Nothing has made me say, “I am Woman, hear me roar!” quite like becoming a mother has. The process of being pregnant, giving birth, and figuring out who I am as a mother has brought me to a new level of understanding about what it means to be a woman, and why it’s so important to support other women.
There are a million different ways you can have a baby: Hospital births, maybe with drugs and epidurals; drug-free water births at a birthing center with a midwife and doula; emergency deliveries on the side of the highway, on the way to the hospital. What are the most important things about giving birth, though? That the mother survives, that the baby survives, and that both are as healthy and safe as possible. Everything else is gravy.
For me, both pregnancies were attended by midwives. In the last month both times, though, I began to show symptoms of a more unusual pregnancy-related condition involving my liver. Because the condition had the potential result of pre-term birth or stillbirth, I was put under observation with the OB/GYN at our local hospital, where I underwent regular stress tests to keep watch over the baby. It was scary, because it was not something I had planned for, but I was continually assured by my midwife, who told me that even if they had to transfer care to the OB/GYN and induce me early, she would be there to continue to advocate for me. And that was what mattered most.
Both times I gave birth, there were things that went according to plan, and a lot that did not. ("So, like every birth ever?" – all women, to me.) But with both births, I walked away feeling so strong and incredible not just about what had happened, but about who I was as a woman. This, I've come to learn from speaking to other women, is not at all unusual. So many women are (sometimes surprisingly) realizing that giving birth is a massively affirming feminist experience. Here are a few reasons why this might be the case.
You Have The Right To Dictate How Your Body Is Treated
I’m not saying that if there’s the need for an emergency C-section, and you don’t want one, you should get your way. Medical emergencies aside, we should call the shots on our bodies. I spent time writing out a birth plan that included how I wanted things to go under all eventualities, and that included emergency surgery. I decided I didn’t want an epidural, and I made it clear that I didn’t want any nurses coming in trying to suggest that I get one.
You Can Endure Unimaginable Pain, And Still Make Sh*t Happen
To me, there is no stronger or more vulnerable moment than the moment just before those last few pushes. We are exhausted. We are racked with pain. We know it’s going to get worse before it gets better. And we do it anyway.
You Can Trust Yourself
Learning to trust that your body knows what to do is hard, but necessary. I read numerous books and guides to giving birth, and my midwives had each delivered hundreds of babies, but when my body decided it was going to push far earlier than anyone anticipated, there was not much to be done. When did my body start pushing? When I was only 6cm dilated, and the baby was facing the wrong way. Not exactly convenient. My midwife got in and turned the baby, and I went from 6cm to 10cm dilation in 15 minutes. And pushed the baby out 20 minutes later, without ever going through transition. Trust.
You Have To Advocate For Yourself Because No One Will Do It Better Than You
Listen, nobody knows what you’re going through better than you. There were times early on in my labor when I was feeling like I needed to do something different, but didn’t have the courage to say anything. I quickly figured out that not even my loving husband or my attentive midwives could get inside my brain and realize what I needed. I had to tell them. So I did. And it was so much easier that way. I never would've gotten what I needed if I hadn't spoken up and asked for it. That's a lesson that is applicable to literally every part of your life forever.
Every Woman Is Walking Her Own Path, And It’s Up To Us To Support One Another
Listen, I had two unmedicated births, one of which happened at my home; I exclusively breastfed for more than a year with each kid. That does not make me a better mother than the woman who had an elective C-section and exclusively fed her baby formula. Each of us has our own journey into motherhood, and we need to end the mommy wars and just support each other’s choices. (I mean, I was a C-section baby and a formula baby, and look how great I turned out!)
When it comes to accessing our birth experiences to learn bigger truths about our personal strength and what it means to be a feminist, there's no one set way in which you need to give birth for those things to be learned. And that, ultimately, is the biggest feminist birth lesson of all: Any birth can be an amazing experience—no matter what happens during its course—if mom and baby come out healthy, and the woman felt respected and empowered the whole time.
Images: Eli DeFaria/Unsplash; Giphy(5)