Birthing a human

I actually really loved giving birth. And I don’t mean I really liked the end result, but the process sucked. I mean I actually liked GIVING birth. I liked being in labor; I liked pushing. When my OB asked if I wanted a mirror to watch A come out, first I asked ‘Am I going to see myself poop?’ (she assured me no, though I don’t know why I cared), then I said ‘Sure!’.

In the internet world, you often hear this birth-positive narrative from moms who’ve gone the ‘natural’ route (aka, medication-free). I was about as far from a medication-free birth as you can get: I had Pitocin to encourage contractions after my water broke at 38 weeks, and then had an epidural at 2-3 centimeters dilated. One thing I do have in common with women who chose a medication-free birth, though, is that feeling of empowerment: I felt powerful, and I felt in control. I respected my doctor, and she respected me.

Now, I know a lot of this has to do with luck and privilege, which I will get into in future posts. Here, though, I want to say this: how we talk about birth can be an act of social justice. I know this blog is dedicated to mundane moments of parenting, and pregnancy/childbirth is far from mundane. How we TALK about pregnancy/childbirth, though, creeps into daily lives without even realizing it. Through chatting with friends, watching TV, or browsing the internet, images of pregnancy and birth are actually pretty ubiquitous. Outside of the natural birth world, there is a dominant narrative of anxiety and fear around pregnancy/childbirth. It is a huge and demanding physical experience to have, don’t get me wrong. But it is something that our culture teaches women to fear in small ways every day.

Talking about birth in a positive, empowering way isn’t just for women who choose a medication-free birth; it can be for anyone. I would encourage anyone who is pregnant or wants to be pregnant to consciously start curating positive images of pregnancy and birth and censoring the anxiety- and fear-driven ones. Living in a patriarchal society means that women have to be very concerted in their efforts to shape how they think about pregnancy and birth.

At times, during my pregnancy, I did think I was just trying to trick my brain into being positive. That patriarchal fear-driven narrative of pregnancy/birth is a pernicious, insidious thing. There were times when I felt nervous, anxious, and afraid. That’s normal and not something I’m ashamed of. I used mantras, yoga, and mindfulness to get me through that. Other women may use other strategies. You have to find what works for you.

In future posts, I want to reflect on how my Whiteness and class privileges changed how I gave birth and experienced in pregnancy. But today, I want to focus on this one message to anyone who is pregnant:



*P.S. Whenever someone asks me if I need help carrying something now, I often respond, ‘Nah, I’m strong as hell. I literally pushed a human being out of my body once.’ And you can still feel like this if you had a c-section: you literally GREW A HUMAN and had it CUT OUT OF YOU. That makes you badass as hell!

Are temper tantrums social justice opportunities?

A is almost 13 months, so walk into our house almost any day and it’s likely you’ll see some sort of minor temper tantrum within twenty minutes. It normally only lasts 10-30 seconds, but it can be a theatrical treat: back-arching, nose-crinkling, fake crying. And this can happen in response to almost anything. Today, I didn’t let him chew on the bottom of my gross flip flop. How dare I!

As easy as it is to [half-] jokingly complain about these moments, I consider them opportunities to cultivate a critical social justice skill in my son: empathy. My in-laws lovingly make fun of one phrase that I’ve seemed to say to A every time he starts to fuss:

Are you feeling frustrated?

The response is an attempt to recognize and name the emotion that A is feeling in those moments. To manage a temper tantrum by acknowledging what he is feeling, first and foremost. To legitimate his emotions. I’m sure he really is frustrated that he can’t chew on my shoe, no matter how ridiculous that seems to us.

The way we talk to kids about their emotions—particularly our sons—is a one of those mundane, critical acts of social justice. Too often, boys are subtly (or not so subtly) taught to mute their emotions. Speaking to A about his emotions cultivates his emotional intelligence and ultimately models compassion for him. By saying You seem really sad right now!, I want to encourage him to recognize and honor emotions in himself and (later) in others. Particularly in the cultural context of toxic masculinity, I try to be cognizant of using “emotional vocabulary” with A—and to teach him not to be ashamed of expressing or recognizing his emotions.

I’ve recently started pointing out illustrations in books of characters showing a lot of emotion. It’s a similar idea: that small, mundane act encourages him to recognize emotions in others and build empathy for them.

Empathy is a necessary–though not sufficient–step in becoming a human being who cares about social justice. It teaches us to care about others’ emotional states, even if they don’t match our own. Empathetic people can still be racist, sexist, etc., of course. Blame human social psychology and all that in-group/out-group BS for that. BUT an anti-racist/sexist/oppression person inherently must be empathetic. It is a prerequisite, but not the only one.

*P.S. I don’t think this is a revolutionary approach by any means–lots of parents have being doing this for years. Still, I do think it is still helpful to consciously and explicitly state what might be an unconscious thought or practice.