Saturday, May 9, 2009

International Birth Wisdom Week

There's a story I want to share for International Birth Wisdom Week, but I can't remember where I read it, or when*. The story comes from an African culture, and it tells how the women think about the birth process: Birth is like crossing a river on a log. You need to get across the river on that log, and no one can else can do it for you - it's your journey. People on the shore you left behind cheer you on with encouraging words, and people on the far shore will be waiting to greet you. Someone even follows beside you to guide you and support you with her words and presence. Though you are not alone, birth is work only you can do.

This story has always stuck in my mind, as a pregnant and laboring woman, and then as a childbirth educator - because its truth resonates with me, and also because it is so different from how birth is perceived in American popular culture. So many times birth is talked about (and lived) as something that is done to a birthing woman, not as something that she does.

I don't mean that in order to experience "real" birth, all women need to have unmedicated vaginal births. In my opinion, the difference is about agency: when it is the laboring woman who is exerting her own power to birth safely and with strength and wisdom, she owns her birth, whatever happens. She is unlikely to be haunted with "if only I had known" because she knows that she did the best she could with the situation she was living in that moment.

Whenever I think about birth wisdom, I think about this quote, which is all over the natural birth world: “Birth is not only about making babies. Birth is about making mothers ~ strong, competent, capable mothers who trust themselves and know their inner strength.” Barbara Katz Rothman articulates why it is so important that birth is honored as a beginning, not as "just" an end, "to get the baby out safely".

I also think of this other popular birth quote by Laura Stavoe Harm: “We have a secret in our culture, and it's not that birth is painful. It's that women are strong.” I feel sad when I read this, because, too often, women's strength is a secret.
Birth is painful!!! Get an epidural as soon as possible!! Birth is scary! Birth is an emergency! Just be happy you have a healthy baby!!
This is the subtext of so many stories, in the media, and among women. I was sitting at my daughter's dance class the other day, and some of the other moms were talking about their births: thank God for my epidural! ... I don't know how/why anyone would give birth without one! ... It was miserable until I got my epidural... My epidural didn't work, but at least I had one [?!!?]. Another mom and I were silent. What could I possibly say about my wonderful natural births that would not seem judgemental or holier than thou? Thankfully someone directly asked the other silent woman about her birth, and she voiced her joy at giving birth naturally.

I'm grateful for every opportunity to empower pregnant women and their partners to make informed choices, to take personal responsibility, to understand that birth is the beginning of their journey as mothers. I want to join that chorus of people on either side of the river, in hopes that it will swell and swell, getting louder and louder, until "women are strong" is not a whisper, a secret that some of us carry in our hearts and share with our daughters, but a shout, a proclamation, and a promise: WOMEN ARE STRONG.

Christina @ Birthing Your Baby
Independent Childbirth Classes for Central Maine
New Mothers Support Circle

*If you know where I might have read this story, please leave a comment!

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