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BIRTH SHAME- It’s real and its ramifications are not discussed much, unfortunately. The damage it causes goes deep into the fabric of our society and our psyches, as women. I know because I have held too many women in my arms and held space for their stories. Their stories are powerful and not few and far between.
“I had an epidural, it was awesome!” “ I had an epidural it was hell”. “I had 4 C-Sections, wouldn’t do it any other way”. “I gave birth at home in my tub”. “I gave birth in the car”. “I had my baby in a birthing center and it was magical”. “As soon as I saw my baby, I fell in love”. “I bounced back into my pre-pregnancy jeans in a week” (ya, not my story!). The truth is, childbirth looks different on different people and who is to say what’s right?
Women- we are strong and capable, we are vulnerable and sensitive and we all carry history. Think of the “baggage claim” at the airport terminal. We all have baggage of different shapes and sizes. Some of us carry it off the conveyor belt with ease, others with help, and others struggle on their own to get it off and schlep it home alone. The designer luggage set that looks so chic on the conveyor belt may carry in it such a heavy and back-breaking load, while the shoulder bag with a tear on the side carries very little.
The point is we do not know what is inside another’s baggage, and believe me, we all have it. And, you know what? We carry that baggage with us. If we are lucky, we unload some of it along the way and some bags we give up altogether. For those of us who don’t, that bag comes with us to our birth and brings with it a universe of experiences, some of which affect childbirth in ways that never crossed our minds.
Please stop to think for a moment. Think about the woman who was raped in college, or abandoned, or neglected or abused. Will those experiences shape her childbirth experience? You can be sure they will. What about the woman who, determined to give birth naturally, pushed for 5 hours and then had to have an emergency Cesarean? The woman who could not get pregnant or stay pregnant, now pregnant at 48 and terrified? What about the woman who suffers from such horrific chronic physical pain from an auto-immune disease during pregnancy that induction and an epidural are her only respite? What about the woman who doesn’t fall in love with her baby for weeks because her labor was long and exhausting and by the time she met her baby, she was in shock and disbelief and yes, even anger. Heaven-forbid we ever use the word “anger” around birth.
The woman who chose to give birth at home? You call her irresponsible and selfish, “one of those hippies”. Did you know she had leukemia as a child and hospitals bring with them such deep negativity and fear that she simply COULD not birth her baby in one? What if a home-birth was chosen? How? We ask? Why would anyone want to do that? Well, because she did her research and chose what made the most sense for her and her child. The woman who describes her birth as ecstatic and beautiful- and yes- she had a C-Section. She had a wonderful birth because that was what she chose. Yes, she chose. The woman who gave birth in the car because the conditions were appalling at the hospital in her area that was covered by her health-plan. She drove across town in active labor to another hospital to feel safer, but didn’t make it on time. Shocking, but all too-true.
How can you judge a birth choice when you know nothing about the bag that woman carried with her into the delivery room? Please practice compassion and humility when you listen to another’s birth story. More importantly, practice compassion for yourself and the choices you made. You did the best you could at that moment with what you had. Let’s leave shame out of birth. Becoming a mother carries with it so many feelings; let’s not start the journey with regret and judgement.
Read, take classes, have discussions with your care-provider, do some research and know your options. In many ways, “If you don’t know your options, you don’t really have any options”.
This is dedicated to all those who didn’t watch their mommies become grand-mommies, to those who lost mothers in childhood, to whatever cause- be it illness, sudden death, or the loss of a mother who just couldn’t be around due to a reason only she can pay testimony to. I am writing to you who couldn’t ask your mother how her pregnancies were or how she labored or when she saw her first gray hair. I am writing to us who never watched young, smooth hands become freckly and wrinkled, to those who never got to help our mothers up the stairs and to those who felt the empty chain-link that came between us and our mourning grandmothers. This weekend you are all in my heart and I am sending you light.
Mother’s Day is a day filled with different emotions. Often there is beauty and grace, other times there is heartbreak, sometimes it’s hectic to juggle everyone’s needs and expectations. For those of us who have a break in the chain, it can be confusing. While the hugs and cuddles and love that come from our own children are a gift from God, for me, there is often an empty chair at which I sometimes glance. If she were here, which one of her granddaughters would be sitting on her lap, getting her hair stroked? What would she have taught my daughters? What would I have done for her on this day? When my mother’s mother was alive, I often saw her glance at the empty chair, wondering what her daughter would have done on this day. She loved her children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren, but the loss of a child is too painful to ever be able to give words to. The loss of a young mother is a tragedy to all. When my beloved Grandma passed, there were 2 empty chairs and I became the first link on the chain. The oldest mommy (on my maternal side) that my daughters would turn to- filling the shoes of my mom and grandma is not an easy task.
This week, I had the honor of supporting a truly miraculous birth. As the mom was in the last pangs of labor, I turned to her mother who had streams of tears running down her face and her hands up to her mouth. I smiled at her knowingly, as she whispered, “my baby is having a baby”. Then, she wiped my tears and the next sounds we heard were the sounds a healthy baby boy. I pray all mommies can watch their babies become mommies at the right time, in perfect health and with sheer joy. I wanted to wish a Happy Mother’s Day to all the people who step up when there are no mommies- the grandmas, aunts, uncles, cousins, neighbors, nannies, friends, and siblings. I had many mothers. I was surrounded by a cocoon of love and kindness and for this I am grateful. I am grateful for daily reminders of the miracle of motherhood that unfold before me. Most of all, I am humbled by the strength of those who go on- show up, step up and hold space- that my friends, is motherhood at its truest essence.