I’m recovering from squats and deadlifts last night as I prepare to tackle my power snatch and clean today. Some days I’m sore as hell. I’m 37 and my bounce-back-ness has become dutifully less efficient as the years go by. Aging is like that, I guess. So that is why weightlifting speaks so loudly to me. Every time I hit that PR or even a non-PR, the sport screams in my ears, “Hooray! You’re still here! You’re still alive!” I am constantly enamored with what my body can do, especially after the hell I’ve put it through for the past 27 years. It not only lifts the weights I ask it to lift, but it sleeps properly, digests, breathes, menstruates, circulates, beats, filters, sees, hears, feels–all the things that I once took (and honestly still take) for granted when I was deep in the throes of my disease. I don’t weightlift to get a toned body. I don’t weightlift to feel tough or masculine. I certainly don’t weightlift to feel superior to anyone. I simply do it because it constantly reminds me to never forget, to not take for granted the life that is still here in front of me, the one that continues to wake me up each morning and put thoughts in my head that “today is going to be new and naked. It will not be like yesterday. I can rise.” I’ll be honest with you. It has taken me years to wake up with that kind of hope and certainty. So I continue to put iron on the bar in the name of that but, also, because I feel like heavy lifting is a pretty badass thing for a woman to do. And if you know me at all I was the kid who, when asked what she wanted to be when she grew up, said she wanted to be a badass.
I’ve been thinking about this post for nearly a week, the idea for which was inspired by something I saw on social media. It was a picture of Meghan Markle with a caption that called her a “birth brat.” A birth brat. I had never heard such a term. I read on and learned that the reason she was being considered a birth brat was because she chose the provider she wanted for her prenatal care and delivery and hired two postpartum doulas to help with night parenting once the baby was born. Birth brat. You go, get your coffee which is probably done brewing in the keurig, and then come back here and read that again.
One of the things you must know about me is that the sordid topic of pregnancy and childbirth in this country is something I have extensively researched and observed, both from books and real life experiences, albeit resulting in appalling statistics. In grad school, I had to write a research paper on a topic and I chose birth. I had no idea that what I learned during that research would change the trajectory of my life in so many ways. It changed what I studied in grad school, how I studied, and what and how I practice as a now licensed provider. I am passionate about women’s health because I believe bringing a child into this world and raising it up is one of the most badass things a woman can do. And in that badassery, that warriorness, that simple and proud majesty, lies the most deeply rooted misogyny I have ever seen over any other topic about women. It is such a great dichotomy that has been so ingrained in our culture that we don’t even know it exists most of the time. We are constantly both praised and ridiculed for being mothers and for every single choice we make in that realm. As women, we blindly follow the status quo and the pop culture surrounding birth because the prospect of it is so fucking scary and foreign to a first time mom that conforming to the group makes her feel safe, like she is making the best decisions for her baby, like she is a good mom, like she is WORTHY. And if pregnant women were educated about how much choice they actually HAVE, and what those choices actually WERE, then these statements would be accurate. But, well, read on.
Women attach worth and value not only to their body images, sizes, shapes, but also to their life choices. And there is no other topic that combines both of those aspects of perceived value more intimately than childbirth. Suddenly, our bodies become not bodies, but petri dishes that are to be ostensibly and violently controlled by all kinds of “medical means” in order to protect the life of the human growing inside. In order to protect the life of the human growing inside. That is to say that, as soon as a woman gets pregnant in this country, her life is no longer a life. It is a vessel that carries a more important life. And her innate human wisdom does not know better than tests and needles and drugs and probes and–scalpels. At what I would deem a woman’s strongest moments, she is told that she is weak, that she “shouldn’t lift anything over 15 pounds, shouldn’t have even a sip of wine, shouldn’t be on her feet too long, shouldn’t, won’t, mustn’t, can’t.” All of the nots rolled into one giant “neverdothesethings” soon begin to govern her choices and existence with the mindset that her body and spirit don’t know how to take care of this process alone. They need medical intervention. So, naturally, when we marry a pop culture society with the entire subject of pregnancy and birth with regard to empowering the woman, we get plenty of judgement when a woman’s choices are made public.
I’ve often wondered what makes people care so much about bodies that are not their own? What the hell is in it for them? Why are people so concerned with what other people (women) are doing to their bodies? Men aren’t ridiculed for viagara, or vasectomies, or mistresses or even eating too much. I would say there are now myriad choices that women can make, yes, with regard to pregnancy and birth. Things are slowly starting to change. Slowly. But the misogyny is still there. We somehow don’t want women to feel safe. Because when they feel safe, they get their power back. And putting power in the hands of a woman is the most threatening thing to the patriarchy one can think of. How do we exercise that much control over women in order to keep them feeling weak, vulnerable, and needing the whole of a governed society? By attacking and stripping from them their most basic human right–the right to make choices in the names of their bodies, AND their babies. So our culture steps forward and control control control. We control what she sees and hears in order to guide her to the decisions we secretly want her to make regarding her own body and birth processes. (maybe you can google the heartbeat bill at this point?) She silently believes she is doing the next best thing for her baby because we simply tell her she is and we don’t expose her to any other options that actually DO exist. And we ALSO tell her that her baby is more important than she is, that she must “suck everything up” for the “good of the baby.” She must make these choices from a place of knowing she, as a whole person, no longer matters. She is not empowered to look into options that may actually help her feel SAFER when she is bringing forth life into the world. She is not told about the 12 week childbirth class that would probably teach her way more coping strategies than the hour long class “provided” by the hospital. She is not told that she can request certain things like telemetry monitors and certain types of IV lines that allow her to move around and WALK during labor or why this actually might help labor progress and decrease overall intervention. She is not told that labor actually doesn’t have to hurt that much and that (in my experience at least) there are many other things upon which we women embark that hurt MORE. She is not told that it is actually possible, and quite uncomplicated, to birth her twins vaginally. She is not told that home birth is safe. She is not told that midwives know everything and more about pregnancy and birth. She is not even told that SHE delivered her baby; She is told her provider did that. She is told to be quiet, to not ask, and to definitely not be a brat. She is expected to know EVERYTHING because “this is all natural” and she is conditioned to question her need for help when she hasn’t slept for more than one hour in three days and her nipples are bloody and raw from repeated attempts at breastfeeding her tongue-tied infant. She is told she is a failure or lazy if she chooses formula, or a nanny, or a night nurse. She is told she simply “isn’t a good mother” when making choices that come from mothering herself so that she may better mother her baby. Therefore, she is left to do her own research if she feels it’s necessary and if, ahem, she even realizes there is research to be done.
It still floors me that people spend weeks researching the best car, flat screen, iphone, vacation spot, and spend almost zero time researching what their choices are regarding pregnancy, birth, providers, hospitals, c-section rates, home birth etc. etc. My thought is that if women were actually TOLD by their providers that they have so many choices, they would be empowered to do this research. But I’ve met women who weren’t told, and who didn’t know, and who ended up not making choices from empowering places because they didn’t know better. These same women had less than pleasant birthing experiences (sometimes even traumatic birthing experiences which spawned even more traumatic postpartum depressions psychoses and even deaths) and they have dealt with a level of guilt and shame in the aftermath that only a mother can feel when she realizes she could have made choices and done things differently in ways that would have made her feel safe and empowered and that, ultimately, would have affected her birth and postpartum outcome. I dare to say, actually, that I’ve also met a number of women who simply don’t care about this stuff. And that saddens me.
There is a cultural phenomenon here. I call it subconscious misogyny. Because these are the women who call people like Meghan Markle “birth brats.” These are the women who are conditioned to hate other women who had access to real information and who had space and support to make decisions from that real information. These are the women who deal with quiet shame inside their mama bear minds as they begin to feel cheated by a system that was put into place to do exactly that, cheat them. I have heard a thing or two from men regarding childbirth that are less than, shall we say, poignant. But the majority of slander I have heard against pregnancy, birth, and the choices a woman makes about her body are from, dot dot dot, OTHER WOMEN.
And, again, I suppose I could analyze this phenomenon via the lens of animal behavior as a whole. That females of the group need to make sure that the males continue to mate with them and produce more offspring so they may pass on their genes and so that the fathers actually stay and help out, and keep doing things like killing animals for meat. Other women are threatening, especially women who make smarter choices that ensure more offspring survival. I could go all over the place with this. But I won’t. Because I don’t think that is the issue here. Human civilizations around the world used to be matriarchal in nature. Some tribes still follow that wisdom. And matriarchy is almost synonymous with altruism–that is, the group supports each other to make empowered choices that ensure the survival of the highest number of offspring from that particular tribe. They work together to make this happen. They create the village.
Back to Meghan. She is deemed a “birth brat” because she has made choices that support her in both pregnancy AND birth AND (surprise!) after the baby is home! Hiring a postpartum doula is one of the most responsible things a mother can do. They should be hospital hired and insurance covered and we would see postpartum depression rates plummet, along with the cost of medications used to treat this. Looking into placenta consumption (yeah I said it, I did it, get over it) and how to have this supported, insurance covered, and normalized as a means to prevent postpartum depression is also something that might fall under the umbrella of “brat.” By the way, I actually chose the hospital where I gave birth to my third daughter simply because they had a “placenta fridge.”
The bigger picture here is that a pregnant woman needs to take measures that make her feel completely safe. Without safety, a woman is scared. And with that fear flowing through her veins, her body won’t open up or relax. It won’t be able to expel a baby. Have you met a pregnant animal who has stopped to give birth as she is in the middle of running away from a predator? We are, before IVs and scalpels and pitocin and demerol, and fentanyl, and twilight sleep, and chloroform, and wool lined handcuffs attached to bed rails, and blindfolds, and forceps, and stiff beds, we are animals. We are humans. And we know how to do this. We just need to feel safe. So when a Kardashian makes the news because she brought in pink sheets to replace the hospital sheets, we can realize that maybe part of her is doing this for fame but I’d like to trust that most of her is doing it for a sense of safety. We may turn our noses up to it or disagree with it, but we can respect (animal to animal) her desire to feel safe as she embarks upon one of the most badass things in the world.
What makes you feel safe? If it’s the demerol, the epidural, the scheduled section, fine. I support you. But I encourage you to do your homework. Really make your choices from the most educated mama bear places you can find. These choices are some of the most important ones you’ll ever make. Talk about them. Talk with doctors, midwives, friends, other women, doulas. Ask every single question that lives in your mind, even the ones you think are dumb. Because the “dumb ones” are the most common questions that everyone is afraid to ask and to which everyone needs the answers. Whatever you do, before you judge someone for their choices, please ask yourself: “Does this really matter to me? Is she coming from a place of wanting to feel safe? Can I let go of her choices as I continue to make my own without shame?” I’d like to get back to the village. I’d like to remember what it feels like to know the deepest truth inside my female being all while appreciating the deepest truth inside your female being. The truth of love, of power, of creation, and of trust. It’s in there. It’s just been oppressively covered up. Take it out. Put it on a fucking platter in the middle of the table so everyone can take a piece. It doesn’t run out. It really doesn’t. And then move through the wind of the world with greater purpose, with a knowing that your feet completely deserve to be where they are and they completely deserve to know where they’re going. I’ll meet you in the middle where I’ll be waiting with my big eyes so they can see yours across the ether, and together we will move in our bodies, with our bodies, holding our real selves.
For resources on this topic, here are my favorites:
“Birth: The surprising history of how we are born” by Tina Cassidy
“The Business of Being Born” by Ricki Lake and Abby Epstein
“Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth” by Ina May Gaskin
“Spiritual Midwifery” by Ina May Gaskin
“Childbirth without Fear” by Grantly Dick-Read
“The Pregnancy Bible” by Keith Eddleman and Joanne Stone
“The Mayo Clinic’s Guide to a Healthy Pregnancy and Birth”
“Birthing from Within” by Pam England and Rob Horowitz
“Natural Childbirth the Bradley Way” by Susan McCutcheon