How do you feel about labour?
It seems to me that too many expectant mothers approach their due date with feelings of dread, apprehension and anxiety. In fact childbirth has acquired a bad name over the years. As I approached my ninth month of pregnancy women would ask nervously how I felt about my ‘big day’. However, from the outset of my pregnancy I believed giving birth could be an empowering experience. I saw that I would have the opportunity to draw on my unique strength as a woman, to prove to myself that I could use my body in new ways.
I believe a sense of personal power has to come from within, irrespective of what kind of birth a woman chooses or is forced by circumstances to deal with, and it has to begin with an emotional attitude. I began to approach my due date as an athlete might a big game. I trained: practicing yoga throughout my pregnancy; I read positive birth stories and I wrote a well-thought-out birth plan, although I was prepared to deviate to a Plan B if things didn’t work out. I chose my birth centre specifically because of the midwives’ affirmative and non-invasive approach to both pregnancy and labour. I learnt to use my breathing as a calming device and to use my mind to try to overcome my physical sensations. On the day these methods became a form of meditation. Most importantly I spoke to my unborn child and asked her to work with me on this – we were a team and she had to do her bit in order for us to succeed!
I was lucky enough that everything went smoothly for me and I had the natural birth experience I had hoped for. I was overwhelmed by the realities of becoming a mother, but I had also never been so proud of myself and of what my body achieved. The body, which I had always considered less than perfect, that was never good enough, that let me down in a bikini! That body had suddenly excelled. It had done what it was made to do perfectly and it didn’t matter that it didn’t look like Naomi Campbell’s!
I had won the race – I had delivered my baby. I felt empowered and strengthened by my experience.
I would like all expectant mothers and women who have already crossed the life altering bridge of child birth to remember that labour doesn’t just happen to us but is an event that we can and should take control of. It is an event that we should congratulate ourselves about more and embrace in order to rejoice in our feminine power. I suggest that just as the newborn is traditionally welcomed into the world, mothers should also be celebrated and praised for their achievement.
For just as a new child has been born so has a new mother, a changed woman, a strong but tender warrior princess.
“A gender-equal society would be one where the word ‘gender’ does not exist: where everyone can be themselves.”*
I’ve always been aware of gender conditioning and actively tried to combat any lingering prejudices or stereotypes in my own parenting, even down to encouraging dolls with my boys when they were little. It’s great to read people writing about gender issues they’re experiencing with their kids. For too long these subjects have been discouraged or silenced. I’d love to publish some more creative writing on this topic, especially if you are struggling with a child who actively tries to move away from gender normative preferences. A society where everyone can be themselves – thanks Gloria for those aspirational words.
* Gloria Steinem