11 Labor & Birth Moments You Wouldn't Be Embarrassed About If The U.S. Were Birth Positive
Is it just me, or is it weird that our society has inherited a habit of frowning upon literally all of the things our bodies do to survive? All the ordinary, mandatory things we have to do to live — like eating, sleeping, peeing, pooping, having sex, and giving birth — as well as inevitable things we experience throughout life (like getting sick) are stigmatized to varying degrees. That weird tendency, plus sexist ideas about women's bodies, contribute to the embarrassing moments during labor and birth, that women wouldn't actually be embarrassed about at all if the United States fostered a more birth positive society.
It makes sense to be cautious around, and even somewhat disgusted by, most bodily fluids. We can get sick if we handle other people's blood, and it's certainly risky to handle our or other people's waste. But when we're giving birth, all of that stuff is being dealt with in sanitary ways, by professionals. And there's loads more stuff, that has nothing to do with anything unsanitary, that we still find ourselves feeling embarrassed about, mostly because we're all raised to feel ashamed about inhabiting female bodies and speaking up for ourselves.
From the moment we're taught that our private parts are "naughty bits," till the moment we're taught that having our periods is "gross," to the moment we go into labor, we're miseducated by ridiculous messages regarding how to maintain our "ladylike" decorum, when literally the only things that traditionally distinguish us as female — our anatomy, bodily functions like menstruation, and our ability to give birth and breastfeed — are widely considered to be gross AF. (Meanwhile, everything else associated with being "ladylike," is about controlling her behavior, behavior that fundamentally isn't innate or exclusive to women at all.) I'm literally dizzy from trying to find some logic in a sea of patriarchal nonsense.
Bottom line: bodies are amazing, and being ‘ladylike’ is a totally made up thing that no human woman can actually and successfully manage to accomplish at all times (which is awfully convenient for people who idealize womanhood and motherhood, yet use our lapses in "respectability" as a justification to treat real-life girls and women like crap). Whether we're doing incredible yet ordinary things like giving life, or just going through daily life, we're worthy of respect simply for being human. We definitely shouldn't feel embarrassed for doing any of the normal sh*t (literally) that normal humans do, including and especially the following:
Pooping During Birth
Most of the sensations you feel when you’re about to push out a baby are the sensations you feel when you’re about to poop. Combine that with all that pressure going on in that area, and it’s pretty likely that poop is going to happen during labor. So why is this embarrassing? Also, why is pooping embarrassing in general? Yeah, poop stinks and it’s not something we should, like, hang out with or anything, but it’s a normal function of all healthy bodies. As is childbirth. This really shouldn’t be a big deal.
Puking During Labor
Fun fact: during labor, babies sometimes push on the nerve that’s responsible for giving your body the “Puke! Now!” signal. That whole middle space of a mom’s body is pretty crowded by the latest stages of pregnancy, so it shouldn’t be super surprising to anyone when wires get crossed and more stuff comes out of her besides a baby.
But for whatever reason (aka movies and TV shows that only show lots of sweating, yelling, and swearing prior to the mom giving birth to what is clearly a six-month-old child), people are surprised by labor vomit, and moms are embarrassed.
Making Whatever Noises Come Out…
Vocalizing during labor is important and inevitable. It’s impossible not to make sounds to help yourself focus and deal with the sensations you feel during contractions and the effort associated with pushing. But those vocalizations aren’t necessarily going to be clear words, sentences, or even the cuss words we’ve been taught to expect. Remember: there’s no shame in grunting, mamas. Yeah, it’s not ladylike, because (once again!) literally nothing that has anything to do with the biology of womanhood is ladylike.
...And Whatever Faces Occur
Same goes for whatever faces a woman makes during labor. Childbirth is probably the most sensation-packed physical experience of a person's life. It's not a time when you can manage your facial expressions on purpose so they're more viewer-friendly, nor should women feel responsible for that even if they could.
Whether we're walking down the street, having sex, or giving birth, we should just make whatever faces are automatic and appropriate for how we're feeling, and let other people learn to accept female expressions that aren't contorted to their liking.
Getting Bodily Fluids Everywhere
Labor and birth involves a lot of totally involuntary movements. That means that unlike most bodily fluids we're used to dealing with, most of the stuff that comes out when we're giving birth aren't ones we can hold in until we're someplace private or whatever. We shouldn't have to feel embarrassed about our water breaking somewhere unexpected, or anything of the sort. Birth does its own thing, and gives no f*cks what anybody thinks.
Bringing a new person into the world can be a super sweaty endeavor, and some mamas (myself included) can't bear to go the whole distance wearing any extra layers that just add heat and stuff to navigate.
I didn't care much about getting totally naked, 'cause I was in my own bedroom with people I knew and trusted by that point. But if you're not at home, don't feel bad about getting down to your own birthday suit while you labor. The people you're with are probably used to and un-offended by bodies, and even if they are bothered, who cares? You're bringing a new person into the world. They can deal.
Needing Medication Or Other Interventions
Birth is hard. For some people, that means that they'll need some medicine to help them deal with the pain, and for others, that means they'll need some medical intervention in order to make it through safely. That happens, and it's nothing to be ashamed about.
It doesn't make a mom less of a woman if she needs (or wants!) medical help to do the incredibly difficult work of birthing a baby.
Our society is fairly comfortable with women suffering, especially when it comes to our children. But society is far less comfortable with women's pleasure, especially if it occurs anywhere near our children. (Hell, earlier generations have gone so far as to invent myths about storks to explain where babies come from, in order to separate sex from reproduction.)
But not all pleasure is sexual, and even if it was, there's nothing wrong with sex. And the same body parts that rely on pleasure to relax enough to let conception happen, benefit from pleasure to let birth happen. Birth can be a sensual experience at times, and that's OK.
Asking For More Information Before Changing Her Birth Plan
Moms shouldn't feel like they're being burdensome or "a pain" if they ask for more information before consenting to a change in their birth plan, or if they decide in the moment that things aren't going how they want and they'd like to do things differently.
No one is going to experience or remember this moment as vividly as the woman who's actually giving birth, and no one (apart from her baby, in some cases) will experience its consequences more deeply. Moms should feel completely OK putting their own needs before anyone else's inconvenience or approval.
When you're in the throes of labor, there's no time for all the, "Heyyyy, sorry to be a pain, but I was wondering if you could maybe...?" girls and women are taught in order to soften our requests.
I spent the better part of a day just grunting out one- and two-word demands while I labored. If a mom wants someone in the room to leave, or needs some water or food, or wants a massage to ease her discomfort, or anything else, she needs that to happen right away, period, no questions asked. She shouldn't feel embarrassed for asserting herself and getting her needs met.
Letting Baby Breastfeed Immediately After Birth
Letting baby latch and nurse immediately after birth is basically the ideal set-up for long-term breastfeeding success. Yet some mamas feel embarrassed about doing this, because they're still dealing with a lifetime of conditioning that tells them breasts are sexual or something private (aka, body parts not to be whipped out in front of a team of medical professionals you may or may not know).
Keep calm and nurse on, mamas. There's no shame in nourishing your baby, or in anything else your body is doing during and after birth.