Today's Why I Rise post comes from 2014 Vagina Monologues cast member, Nora Vincent. Nora lives in Boston with her husband and daughter. She is an elementary and early childhood educator. This year's performance marks her first time participating in a production of The Vagina monologues.
We are honored to share the diverse voices of women in the Boston community, and we invite you to participate in Boston's One Billion Rising event at 5:30 in Copley Square on Friday February 14, 2014.
The next time a friend shares a birth announcement electronically, take a look at the comments and replies. You will likely see:
- many many congratulations
- many remarks on the baby’s beauty
- one or two, usually written by other mothers, saying that they are glad to hear the new mom is doing well
These are all totally appropriate responses. But there is something missing, I think, that the “hope you’re doing well” folks have hinted at: there is almost no acknowledgement of the fact that if someone has been born, someone gave birth! I recently received an email from a good friend announcing her baby’s birth, addressed only to a small group of female friends, all of whom knew one another. Half of the women on the email thread were mothers, and yet in their very kind, congratulatory replies not one woman acknowledged the mother as having given birth. Now I’m sure there are exceptions to this, but my sense is that the norm is often to be “polite” about such matters. Politeness, in this instance, somehow ends up meaning not mentioning the messy part of the baby’s arrival. There are only two ways for a baby to be born (spoiler alert: there is no stork). While neither one is neat and clean, both are incredible, and incredibly physically taxing for the mother. I rise to stop being polite, and to honor mothers for giving birth.
I think I was reasonably prepared to give birth. My husband and I read books, attended a childbirth course, and secured the services of a doula; we had done our homework. During labor and birth I felt that was true. While nothing could have prepared me for how any of this would feel, I had a vague understanding of how it would go. But when we left the delivery room my knowledge ran out. I had some basic information about how to take care of my new baby, and a few books waiting for me at home on the subject, but I had no idea how to take care of myself. More than that, I had had no idea that I would need to take care of myself.
I had no idea, hours after giving birth, after shuffling into the bathroom with my IV pole and convincing myself to relax enough to pee that I would immediately stop because it would sting worse than I could bear. I had no idea that the battle between my mind and body that ensued would all be watched by a visibly annoyed nurse, who didn’t think or know or care to suggest that I use the little squirty water bottle she’d given me while I peed instead of just before and after, to alleviate the stinging. Also, I had no idea that there was any such squirty bottle until it was handed to me. I had no idea that I would be terrified to sneeze for two weeks, because of the shooting pain in my pelvic floor when my muscles tensed involuntarily, or that it would be close to a month before I’d be able to walk my baby in the stroller to the park, five blocks from our apartment.
I just didn’t know that I would have to recover. In hindsight, I am not sure why it hadn’t occurred to me. I suppose it is fairly logical to assume that pushing a person out of one’s vagina might be more than one could recover from in a night, but I hadn’t thought about it, and no one had brought it up. I rise to broach the subject of recovery from giving birth.
Now, I do have friends who have taken their babies on stroller walks very shortly after giving birth, and it is wonderfully encouraging to know that this is sometimes the case. But I also know mothers who have had tearing so bad that they were unable to sit or stand without assistance for weeks after giving birth, and some who have had to have vaginal reconstructive surgery months later. All of this while these women are caring for newborns, along with any older children they may have. I rise for all the women walking their new babies to the park for the first time, however long it took them to get there.
When my daughter was a few weeks old it occurred to me that maybe there had been sections on recovery in all of my pregnancy books and I’d just skipped past them, interested in only the glossy color illustrations of “Your Baby at __ Weeks.” A quick review proved that that was not the case. It seemed that this information just wasn’t there. I did find a small section on recovery in Penny Simkin’s pregnancy book, and have since discovered Vicky Iovine’s The Girlfriends’ Guide to Surviving the First Year of Motherhood, which I often recommend to friends. I think Iovine’s mission of sharing real women’s truths about pregnancy, birth, and early motherhood is admirable, and if I’d read her book earlier I would’ve been at least vaguely prepared for my first post-partum trip to the bathroom.
I don’t blame the mothers in my life who didn’t warn me about recovery, or about how hard the first weeks can be. They were busy with the business of motherhood, an enormous and constantly changing job. It is very easy to forget what your job used to entail a few months or years or decades ago if all that is now obsolete. I rise for all of the women who are mothers.