This morning, my Facebook feed was flooded with “Me Too” posts. Women (and some men) were sharing publicly the fact that they have experienced sexual harassment or assault. This is following many people being “shocked” or “surprised” about the growing number of stories detailing abuse Harvey Weinstein inflicted on women over the years. “How was this happening?” they wondered. “How could so many women experience abuse and no one knew?”
I also just read an article yesterday titled “The Husband Stitch.” It is about an essay on the barbaric practice of women getting an extra stitch while having tears from childbirth repaired. This happens. I pray that it doesn’t happen often, but I really have no idea. The essay isn’t only about the practice of altering a woman’s body without her knowledge or consent in order to give additional “pleasure” to a man – it is also about the fact that women are not believed when they speak about, well, anything. We don’t talk about these practices in society. But if a woman brought it up, would she be believed?
I say, let’s just start talking and not stop. If the world isn’t ready to hear us, let’s talk anyway. The more we share, the more likely someone else will feel comfortable sharing her story. And the more the rest of the world hears what women experience, the more likely bystanders will be to step in. That’s my hope, at least.
There is a lot of processing that often needs to happen surrounding birth. Even the most uncomplicated and straightforward births have parts that women would like to talk about. When we share our stories, they leave the confines of our bodies and enter into the listener as well. The joy, the pain, the sorrow all get shared. It is easier to think about these big events when you’re not carrying all the weight yourself.
That’s why we host birth story sharing events. Because those are your stories and they’re important stories. Let’s share them together and hold onto them as a community of women. There is no judgment and there is no disbelief. We come together with love and open hearts. And, most especially, with listening ears.
My hope is that as women become more comfortable sharing their stories, the world will start to understand what it is to be a woman. The world will become a safer place for women. They will be considered as humans first and not just bodies. It might be a bit idealistic, but I really think our stories can change the world.
During our prenatal visits, one of the things Rainbow and I ask our clients is if they are planning to bring music to the hospital. Sometimes the couple had already thought of it and was working on a playlist. However, a lot of the time it’s not something they’d thought of before. They’re intrigued but insure of how it would work for them. Would the music become annoying? Would it distract the hospital staff? What type of music would they want?
Really, it all comes down to what makes you the most comfortable and brings you joy. If you love listening to music, then of course you’d want it to be a part of your birth experience!
If you’re not a runner, then you might not be aware of what I’m going to share with you. But, forget circumcision, bed-sharing, or vaccines, if you want to get a heated conversation started, ask a group of runners about listening to music while running. You will not believe the passion in the responses! There is a strong mindset that listening to music will interfere with your ability to listen to your body and therefore should never be used. Others will say that it isn’t as “pure” a way to experience a run.
Well, I listen to music while I’m running. I love music and listen to it whenever I can. Sometimes the only thing that motivates me to get out for a run is a new playlist. This spring, I ran The Maple Run Half Marathon in Canton. I had done all the proper training and felt confident about completing the course. I’ve run many half marathons (and even a few full ones) before, so I wasn’t worried about the distance. Yet, when I began the race, I just wasn’t into it. My pace was dragging and I was just going through the motions. Then a song started that completely brightened my mood! (Would you laugh if I told you it was “Believe” by Cher?) I felt a surge of energy and picked up my pace! I was in a much better mood for the rest of the race.
During birth, you want to make your environment as comfortable as possible. For some people, music can make a big difference in adding comfort to a hospital setting. I’ve been to births where the couple brought music and ones where they did not. Both can be amazing and beautiful. I was at a birth where both parents were musicians and the playlist was amazing. I don’t know how much it helped the laboring woman, but it certainly put me in a positive mood! Some couples bring their own speaker or even just use the speaker on their phone. Your doula might even be able to bring a wireless speaker if you think about it ahead of time. (At New Day Doula, we can!)
For your birth, you should think about what makes you happy and calm. If you like silence when you’re stressed, then maybe music isn’t the right choice for you. But the wonderful thing about using music as an intervention is that if it doesn’t feel right at the time, you can simply turn it off. How many things can you say that about?
For Earth Day, I want to share a few facts with you. First, birth is a natural process that has been going on since the first mammals graced our planet. Second, birth has become extremely medicalized and expensive. As of 2015, 32.0% of births in the United States and 41.4% at Canton-Potsdam Hospital were by cesarean section. The national average cost in 2011 for a cesarean section ranged from $17,859 to $23,923. Hospital vaginal births ranged from $10,657 to $13,749, while a vaginal birth at a birth center was $2,277.
Don’t get me wrong – hospitals are great if something goes wrong. I would much rather see women have access to a cesarean when they need one than to not have access. Medical interventions can mean the difference between mother and baby surviving and not. As a member of the human race and someone who spends a lot of time thinking about and helping laboring women, I know how valuable interventions can be. But that doesn’t mean that everyone should be spending tens of thousands of dollars to give birth. And a woman who is healthy should have the option to give birth in a space that doesn’t come with the costs and risks associated with hospitals.
Why are hospital births so expensive? There are a lot of pieces in play there. Adriana Lozada of the Birthful Podcast has an excellent interview with Nate Dallas that goes over the expenses of birth and how to finance for yours. If you want to learn more about the ins and outs of what you’re paying for and how to afford it, listen to this podcast. But the short answer is that hospital births are expensive because they need to plan for all the possible problems and they also have a lot of waste. All the sterile only-to-be-used-once items need to be purchased for each patient and then thrown away. All those Peri Bottles and non-slip socks cost money. The packaging for your blood draw costs money. The mandatory Pitocin drip following birth to prevent hemorrhaging (standard practice at CPH) costs money.
I don’t think that everyone should be giving birth in a field with no medical support. I also know that we have to work with what we have. But, when many people are able to have complication-free vaginal births, they shouldn’t have to choose between giving birth in a hospital and having an unassisted birth. As of June of this year, we will no longer have a licensed homebirth midwife in St. Lawrence County. We have no birth centers here. There are very few options for how women can give birth and this is absurd.
I’ll end by leaving all the human-rights and feminist arguments aside and just speaking for the Earth. If we want to leave the smallest impact possible on our planet, we need more options for birth here. We and the Earth deserve that.
I was recently at a birth of a devout Catholic. During contractions, the mother would alternate between stating her birth affirmations and praying.
Our Father, Who art in Heaven
Hallowed be thy name;
Thy kingdom come,
Thy will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
This beautiful submission to her faith, her God, gave her the strength she needed to endure labor. She was able to let go and trust in her body. While I helped her with hip squeezes, I felt the calm stillness of a holy place in the room. It was amazing.
Birth is a sacred event. A new life is beginning, which in and of itself is sacred. But the trust the birthing woman needs to have in her body is also on the holy realm. She needs to have faith that she can give birth and needs to let go to a higher power. Whether that power is called God, Allah, Goddess, Jesus Christ, Great Spirit, or just Other, the letting go and having faith is what needs to happen.
There aren’t too many times in our modern-day lives that we encounter the type of out-of-body experience that birth puts us in. Interacting in certain athletic endeavors can do it, as can certain religious activities. The mental part of us needs to let go and let our body do what it already knows how to do. The faith in our bodies is what allows us to do the unbelievable.
I wish I could tell you that birth is easy. But it’s not. It’s going to require you to get to the point where you don’t think you can cope anymore. Every woman has a moment (or more) where she doesn’t think she can do it – where the pain is too much. This is the time that faith is especially needed. Most of the time, that point where we don’t think we can go on is right at transition; it’s the point right before pushing where the body makes a big leap. Having faith that the unbearable can be endured is crucial to getting to the part where you birth your baby.
In the months before your due date, you can practice this letting go. One of the best ways to do this is through prenatal yoga. Yoga offers the unique combination of stillness of the mind and challenge of the body. You will practice holding uncomfortable poses while focusing your mind to be comfortable with them. It also is excellent for stretching aching muscles and having a time to concentrate on the life you’re growing inside you.
You can also prepare yourself by meditating with birth affirmations or taking a calm walk. Any time you are alone with your head and body can be an opportunity to check in and remind yourself that you believe in you. You know that your body is capable of giving birth. You truly are amazing.
New Day Doula
Rainbow and Mary share thoughts on pregnancy, birth, and the parenting journey.