As a doula, my kids are exposed to a lot of Birth talk. They ask questions about what I do, but I don't always know how much they have retained. Then one day over a year ago we were driving around and I heard the following exchange between my then 9 year old son and 6 year old daughter:
Daughter: A baby can come out of the woman's vagina or they can cut it out of the mom's belly.
Son: You mean a C-Section. Or, what's that other word, Mom?
Me: A Cesarean.
Son: Yeah, a Cesarean. But usually vaginal is better for the mom and the baby because the Cesarean is major surgery.
Daughter: Yeah, I'm going to have my babies born through my vagina.
The conversation didn't go much further than that. What struck me at the time was how comfortable they were with talking about birth, vaginal or otherwise. Perhaps because of what I do, in our family we make a point to use proper names for body parts; the vagina is different from the cervix and the vulva. The baby grows in a "belly," but they know that it's actually in the uterus.
The comfort my husband and I share regarding the facts and process of birth, has led us to share information about sex and development in an age-appropriate way with that same level of comfort. Recently I accompanied my son to a school-facilitated boys' puberty class. There were the expected dramatics-- giggles, groans, and feigned screams of horror at the mention of a girl's period-- but the factual manner in which my son absorbed the material made space for more than the facts. Because this information was not new to him, extended conversations about feelings and expectations of his own development were possible.
My daughter has added "doula or midwife" to her list of what she wants to be when she grows up (along with professional soccer player, teacher, and puppy rescuer). She asks a lot of birth-related questions, usually during bath time or right before bed. She asks, and I answer factually. If she asks further, we go further. Aside from facts, our conversations have gone deeper than I would have ever imagined at this age. One day she asked, "What if the woman wants to have sex but the man doesn't?" Internally giggling, I answered, "Both people need to want to have sex or else sex doesn't happen." Just like that, we began a rudimentary conversation about consent.
Birth creates an opportunity to have these conversations, with our own kids, and with ourselves. Many of us did not grow up in households where sex or birth were discussed as normal events, or they weren't discussed at all. If birth was discussed, it was in negative terms, focused on pain, or bad moods, or absent and neglectful partners, or complications. Instead of pain and shame, we need to hear stories of perseverance and pride.
It's normal and common to poop during pushing? Maybe we can let go of anxiety around that. The muscles of the vagina and pelvic floor stretch for birth? Maybe we can stop worrying about our vagina "never being the same." You had a 3/12/24/48 hour labor that ended in unmedicated vaginal/emergency Cesarean birth? Maybe we can praise ourselves for facing our fears and challenges to the best of our abilities, and let go of the rest.
Our views of our own bodies can affect the way we give birth. We might consider birthing in a different way than our parents or friends. We may take more care in choosing a care provider that respects our preferences for birth, who values and practices informed consent with their patients. Our relationships may be strengthened through pregnancy and birth, as we marvel in the bodies of our partners and their role in creating new life.
The kids we raise will benefit from our positive feelings about our bodies and our births. The child exposed to breastfeeding as a normal, non-shameful way to feed a baby may have an easier time in her own breastfeeding journey, or may be more supportive to a future breast-feeding partner.
When we know what our bodies can do, we take ownership of our births.
Birth is normalized. Shame loses its power.
When we are body positive, we can positively birth.
I've worked in the forest, in the lab, and in an office cubicle. My favorite and most passionate work has been alongside clients as they reach inside to find their innermost strength, and give birth to their babies. Each birth is an honor to witness.