Tuesday, September 7, 2010
My First Birth Story
Dear Birth Peeps,
Today Virginia read me a lovely story from a woman who recalled her own birth story through her father's eyes. It was deeply touching. I thought perhaps you would like to know my First Birth Story.
One afternoon, when I was seven or eight years old, I was watching a western on a black and white television. A pregnant woman was walking slowly around the camp at night, holding her back and looking uncomfortable. She climbed into a covered wagon. It shook a little from side to side; I could hear sounds of breathing, moaning, and suddenly the cry of a newly born baby!
My eyes opened wide as I realized this pioneer woman just had a baby by herself in a covered wagon in the middle of the desert! My hero! This woman was so brave! A feeling of awe and respect for strong women stirred within me. As I instantly embodied this brief scene in a western, I imagined myself giving birth alone and being strong.
Within minutes, my mind began to turn a new question, “How did the pioneer woman give birth without a doctor?” It seemed impossible, brave, even dangerous all of a sudden. I ran to another room where my mother was ironing to ask her how it was possible for a woman to have a baby without a doctor.
My mother, in a matter-of-fact, almost impatient manner, said, “Women have been having babies for a lot longer than doctors have been around. We’ve had babies without doctors for thousands of years. Birth is just something your body knows how to do!”
Wow! My faith was restored. My body knows how to have a baby! I am awestruck with this news. I tell myself, "One day I will be powerful and invincible like the pioneer mother."
Within minutes my mind began to turn this piece over and a few minutes later I went back to ask my mother another question; she was ironing sheets. “Mom, did you give birth without a doctor?” I knew she had given birth in a hospital, but did she have a doctor? Suddenly there was a gap in logic or truth between her first answer and how she may have given birth—and like children do, I found the gap and latched on to it.
My mother answered, flatly, while folding the sheet, “No. I gave birth in the hospital. A doctor delivered all of you. But I was born at home, my mother had me in an apartment. And her mother [my grandmother] had seven babies in a small upstairs apartment in Chicago.”
In an unforgettable moment, I felt oddly betrayed by my mother. In contrast to the pioneer woman and my grandmothers who were (according to my innocent child understanding) self-determined and brave, I suddenly saw my own mother as “weak.” At seven years old, where did that perception come from? I remember walking out of the room, going back to the western on television, a bit crestfallen and confused.
On that day I think two things happened: (1) The seed for being a birth activist was planted, and (2) I made my First Birth Plan: to be "strong and brave" like the pioneer woman when I grew up and gave birth. As children do, I quickly forgot about this little initiation. Yet, it seems this moment in time must have played a part in my decision to become a midwife so I could assist women in home birth, and my decisions to have a home birth (even after a cesarean birth).
It’s a matter of timing and luck to be exposed to a certain message at a certain time. If my First Birth Story had been a traumatic birth story instead of the pioneer mother in the western—my first, core agreement about birth would have been very different. There is no telling how my experiences as a mother or my life-work in birth would have unfolded.
Looking forward to hearing your First Birth Stories, and the agreements and promises you made to yourself.
In-Love and On the Birth Wagon!