Saturday, December 3, 2011

Forgetting Our Mother's Stories

Do we know the stories of our mother's births?   Do we honor our mother's pain, the process, the love and the teeth-gritting honesty that labor and delivery inspires?  Our birthdays come and go with the celebratory drinks, the parties, layer cakes and candles and yet, do we pause to consider the gasp and the groan that delivered us to this moment?

I asked my now deceased grandmother once about the birth of my mother.   I was probably 10 or so and did not even have the smallest grasp on the gravity and emotional tiger that birth is but in her story I could already sense the injustice and the pain she still carried remembering the experience.   When my mother was born, it was a time in obstetrics when women did not play an active part in the birth.   My grandmother was, in fact, put under anesthesia and the babe was born with the use of forceps.   Please consider this for a moment.....  A Northern Minnesota woman.   A woman very capable of hard work.   A woman who can simultaneously raise a family and a house without the aid of modern day conveniences being told that she is not capable of delivering a baby.   This method was not questioned at the time.   Full faith was put into doctors and women began to discredit their intuition and power.   The woman (my grandmother and probably your grandmother too) woke up and was handed a washed, swaddled and fed newborn baby.  The process is completely out of her hands.   Her power is completely stripped.

In speaking with my grandmother about this, she had a certain amount of distance about the topic.   I sensed more questions would make her uncomfortable so this is truly all  I know about my own mother's birth.   I do, however, want to make a small aside at this point and let my readers know that when my grandmother began giving birth, obstetrics had just taken a step away from a horrible process known as Twilight Sleep.   You can read all about it here if you want more info.   But for those who just want to know what it is and move on:

In reality it was not a sleep at all, it was a combination of morphine and scopolamine , not only did it aid in taking away the pain of childbirth for the mother, but it also took away a mothers memory of the event as a whole, while also taking away her self control. Because of the loss of control women were often tied to beds for not only their own safety, but for the safety of the hospital staff, but they made sure to use soft materials like lambs wool that would not leave marks on the arms and legs of these women, because then their husbands (who mind you were not allowed into the delivery room) would question what the hospital did to their wife.  But mom’s were not the only ones who suffered from this drug, it also had an impact on the infant, as do many pain relief drugs still used today.
The move away from this form of delivery was such a relief to women that even Life magazine made it a cover story.

My own mother's birth of me was much different but still holds the power of birth out of the reach of most women.   My mother and I have talked about her birth process many times and I am still riveted each time we revisit the topic.   It was the early 80's and my mother was told by her doc to head to the hospital as it appeared labor was beginning,   My mom, knowing the strict and overbearing nature of hospitals, took her sweet time getting there.   She did some shopping, took a shower, ate some lunch and moseyed on in quite calm to an angry pack of nurses furious with her for not rushing to the hospital as directed by her doctor.  My delivery went so fast that they did not have a lot of time for the zillions of interventions that were routine at that time but one thing that sticks out to me from my mom's story is this: the episiotimy.   This is where the skin between the anus and the vagina is cut to allow more room for the babe to enter the world.   In my mother's mind, she had heard so many horror stories of tearing and that the episiotimy would soothe this concern that she would not push until she had the cut done.   My birth weight was just over 5 pounds and my mother is of average height/weight ratio.   The episiotimy was completely unnecessary and took a whole lot more time to heal from had she torn, which from the birth weight seems improbable.   But, you see?  The fear.... the fear that a mother is incapable of bringing a babe into this world; that our bodies will not stretch or accommodate a baby to be born.   My mother actually halted the pushing process (and if you have ever pushed a baby out, you will know what sort of resolve this would take) so that she could have an unnecessary procedure done, a procedure wed out of fear and purchased on the diminishing power of women.   I find the dichotomy between the mom willingly tossing the ridiculous advice of her doctor to race to the hospital at the onset of labor and the mom who halts pushing for the same ridiculous advice so perplexing.   Women are so often at the mercy of the doctors and nurses they trust when we feel so vulnerable and unsure.   My mom is one strong lady and I credit her for the ferocity I carry and that is why it strikes me so....

My own birth stories are all so different from one another and would take pages and pages but in a gist-
Twins- 8 years ago, c-section, 32 weeks, 1 month in the NICU
Singleton-Almost 3 years ago VBAC (Vaginal Birth After C-Section), homebirth
Singleton- 4 months ago- VBAC, hospital

Each of the above experiences is beautiful, unique and sometimes painful to discuss.   But what prompted this blog and all of the above ramblings was this photo:

I found it on the web with the line, "one of the most beautiful birth photos I have ever seen."   Intrigued, I clicked on it and what unraveled was a thread of comments so shocking and unreal, I was left confused and deeply hurt.   The view of what birth is and what birth should be in our culture is a sad state of affairs.   With our c-section rate at 1 in 3 births, it is no wonder a photo like the one above prompts other women to disapprove.   However, what is even more shocking is that the criticism from other women is often aimed at causing the woman in the photo shame, hurt, and even remorse for sharing this photo.
A smattering of some of the ugly comments (I left the terrible grammar alone):
If you wanted the best for your child you should of went to a hospital where they can save you and the baby if somthing happend. Doctors are educated and around for reasons. This picture is sick to look at if she was on her back in a hospital bed might be a different story.
The photo is beautiful but I feel like it is staged after the birth. Her hair looks perfect, her hand is relaxed. Perhaps she had a very quick labor and delivery but still she doesn’t appear to be in much pain.
Strikingly powerful? More like nauseating. Being a mom to be, most births I’ve seen make me a bit emotional. This just makes me want to puke…
How do have a baby on your knees? Wouldn’t you be more comfortable lying down? Why does the man look naked? I think having a baby is a beautiful thing too but the way I was raised it sould be more private. Thumbs down.
I disagree. It is mainly striking to her and her husband and the baby I think. This photo is very disturbing…. I am sorry to say that, I am a mom too. I don’t thinking screaming to the camera so the world can see my baby coming out between my legs is cool at all.
This is the most disgusting thing I have seen in awhile. It does not looke real as many have said .She does not look pregnant at all. Too many bones showing for her to have a baby. As for your comment Jasmine ,hurtful is not what people are saying. Just the truth. You must have looked like that.
Sorry I think this picture is gross. I gave birth twice. We have two wonderful sons my husband and I but I would be in a real frenzy if a picture would have been posted for the world to see. It’s a private moment with agonizing pain where the sun does NOT shine so why would I post this willingly? We ALL know what giving birth is like and yet you don’t see us running around showing everyone what it was like.
I think that is a good representation of comments (negative).   To be fair, most of the comments on the thread are positive and defend this woman's right to birth as she pleases but the level of hate is just so alarming!   We have come so far in our rights as women to give birth and share our birth stories without fear and here it is, almost 2012 and we still have jackasses saying, "shouldn't she be on her back?"  People say this picture is gross and makes them want to puke....   what I see is people forgetting their roots, disrespecting their mothers and the process which brought them to the very keyboard they are spewing their hateful garbage upon.  Let's not forget the glory of our mothers: the sweat, the tears, the stretching and moaning; the pull of the moon from the sky, the earth between her toes, the visceral cry of wonder, pain, and bliss.   Please, let's not forget. 

For those of you interested in reading the birth story of Phoenix, the beautiful baby of the mother discussed in this blog, click here.