one day in a life

Your birth is the most important event in shaping your life as a mother.

Is it? Really?

Your birth is the most important event in shaping your life as a mother.

You call it my birth. But it’s not. It’s my kid’s birth. Sometimes, motherhood is destined, and yet the experience of birth is not. Are those women lesser mothers? Are women who are indifferent to method lesser mothers? Lesser feminists? Or just unenlightened and pitiable, even if they’re content with their experience?

There are birth advocates in my life. It took me too long to figure out I wasn’t supposed to say with such coarseness isn’t it more about having a baby than having a birth? Which is pretty much the same thing as walking into a tabernacle wanting to know, genuinely, why any of us should mind if someone else's bum isn’t just an out-door.

These friends and I have pretty much agreed to talk about other things like high heels and muffintops, because for a while there, I was an unintentional cannonball. But today I saw this declaration and it broke my heart.

Then it made me cranky. Which makes me unfashionable. But I have to stand up and raise my hand, even if it means I risk looking like I stand against them, which I don’t. It's the discourse—the language used and what lies implicit in it.

Your birth is the most important event in shaping your life as a mother. So you’d better make it beautiful and serene and victorious and on your terms. Because if it gets screwed upside-down and sideways, you will be forever marked as having been robbed—and your baby, too, who will never forgive you for not being more like a goddess and less, you know, unconscious.

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Birth is absolutely not the most important event that shapes my life as a mother. It’s just not. Allow me to elaborate.

IMPORTANT EVENTS THAT SHAPED MY LIFE AS A MOTHER

  1. The day I let down and my toes curled and I went YEEEEEEOWCH and Evan started to drink and his eyes rolled into the back of his head, and I transformed into an eminently useful mutant.
  2. The day I found those little sneakers with the flames on the sides.
  3. The day Liam died and I snuck a look behind the curtain of the universe.
  4. The day Ben realized that cupcakes were actually EDIBLE.
  5. The day after Evan was born and I had my first shower, and my crotch was ground beef, and all that blood ran down my legs and I felt clean but strange, and I realized I couldn’t go back to bed and sleep, as much as I needed to, because Evan would be hungry soon. That was the first time I couldn’t rest of my own free will. And lo! I couldn’t wait for him to wake up and need me.

I don’t mean to scorn the birthwork-inclined. They want to keep birth as serene and as natural as possible, and they do it passionately, and uphill. This is important. This counters a history of c-sections prompted by imminent tee-offs. The problem is the flip side.

Birth cannot be controlled. Or promised. Or unfailingly protected, or made reliably miraculous and beautiful. It can be nudged, and sheparded, and prepared-for, and supported, and informed. But sometimes, birth is just a gong show. When that happens, we owe it to ourselves to shrug at the mechanics and hope for better luck next time.

Because I can’t carry any more guilt. I don’t need a rugby team of birth idealists piling themselves upon my buggered psyche, calling me or any other woman a warrior in the spirit of either sorority or consolation prize.

They’ve got the best of intentions, but the wildly overstated significance some people heap onto birth in order to steer more women towards self-actualization is just too heavy a weight. This weight doesn’t make everyone feel empowered and guttural. It makes some people feel anxious and pressured and damaged and unfulfilled.

I was not a warrior in the operating room. I was a warrior in the pumping room. My motherhood was not written off or lost or compromised by the trauma of one day. My motherhood is defined by love and honour and one-winged butterflies. My motherhood is defined by how I live my life in an effort to balance the woman and the writer and the nurturer I want to be. All that and the quality of my whoopie pies.

My motherhood is no more misshapen than anyone else’s, except for how it’s been touched by death. And so that declaration makes me want to say Come with me, right this way, into the NICU. Then look at my kin and how fierce and how brave and how wounded they are. Tell them that the mechanics of birth will be the most important thing that shapes them as mothers. Tell them the catastrophic births of their children—their loss of control—forever marks them and renders their babies (if their babies survive) poorly-bonded basketcases.

Does our experience of birth matter that much? Does it, really, given everything that may or may not follow that makes us into mothers? Is birth the everything? Or just one thing?

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My edits, below.

Birth is one of countless important events and encounters that all mash up together to shape your perception of your life as a mother. Birth is one day in a life that will give you all kinds of chances to become much more than a birther. It can heal and inspire and give cause for delight and awe. It can be medicalized or marginalized. What determines one or the other is not your skill, nor the divinity of your preparation, your stamina, your faith, but random fortune or misfortune. In the case of the latter you’ll have to let it go and trust that your kid won’t remember it. Because she won’t. Or if she does, she’ll only remember it in an unconscious kind of way such that her innermost self, which is more worldly and less delicate than we all know, shrugs and says Yikes! That was a friggin’ startle.

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A friend has an anonymous confessions board and I read it and swear not to read it and read it and swear not to read it. It’s where people say stuff like My husband wants to have kinky sex and I pretend to like dogs but I can't stand them and I used to know a really spooky girl who had a twin sister who died at birth. The girl said she could communicate with her sisters spirit. All us kids were terrified of her and we wouldn't ever sit with her at lunch.

and so I said this: I used to know a really spooky boy who had a twin brother who died at birth. The boy said he could communicate with his brother's spirit. All us kids thought he was a goddamned superhero. He was swamped with admirers at lunch.

I feel the same way about birth as I do about death. I need perspective, and adaptability, and beauty in chaos. So I choose it.