After 18 hours of awful labor, my first child was delivered via emergency C-section. Two years and some change later, there I was having that a much-awaited vaginal delivery. While I had a front row seat on this primordial roller coaster, I was determined, as many do on an actual roller coaster, to keep my eyes closed. But I wish I'd looked when my baby was crowning. Granted, my enormous belly and weird angle were sort of in the way, so it would have been a challenge, but I wish I'd even gone as far as to grab a mirror and at least take a peek.
About a year after my daughter's vaginal delivery, I found myself watching "natural birth" videos on YouTube. And I mean weirdly a lot of so-called natural birth videos. I did not want another baby — with the birth of our daughter my partner and I very much had the sense that everyone in our family had arrived — so it's not that I was having some sort of baby fever that I was trying to either stoke or cure. So I started to think about what was motivating my sort of strange viewing habits. It occurred to me that I was, in a way, processing my own birth in a way that I hadn't yet, which I think is not only understandable but common among new moms. We think about our babies and deliveries and our lives in general and begin to mull it over and fit it into the narrative of where we were and where we're going. But most people manage to do this without watching other people's graphic birth videos. So what was my deal?
When it came to my daughter's birth, I was really determined to have a vaginal birth after a C-section (also known as a VBAC). My first delivery, while wonderful, did not go the way I'd planned or hoped . I also knew my second baby was almost certainly going to be my last, and I really wanted to know what it was like to give birth vaginally. Not to prove anything to anyone or heal from trauma or because I felt like I'd somehow failed as a woman by having a C-section, but out of sheer and powerful sense of curiosity. (I'm curious about absolutely everything, and I'm particularly fascinated by the human body and the things it can do and endure. Doctors either love me or hate me because I always ask a million questions at appointments as though it's a museum tour or a college course.) And, hey, I did it: I knew what it felt like to get a baby out "the old fashioned way"... but I hadn't looked. I knew what my body had done because I did it, but I had no sense of what it looked like and I realized, too late, that I'd have liked to. Watching other people go through what I'd gone through gave me the visuals I kind of wish I'd experienced firsthand.
I began to wonder why I didn't look and, to be honest, I was embarrassed by the answer.
Not looking at something so seemingly unbelievable goes against my very curious, generally un-squeamish nature. Yet I'd subverted that hallmark of who I am because I'd unconsciously but completely bought into the problematic idea that women are supposed to be pretty and desirable at all times.
First of all, the decision was unthinking and automatic. I didn't debate it or think about why I shut down the idea. I just wasn't going to look down there. It was a given. But as I began to think about it, much later, it occurred to me that despite all my feminism and body positivity I'd bought into one of the classic bullshit premises about women's bodies: they're not meant for doing they're meant for being looked at. The point of a woman's body in general and a vagina in particular is to be appealing and attractive, and a baby's head sticking out was neither.
"Eeeeew! It's a baby's head poking out of a vagina."
But why is that gross? Look, I won't argue for it's being beautiful — I mean... baby head poking out of a vagina. Sure it's beautiful in a metaphorical, spiritual, "life is beautiful" kind of way, but it's not exactly visually on par with a rainbow or a sunset or the ethereally beautiful and symmetrical face of Idris Elba. But it's still absolutely fascinating. There's nothing gross about it! I feel like it'd be like coming across an elephant sitting on a tree branch — something that feels like it should be physically impossible but, OMG there it is!
Not looking at something so seemingly unbelievable goes against my very curious, generally un-squeamish nature. Yet I'd subverted that hallmark of who I am because I'd unconsciously but completely bought into the problematic idea that women are supposed to be pretty and desirable at all times. It was that deeply ingrained.
There are certainly reasons someone might not want to watch their baby crown. There's nothing wrong with being a little bit squeamish and I can definitely understand why seeing such a wild, bloody image might psyche someone out. There's also nothing wrong with simply coming to the conclusion that it's not for you. But, from my own experience, I'd encourage everyone to at least consider getting a visual at some point and, if you're thinking you'd rather not, think about why that might be. You might have a great, reasonable answer that makes sense based on your own beliefs and relationship with your body. Or maybe you're like me and are buying into something you don't actually believe without really thinking about it. Whether or not you choose to look is fine — there's no right or wrong answer — but I wish I had.