There is a secret in our culture,
And it’s not that childbirth is painful,
It’s that women are strong.
Laura Stavoe Harm
I came across this quote in a Lamaze book when I was pregnant with S. And I loved it. I was so anxious about the pain of childbirth the first time around that I hungered for any bit of wisdom I could find that would calm my fears. This little nugget gave me a lot of strength.
Second time around, the bar is low. The expectations are low. The birth plan is nonexistent. I have hopes, certainly – hopes that this time won’t involve the dreaded Pitocin or the skyrocketing blood pressure or the baby stuck full of IVs in the special care nursery.
But my one true hope is simply a safe delivery and a healthy baby at the end of the day. The rest is just details.
I’m still collecting nuggets of childbirth wisdom, though. So I delighted when I came across this unexpectedly in a collection of writings called Work and the Life of the Spirit.
From Louise Erdrich’s The Blue Jay’s Dance: A Birth Year:
Most of the instruction given to pregnant women is as chirpy and condescending as the usual run of maternity clothes – the wide tops with droopy bows slung beneath the neck, the T-shirts with arrows pointing to what can’t be missed, the childish sailor collars, puffed sleeves and pastels. It is cute advice: what to pack in the hospital bag (don’t forget a toothbrush, deodorant, comb, or hair dryer). Or it’s worse: pseudo-spiritual, misleading, silly, and even cruel.
In giving birth to my daughters, I have found it impossible to eliminate the pain through breathing by focusing on a soothing photograph. It is true pain one is attempting to endure in drugless labor, not discomfort, and the way to deal with pain is not to call it something else but to increase in strength, to prepare the will.
Women are strong, strong, terribly strong. We don’t know how strong we are until we’re pushing out our babies. We are too often treated like babies having babies when we should be in training, like acolytes, novices to high priestess-hood, like serious applicants for the space program.
If that doesn’t just make you want to pump your fist in the air, I don’t know what does.