So the saying goes: "leave your dignity at the door..."
It's one of those cringeworthy old gems you often hear around more 'mainstream' mothers groups. It almost seems as if it's meant as a veiled threat, a threat the issuer isn't even aware of themselves. It's THAT ingrained into our society. What is? The routine oppression of all females in all areas of their lives. But ESPECIALLY in childbirth.
We're conditioned for compliance.
I remember as a young girl listening to my much older sister repeatedly tell her 'war stories' after her sons were born. That's how it sounded. The way she described the 'procedures' and the undignified rawness of it all.... it was powerful. This was my first 'real' education on the subject of womanhood. At the time I simply thought 'Okay. Having babies is going to be really scary and embarrassing.' I just accepted that as reality. The way we all do as little girls.
I'm fighting to change that. Pregnancy is the only 'condition' under which a person (woman, obviously) is expected to submit their autonomy to a higher authority. It doesn't matter if I'm smart, or strong, or anything. All that matters is that I DO AS I'M TOLD, and do not question too much. It was the first time in my life I realised how powerless I was, sitting in my hospital bed, alone, in shock.
I did everything I was 'supposed' to. It didn't serve me well. It didn't protect me from harm, in fact all it did was ensure that the people who harmed me were protected. Kinda sick, isn't it?
So what happens when you're bombarded by the subtle message that birth often equates to degradation? That might sound extreme - but some of the things I experienced were extreme. Naturally, that will colour my perceptions a great deal. Which is exactly my point. Bad stuff happens when you become a passenger in your own pregnancy. Bad stuff happens when you're denied the knowledge to make informed choices.
Image Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
The impact ripples through the centuries.
Look at the impact these subtle societal attitudes can have on a woman. On her family. On society as a whole. If I'm damaged and disrespected at the very moment I'm making the transformation into mother.... how am I supposed to successfully raise my children?
Young girls hear the 'war stories' of their role models, and learn to fear everything about birth. And to expect to be degraded and violated. I didn't hear a single positive birth story growing up. It took until I was pregnant myself and actually seeking information that I was able to find anything even remotely empowering.
We're punished for our compliance.
Sometimes, when I'm feeling especially cynical, it seems as if our society operates in almost the same fashion as an abusive partner. Grooming me. Demanding perfection, but at the same time- punishing me for attempting to achieve it.
It seems like a cruel joke. Like a punishment you can't possibly avoid. We're told we should want to be mothers. But that we'll be subjected to horrific treatment when we're vulnerable.
We're supposed to want a natural drug free birth, but are not given anything even CLOSE to adequate conditions in which to do so. They told me to listen to the doctors. Not to be difficult. Just go with the flow. Translation: Submit yourself to anything and everything a stranger decides for you. Allow them to touch you even when it hurts. Don't protest. Or you don't love your baby.
Fuck that. Seriously.
Which brings me to the flipside.
We're punished for rebelling.
If you want an unhindered, physiological birth, a homebirth, a freebirth- You're labelled negatively. Your priorities are questioned. You're criticised for demanding an experience you can walk away from feeling proud. You're accused of wanting to brag about your awesome birth, more than having a healthy baby.
That one really irritates me.
I don't know a woman alive who would sacrifice her baby just to give birth a certain way. Seriously, if anybody knows of such a person I'd be very interested to interview them. As far as I can tell though, these 'birth freaks' have been completely invented by the anti-natural birth community.
Image Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
We're taught to lower our expectations.
Expect nothing and you'll never be disappointed, right? True, but pretty sad when you're applying it to the most transformative experience of your life. I wasn't disappointed that both of my births didn't go the way I planned. They didn't go to plan because of the high degree of unnecessary interference and coercion I experienced. That's why I'm disappointed.
"Oh honey, none of this is ever going to happen now......" the midwife chortled to me as she read my birth plan. "We might as well just throw this straight in the bin." She laughed a dry laugh and smiled. I nervously laughed, and shook with terror.
We're taught to blame ourselves.
It's my fault I had to have my primary caesarean. I was told my pelvis was too small. My baby was in a bad position because I had an epidural. (the epidural they recommended I have to stop me screaming). He was 'never going to come out' and I should just elect to have surgical births in future unless I want a very large family because it's safer.
I felt stupid. Like I should have worked harder to find the right information so I could make better choices... or even know what the bloody choices were. Even my partner said I just gave up. And I did. I'm unapologetic for being unable to birth in such a disruptive and unstable environment, with no support.
So, let's not leave our dignity at the door (and our self respect on the floor). Let's demand access to better care. Let's access that care. And let's tell the next generation of girls about our awesome births. In hospital, out of hospital, wearing a tu-tu and tap dancing to jazz music..........
Break the cycle of automatic submission to authority. And give your daughters something to look forward to- not to fear and lament.
The very fact that women/couples feel they have to come in with a birth plan is indicative of negativity of our birth system. As a caseload midwife in a low risk unit it was great to be able to say no problem to all of the positive stuff they wanted for their birth. If only birth providers realised just how invigorating it is to attend someone who has just had a positive birth they would start doing it as well. All of that lovely natural oxytocin swirling around the rooms is such a high.
Dignity in birth is not a luxury few can afford. It is just a choice few women make. In the comfort of your own home, you are the crowning queen! Your husband & all loved ones around you will hold you in greater esteem, once they have seen the beauty of your strength in labor! I swear, I see halos glowing from the heads of the women I attend in labor! Homebirth is something 95% of the women could do if they wanted, attended or unattended, they CAN birth in dignity. Why aren't more women standing up for this option?