counseling. Who was I to judge? Who am I now to still sit here and roll my eyes and think that if having a C-section is the worst thing that ever happens to you, you are pretty fucking lucky?
But now I'm wondering if someone else told that woman that she'd really better have a perfectly-lit, serene, midwife-assisted homebirth. OR ELSE. What if she ended up in grief counseling because someone convinced her that birth was the most important event in shaping her life as a mother and she got stuck on what happened that day and couldn't really be with her baby in the way that she should have been able to because she was so upset at how it went and she wanted impossibly to have a do-over?
How sad that would be. Women shouldn't be pressured and scared into choosing a midwife over a medical doctor. That's just as shitty as the OB/GYN who induces you early so she can go on Christmas vacation and you end up with a baby who won't nurse or even wake up much really, and you sit up nights putting cold washcloths on his feet so that he will please, please, just nurse a little bit and gain some weight. (That was with Nate, my second kiddo.) In fact, it's worse, because at least the doctor was honest about her motive: I'm going to be away for Christmas and your kid is due December 26th. Since you had some complications, I'd really like to be the one to do the delivery in case that old but now healed tear in your placenta becomes a problem, so let's induce you around December 15th, okay? Thanks!
Your birth is the most important event in shaping your life as a mother.
I'm amazed that someone who is supposed to be helping women is saying such an asinine thing as that. Birth is just one day (or more if you roll the dice and get that version), and the first day at that, of being a mother. Yes, a lovely birth is rewarding, and if you can get your hands on one, good for you. It really is wonderful and moving and powerful. But also? It's gravy. It's extra. It's lucky. It's not a good idea to get too attached to the idea of it hovering over and influencing your entire mothering career.
And, the clincher in my argument: Giving birth is not a requirement for becoming a mother, so how can it be the most important thing?
What would I like to say to "every young woman in the world" then, about the important things that will shape her life as a mother?
You have to make your own list, and you'll likely be a little bit into your mothering experience before you're even able to recognize what shape it will take. Some things won't become important until they're in the past and fit into the context of everything else. A lot of the important things start off invisible; you wouldn't ever guess they are secretly a big deal until you're looking at them shining and waving to you from the rear-view mirror. Like that day you decided to take the kids out in the rainstorm to the park in their boots and raincoats and let them splash in the giant puddles that dwarfed the ones in your backyard? Your kids might remember that later and do it for their own. Or you might remember it and laugh at the memory when you're needing a stepping stone to get through a rough afternoon.
Maybe it's putting a radio in the kitchen so you can dance and sing while you make supper.
Maybe it's reflecting on the women who raised you, consciously keeping their traditions bright in your own family.
Maybe it's letting the kids decorate the Christmas tree, even if it's lopsided and odd looking. Except not to you, of course. To you it's so beautiful that, bare spots and all, it makes you unreasonably happy.
Maybe it's having the wisdom to know that when your heart keeps telling you something, over and over and over, you should probably get on board with that, even if your brain thinks it's impossible.
Definitely, though, definitely it is all the stuff that comes after that birth that is going to matter the most. That much I know.
Beautifully and wisely said. It’s the little things, the everyday things, the seemingly not important things that shape our characters. It’s how we choose to deal with the circumstances we face that shape us.
Fabulous. You are such a wonderful writer. You have articulated well a very complex idea. I think that sometimes when a person is fighting for change they can overstate things in order to make a point. Or their views become very narrow because they have been fighting toward a goal for a very long time. It is good when others can gently remind them that there is a whole world out there and sometimes words meant to empower can tear down.
Thanks Shoebox Princess & Marsha 🙂
So true, both of your comments. It’s how we deal so much more often than it is what we have to deal with. And? People really do go off the deep end when they are so passionately committed to getting their views out into the world. Myself definitely included. heh
Thanks for thinking of those who are mothering, but have never given birth. I’m a new parent (1 year in) to a healthy, normal ol’ 12 year old girl and 15 year old boy with special needs. I’m still trying to figure out how mothering shapes my life. Right now, it just feels taxing. But watching my daughter learn to tie a necktie over the course of an afternoon, then proudly displaying the finished (and darn near perfect) product made me tear up. And having my son, who doesn’t know how to communicate so he just fights with us, walk over to where I was to give me a hug goodnight made me smile so hard my cheeks hurt. I think these are the moments that mothers, and fathers, live for. Despite how taxing and difficult it is.
Congratulations on your recent parenthood 🙂
I’d like to introduce you to my good friend, Shannon, if you don’t already read her blog http://www.squidalicious.com/ She also blogs about parenting kids with special needs on blogher.com http://www.blogher.com/blog/Shannon-Des-Roches-Rosa
This was so, so good. “I looked at my monitor like it just sprouted a tongue and licked my nose.” Yeah! Just like that. I read more of her blog and was utterly beside myself. “Homebirth is the gold standard of motherhood” was another doozy. It went on and on.
The thing that I find sad is that with rhetoric such as this, midwifery demotes itself to the fringe. That’s a damn shame for women who could use an alternate source of support. I reached out for that support prior to the birth of the twins, looking for ways to come to terms with a much higher chance of a section, and they sent me an article crowing about c-sections being bloody, cutting, violent gorefests. I stepped back. Way back. Adaptability and calm, reasoned thinking was the most important thing, for me. Still is.
You wrapped this up so beautifully. We are all so, so much more than birth. I loved this post.
Wow. Thank you, Kate! I still don’t think I said what I was feeling quite the way I wanted to, but I get all fired up and, well, oh well.
I am SO looking forward to the day your book arrives on my doorstep.
JeniJen, we loved this post so much we named it BlogHer of the Week!
Elisa, on behalf of Elisa, Jory and Lisa
Incredibly well put. I felt guilty for years for having two c-sections and not doing it “right”. Little did I know that there would be so many more important things to get right that bringing them into the world, whatever way, was a tiny drop in the bucket of motherhood.
I am new to your blog, and would like to thank you for this post. There is so much unnecessary guilt surrounding pregnancy and childbirth.
Wow! Congrats on the BlogHer Blog of the week!