Words by Stepha Lawson, photographed by Hyojin Um
You would think, with birth being as exquisitely and widely diverse as it is, that there would be more than one way a human could arrive earthside. Yet it always has, and still continues to be, only through the body of woman! In light of our intricate differences there is the urge to unite, to equally address all Mamas and their unique stories. There is the urge to strengthen our celebration of all births, and to bring clarification to our shared needs and goals.
We do this in the spirit of education, normalization and to validate all womyn. We speak to the need to support each other, lift one another up, and remind ourselves that this isn’t a competition. There is the call to birth your way, to just do you, to be accepting rather than judgmental, to make the best choices for you, and not care what another woman does. Yet these seemingly empowering rally cries are trying to find roots in damn complex ground. For despite the good intentions, mamas are still feeling hurt.
The very nature of diversity is to contrast, and inevitably with contrast there arouses conflict. Even though we recognize diversity as a groovy and necessary need within any healthy ecosystem, increasing strength and resilience, success and stability, it is also terrifying and aggressive. Studies in recent years have researchers finding both risks and opportunities associated with our growing blended community. Data shows that the greater the diversity within a community, the fewer people volunteer, give to charity and work on community projects. Diversity is linked to lower levels of trust among citizens and societal institutions, rougher interactions, and less cohesion.
We are indeed treating our diverse ways of birth with an intense and passionate heat of distrust—across all realms—from hospital to home, across racial, socio-economic, educational, and spiritual divides. Our judgments are strong. Our skepticism is on hyper-overdrive. We have the tendency to hold little confidence in each other, the choices our peers make, and in how birth is structured and managed. We easily invalidate another Mama’s experience and story with our own personal and unreasonable interpretation of what is best. We have suddenly all become hypercritical experts.
For it is not easy to admit that prowling inside each womyn there stirs an undercurrent of feeling threatened. We easily feel intimidated when a woman has done her research and chooses to give birth in a hospital because the data proves it to be a safer option. We easily feel vulnerable and defensive when a woman has efficiently given birth at home, or feel distrustful if she transfers. Or if she experiences a birth with such medical tools as epidural, pitocin or forceps, by choice or by circumstance. Every time we hear a cesarean birth story, emergency or otherwise, we easily assume the OB was abusive and bullied the woman and she would have been better off at home (even if the Mama says otherwise). Or we guilt-trip her, that she didn’t ‘know better’ and readily assume she must have not done her research.
Our grief-stricken saga as womyn in birth has seen our personal power alternately claimed and also taken away. From this pain, in direct opposition to the medicalization of birth, there has been the desperate heave to persuade that natural birth is at the very heart of what all womyn should want and strive for. The last forty or so years has seen an encouraged mistrust of the competence of OB’s, dethroning the status of The Doctor while glorifying that of the midwife. This also has us over-romanticizing and therefore misappropriating various cross-cultural birth practices as tribal habits become more stereotyped and popular. There is now a right way to give birth and a wrong way. A better way and a worse way.
Our uncertainties, in a roundabout way, are necessary to expose abusive practices and policies within both systems of hospital and midwifery, but the unproductive methods we have been using to approach conflict is costing us dearly. This narration of distrust and superiority/power-over birth dynamics is tearing at our social cohesion and harmony, fueling opposition and rivalry, influencing shame, feelings of failure, jealousy and trauma.
When I gave birth to my son three years ago my initiation into Mamahood was met with a strong tone of failure because we had transferred from a homebirth to hospital birth due to his posterior position. It was the unfriendly bitch-slap of getting kicked out of the homebirth club. I had given birth in a diverse way outside of what had been projected to me as superior/the standard for a low-risk woman in her 20’s and therefore I had done it wrong. I had failed. And the only way I could heal, and do right, was to try for another homebirth. Excuse me, but what the fuck?
Obviously our internal and shared social, political and spiritual ecosystems have not been nurtured as favorable climates for diversity. The ground we hold inside ourselves and share together is strife with pain. Strategies we have been taught to use to adapt to life situations have us in a constant state of hyper-arousal which creates much anxiety and doubt. The armor we have built against our bodies is fused with old, unresolved stories that speak to our exhausted and fragmented nervous systems. We easily reject that each body has a shield that is different, and that each woman has her own unique and precious way of protecting herself.
Although we have data that proves the risks and perils of diversity, we also have a plethora of encouraging statistics that confirm diversity is a crucial element to our local and global communities. Where diversity prospers is in nature. By looking to nature we are given a proactive framework with what we need to cultivate a mutually valuable and supportive relationship within ourselves and as a birthing community. However in nature (and permaculture design), where biodiversity thrives, it is not the smoothest or friendliest of collaborations. When a particular habitat is seeking that sweet balance between all species, competition is fierce and harmony can only happen depending on how every species learns to individually survive and adapt within the whole, and how the whole can hold and sustain all the species.
How do we co-create an environment that encourages and supports diversity? How can we challenge ourselves and alter our physiology just enough to become new agents of change? What is at the heart of proactively working with our contradicting and combative nature? How can our birthing & Mamahood culture truly nurture authentic, compassionate, accepting, equal and inclusive relationships amongst one another? Where does trust fit into all this? What are our agreed common goals here? The following is a short list of ideas to ponder to begin to address and initiate real conversations with how we can mutually influence one another with interpersonal contact, a key factor in a sustainable coexistence and diversity.
Communication: Honor the wisdom each person brings. Focus on exploring how one thinks about an issue rather than what one believes. Share your knowledge & experience rather than trying to prove or convince others.
Conflict Resolution: Conflict = Opportunity! I would personally recommend every modern Mama/birth worker take a class on conflict resolution, and non-violent communication (NVC), to build a working blueprint on how to effictively communicate, and towards understanding and acknowledging your needs and the needs of others. A quick search will yield many resources to access online and within your town.
Be Aware of Othering: A method we use to increase our identity and the status of the group we belong to is to discriminate and judge those not in the club, a process called othering. Othering is the 'if you are not with us, you are against us' mentality. It’s honest to admit we have othered hospital birth/c-section Mamas. This is dangerous and harmful thinking.
We Are That Different & It Is That Scary: Yup.
Emotional Awareness/Working with our Range of Feelings: When anger, gossip and apathy arise amongst a group it is important to address these experiences as they are embodied within each woman and the group as a whole. Admitting our more uglier, messier, and judgmental aspects of life allows us the breath to work on seeing one another and reaching common goals.
Diversify Your Social Media & In-Person Social Life: Do you generally only follow and like homebirth/natural birth groups facilitated by white women? Is your friend group comprised of women who strive for natural birth, or think natural birth is best? Time to diversify! Mutual influence from interpersonal contact is a key factor in a sustainable coexistence.
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