Birth Activist is having a Mother’s Day blog carnival focused on these questions: “As Mother’s Day approaches I always stop to reflect about how I give birth influences how I mother. Would I have been a different mother had I birthed differently? Just what does giving birth do to our ability to mother?”
I instantly thought of a post I made several months ago and decided to revise and update it for this carnival. In initially re-reading the post, I was interested to note that my life as a mother has already changed since I wrote it!
The post I am revising/excerpting now was a post in response to a quote from a Midwifery Today blog post: “your birth is the most important event in shaping your life as a mother.” I did a lot of thinking about this—IS birth the most important event that shaped my life as a mother? I’m not so sure. I am also interested to note how the texture of the question changes if I ask myself, “what is the most important event that shaped my life as a woman?” instead. The answer to that question—of my then-developing sense of womanhood—I believe is giving birth. But, the answer to the question about motherhood is a different and more complicated.
I definitely believe that birth is “NOT just another day in a woman’s life” and that giving birth does have lasting impact on women’s memories and quality of life, primarily because they stand out in the memory as transformative events and it becomes an issue of the mudane vs. the miraculous (so, of course your every day life with your children is more important than that “one day,” but that the one days blend into one whole, while the birth experience stands out as, “HEY! Pay attention. Something BIG is going on here!”)
I believe you can hold the two experiences simultaneously—you can enjoy (or suffer from) the birth memory while also cherishing the daily life with the little ones. One doesn’t have to trump the other or to be “what really matters.” There’s room for lots of mattering in an every day life
Birth is (or can be) a “peak experience” for women (and families). I want all women to have a chance to experience that. I certainly do not want her to feel diminished, unworthy, inferior or lacking if birth is not a peak experience in her life, but I also want all women to certainly be given a reasonable opportunity to let birth unfold in all its power and be treated respectfully and humanely by those around her—regardless of what is going on or the eventual outcome.
I love birth and cherish my memories of my sons’ births and consider them to be some of the most transformative, empowering, and significant single days in my life—peak experiences, powerful memories—and I also feel that birth matters as a distinct (and relatively rare) occurrence in a woman life. I believe birth has inherent value and worth on its own terms. I also believe that your feelings about the birth and the baby can most definitely be separated—you can feel pleased as punch with your delightful, precious baby and also be disappointed (or super thrilled with) your birthing. One does not take from the other—you can hold the reality of both and a breadth of feelings about them. And additionally, it is not wrong to want both things—a “good birth” and a “healthy baby.” The two go hand in hand and are not mutually exclusive concepts at all.
I also think we can draw on powerful memories for present strength—I remember my “birth warrior” feelings and it helps me with other tasks or with day to day life. I remember the laughing, crying, “my baby, MY BABY!” moments of triumph and bliss and ecstasy immediately postpartum and it buoys me with a fresh charge of love for my boys. I remember the sense of profound inherent worth that I felt after giving birth and bring that sense into my present-day awareness. I remember the feeling of transcendence and power and know that that power is still in me, even while performing mundane daily tasks.
All that said, however, I also do not feel that my children’s births were the most important events shaping my life as a mother.
For me, the profound shaping event was the experience postpartum with my first baby. I have never had an experience that shaped me and impacted me and SHOOK me more profoundly than adjusting to life with my newborn son. That was my journey. That was my struggle. That was my challenge. That is what dissolved me and burned me into ashes and let me rise again as someone the same but also brand new—a mother. I was not “born” when my son was born, I was forged. Made, in those intense weeks that followed his birth.
When originally writing this post, I was pregnant with my third son. That pregnancy ended very unexpectedly in November, rather than May, when my baby was born after almost 15 weeks of pregnancy. Interestingly, my experience of miscarriage has supplanted the birth of my other two sons as essentially the most powerful/significant and transformative event of my life. (My sense that his birth has “replaced” the birth of my other children as most significant makes sense to me, because though it is classed as miscarriage, it is still my most recent birth experience—all of their births stand out as special, important, and meaningful days and I will remember each with clarity for the rest of my life, but his birth is the freshest and most recent and came with the additional transformative journey of grief. And thus, when I think of giving birth or when I think back to birth memories or birth feelings, his birth is the first one that comes to mind.) Though I still “vote” for postpartum as the most significant event in my life as a mother, I now “vote” for my birth-miscarriage experience as the most significant event in my life as a woman.