By Gabrielle. Uterus print by Mathilde Cinq Mars.
I read an essay, called Monstrous Births, over the weekend and can’t stop thinking about it. The author, Sarah Blackwood, talks about the history of child birth and how it has often been moralized — like Eve being cursed and told that childbirth would be difficult because of her actions. Ms. Blackwood compares that with the modern ways we moralize birth — putting pressure on women to have a natural birth or even talking about birth as an empowering act. The author then describes the births of her own 2 children, which were very difficult, and suggests that maybe we should think of birth as an amoral (not immoral, but amoral) action instead of a moral one.
The essay really resonated with me. Unlike the author, I’ve experienced child birth six different times, and yet all of them fell in the “typical birth experience” range and didn’t require much intervention. For me the resonation came from the description of birth as amoral. I totally related to that idea, though I’ve never thought to use that word.
Child birth didn’t feel empowering to me. It didn’t feel un-empowering either. Instead it felt to me mostly like a biological process — a difficult one, but one that my body was designed to go through. I didn’t necessarily feel pride at what my body did because I didn’t feel like I could even take credit for it. (In fact, if I did take credit for it, then would that mean that women who couldn’t experience the relatively easy kind of births I had should feel the opposite of pride? Shame or guilt?) I remember thinking that in theory even if I had been passed out, my body could have birthed the baby. So why would I be proud of something that could happen when I wasn’t even aware of it?
Now I say all that, but I completely understand that other women experience birth, and think about birth, very differently than I did. I don’t doubt for a minute that there are women who feel very empowered by birth. I don’t doubt this, because I know many of these women and absolutely trust the experiences they’ve had. I simply think this is one of those cases where people are different and experience things in different ways. And of course, we all use different narratives to help our brains understand the world.
In the essay, the author mentions that sometimes we dismiss the hardships of childbirth and say something like, “Well, as long as the baby is healthy.” But she suggests that is actually a really misogynistic thing to say. I’d never thought of it that way, but I see her point. Why would the baby always have more value than the woman giving birth (especially considering some of the women giving birth are practically children themselves)?
What about you? How do you feel about thinking of birth as an amoral action, as more of a biological process than a moral one? Did you feel empowered by birth? Did you feel pressured to have a certain kind of birth (natural, home, water, epidural)? Or certain kind of birth experience (empowering, spiritual, wholesome, calm, dramatic)? For anyone who is expecting at the moment, are you looking forward to the birth experience, or dreading it? If you get a chance to read the essay, I would love to discuss this topic with you.
P.S. — I’m well aware that talking about child birth can bring out the judgey-ness in anyone. So I ask you now to please refrain from telling someone else how they should experience birth. Instead, feel free to share your own experiences and how you think about them.