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.
As birth doulas, Rainbow and I are frequently hailing the power of birth affirmations – positive mantras to repeat prior to and during labor to help a woman feel powerful and in control. I recently had someone mention that since her birth affirmations helped so much, she is going to start using them every day. But rather than mantras based around birth and how to feel positive in relation to that, these are everyday affirmations around parenting and being a good person.
This is an amazing idea! Parents, especially mothers, are under such scrutiny today and it’s easy to assume the worst about ourselves. We constantly hear contradictory messages on how to be a good parent and all the ways that we are subtly failing at the task. Shaming and focus on negativity does not work on helping people achieve. I saw it clearly in my days as a teacher and I can see it now when working with new parents. Let’s stay positive and the results could be amazing!
Some parenting affirmations to try out:
I’m a runner. Anyone who is also a runner or is close to a runner knows how much our shoes mean to us. When the whole sport pretty much comes down to how your feet hit the ground, the shoes in the middle are pretty important. We research them, test them in the store, and often wear them for a few practice runs before ultimately deciding that a pair will work. Once a runner has found a line of shoes that feels right and doesn’t aggravate any particular body part, he or she will do everything possible to keep buying the same ones.
The shoe industry is like any other and always tries to make their products “better.” Sometimes that means that a shoe that once was the perfect fit, suddenly becomes a disastrous choice. Or, in my case, a runner becomes pregnant and her feet change size, causing the shoes that had worked for 10 years to become uncomfortable. Whatever the reason, sometimes a runner has to try out new shoes and that can be a terrifying venture.
I decided to try a few different lines of shoe to determine what worked best for me. This could have been a very expensive proposition as your average running shoe costs over $100. Since you can’t really tell if a shoe is “right” until you run in it for a bit, you need to have a retailer kind enough to allow returns even after shoes have been worn. I am really lucky to be a VIP member of an online running store that allows just that – you can wear a pair of shoes for up to 90 days and exchange them for only the cost of the shipping. I could try a new pair of shoes and have the freedom to change my mind.
Knowing that you can try something and not be stuck with it in the long run gives us the freedom to try things that are hard or expensive. While having to pay for a pair of shoes that don’t work may be annoying, feeling stuck in a particular birth scenario that doesn’t end up working out can be really scary. Women deserve to have access to whatever type of birth they want; they also deserve to be able to change their minds if it doesn’t feel right or something else seems like the better choice in the moment.
As a doula, I help women find ways to feel comfortable during labor. Sometimes this means applying cold washcloths to her forehead or a heating pad to her lower back, sometimes it involves counter pressure techniques and words of encouragement, and often it means reminding a woman of her options during labor. Knowing that we have options and can change our minds gives us power. The more power a woman has or feels she has during labor, the more smoothly everything will go.
I’m really happy that I can mail back these shoes that make my feet feel like blocks of cement during a run, but I’m even happier that women can feel empowered to make the decisions that work for them during labor – regardless of what their initial plans had been.
There is a lot of talk about gender norms and identity lately. I love seeing women scientists fighting demons on the big screen and running for POTUS in real life. I am thrilled that we are openly talking about rights for transgendered individuals. And maybe someday we’ll fix the pay gap so that men and women will be compensated equally in the workplace. As a society, we are slowly but surely working on tearing down the gender divides that have become so deeply ingrained in who we are.
Unfortunately, it seems to be a lot easier to see women doing “guy stuff” than to see men doing “girl stuff.” Part of the problem is that to be female is often equated with being weak or soft. So we still have some work to do and that starts at the individual level.
Keeping judgment to a minimum.
Getting to know people before making assumptions.
Not telling kids that they can’t wear something because they’re a girl or a boy.
You know, just seeing everyone as an individual instead of a type.
Reserving judgment is a fundamental part of being a doula. Women and families hire us to support them through birth and postpartum no matter how they want those periods to go. It doesn’t matter how I personally feel about epidurals, circumcision, or breastfeeding. I greet the family as they are and help them achieve whatever goals they personally have.
My almost three year old son, W, is doing a fantastic job of testing my neutrality and challenging my notions of gender. Like many toddlers, he loves books, trucks, and blocks. His mind is an amazing machine that remembers details from over a year ago and makes new connections every day. He repeats my words back to me often, sometimes surprising me in his accuracy.
He also loves my pink toenails. The day I treated myself to a pedicure and came home with a beautiful coral polish on my toes, W insisted that he have his painted pink as well.
I panicked. What would people think if they see my toddler’s toes are pink? He’s a BOY! Will people tease him? What would I do? Would they wonder if I’m too lax in my parenting – giving in to every little whim and fancy? Would the pink toes be too stark a contrast to his polo shirts and cargo pants?
Then I took a deep breath. It wasn’t about me at all, but about him. He saw my pretty toes and wanted his like them. And that was all there was to it.
One of W’s favorite songs to hear at bedtime right now is Dar Williams' “When I Was a Boy.” The song is about a woman grappling with femininity when she spent her childhood doing all the things boys typically like. At the end, she has a conversation with a man who felt the same struggle with gender but from the other side.
And I tell the man I'm with about the other life I lived
And I say now you're top gun, I have lost and you have won.
And he says, "Oh no, no, can't you see?
When I was a girl, my mom and I we always talked
And I picked flowers everywhere that I walked.
And I could always cry, now even when I'm alone I seldom do.
And I have lost some kindness.
But I was a girl too.
And you were just like me, and I was just like you.
I couldn’t tell W that he can’t have pink toenails because that wouldn’t just be telling him that boys don’t wear pink or that boys shouldn’t have their toes painted. It would be ME, his biggest supporter and champion, telling him that there are things that he can’t be just because of his reproductive anatomy. I would be the one telling him to lose his kindness and be something else. There will be plenty of other people who will do that for him. But it won’t be me.
It is my job to let my clients make their own choices. And that objectivity starts at home.
New Day Doula
Rainbow and Mary share thoughts on pregnancy, birth, and the parenting journey.