It's a tepid summer Friday night, late evening, about the time those enjoying the beginning of their weekend might hop in their cars slightly (or immensely) intoxicated and hit the streets of my mildly large suburb (of which my husband is a police officer, making me privy to the actual risks of being on the road at this time of the weekend).
As my two young sons sleep in their car seats, I approach a red traffic light. While I’m waiting for the green gleam so I can hurry us home and into bed, a large pick-up truck drives out of its lane and into oncoming traffic. My heart stops as he bounces from one side of the road to the other attempting to correct this horrible mistake, other vehicles screeching to a halt or swerving to avoid.
Luckily, no other cars were involved in the crash, and the truck only went into a road rail several hundred feet from his first sudden jolt off track. Had all of this happened even the slightest bit differently, I and my children could have been the victims of this driver’s behavior behind the wheel.
Driving home with my whole life in my back seat is something I do daily - many times daily, actually. I load the boys in and start the engine at least once a day, usually more like ten times. I then join hundreds of other vehicles with any and all kinds of drivers on our streets. We all do, don’t we? We all run to stores, take our kids to school or the sitter's, and run around town with 50 million things to check off our to-do list, all with our whole lives sitting behind us--100% at risk, a risk that is out of our control. You have to. You have to check that list off and take them to school. You have to get to the park so they can enjoy the dirt and make friends. You do. You have to pack your whole life up into a car that could make up a part of one of the top causes of death.
So we do what we must. We take classes, practice diligently, and pass tests to obtain a license. We drive defensively and obey rules. We pay attention. For the love of all that is good, WE DON’T TEXT and drive. If we enjoyed one too many pours of wine at that play date with our commiserating mom-friend, we ask for some goldfish and water and let the kids have an extra 20-30 minutes of playtime until we are certain we can drive without influence. We use caution every moment we are behind the wheel with our whole world sitting behind us--because they matter to us, and conversely, we, their whole world, matter to them.
But it’s more than that. They are dependent on us.
You see, we matter, and we love our children to the point of self sacrifice. But we matter. Mothers matter. Any mom who has come down with the flu can attest to how much we matter. Even when mom is ill the kids still need to nurse or eat breakfast, have diapers changed to avoid rashes and spills, tell you stories (or they will go into what I call “child-short-circuiting” where any word or sentence will be repeated at louder and louder levels until you acknowledge that you have heard them and do in fact understand their message). Hugs must be given if “owies” are made. A sick mother is still 100% her child’s world.
If, then, children are so important to us, and we are so important and necessary for our children's survival, why do we treat mothers, especially in their childbearing years, as though they don’t matter? Why do we allow women to be taught that they must not speak up when decisions are made about their bodies? Why do we stifle a life process that can make or break a woman’s ability to physically, emotionally, or mentally connect to, take care of, and raise the precious baby for which she is told she must be grateful?
Please, anyone, can you tell me why we tell a woman that she is capable enough to drive a piece of machinery among hundreds of other pieces of machinery with her whole world sitting behind her, but that her body (I’m sorry, let me emphasize: THE BODY THAT ACTUALLY BELONGS TO HER 100%), her intuition, her preferences, her research and education, her CHOICES to protect herself and her whole world that will be entering earthside after being grown, protected, and nourished MIRACULOUSLY by her body, won’t work, doesn’t work, doesn’t matter??
You see the comparison is shaky at best. Why? Because driving is a much higher risk with many more variables than childbirth, especially for a healthy woman experiencing a healthy pregnancy. It’s almost laughable. Car driving compared to childbirth--HA! Not even close to the same risk. The vagina and uterus have existed for as long as humanity. Conception, pregnancy and birth happen (most of the time) using a woman’s vagina, cervix and uterus.
Proof positive? Humans are still living. Cars can be mis-manufactured, break down from the elements, and be driven by potentially dumb, influenced, or distracted humans. Our bodies house, grow, and birth through a hormonal process unparalleled and unchanging from the beginning of time, and this process cannot be mimicked in any other thing or process on earth.
History has proven quite unmistakably that having babies happens and happens well or there wouldn't be so many people on earth. The good news here is that you, woman, have a body that MATTERS. And you know what else? IT WORKS! Even in extenuating circumstances that require intervention, you and your body still matter and still work. You matter, you work, you are your baby’s whole world as he snuggles in your womb, and you will continue to be his whole world after you bring him through.
So, just as you put down the phone to drive, pay attention to the road, and secure your children safely into seats manufactured for their protection, I encourage you to take even greater care and pay even more attention to your body during your childbearing years. And just as if someone told you “I only had 5 beers, I can drive the kids home” to which you would obviously argue, “No way are you taking my whole world anywhere!”, I urge you to stand up for your body and your knowledge to anyone who insists, offers, or tries to persuade you to pay less attention to it than you inherently know you should. Do not consent if consenting doesn't give you peace. Do not “take it” if they do not give you an opportunity to consent, not just because that is illegal, but because you demand more respect for yourself and for your body. You don’t deserve to have to suffer years of mental, physical, and emotional trauma at the excuse of a medical brush off of your rights, nor does your child need that. Do not put yourself last because you are afraid you don’t matter as much as your child, or possibly because you believe the hype that is our modern obstetric climate: that your body can’t work without cascades of intervention and the guidance of a surgeon even when you have no complications.
Motherhood is a balance of mother and child - both of you must be healthy, considered, and respected…because your child will be your whole world and will need you to be his.
"All forms of birth—physical, intellectual, spiritual, or emotional—bring one to the depths. The power to give birth originates in the creative life spirit birthing all, the seen and the unseen. According to Joseph Campbell, the source of life is beyond gender and the duality of male and female. However, when symbolizing the power that creates, Campbell argues the representation is “properly female.” I agree. From this universal goddess energy emanates the seasons, the mountains, the rivers, and the galaxies. Writ large, human birth embodies the process of manifesting dreams, working diligently through our labors, and bringing vital energies to life. On this level, all humans give birth. All humans participate in life’s creative energy.
On this level, we all need the renewing power of “rhythm, ritual, and rest.” This phrase reminds doulas of three helpful labor techniques outlined by legendary doula trainer, Penny Simkin. Rhythm, ritual, and rest not only aid birthing women, but they support all of us to move skillfully through our life’s labors. The power of rhythm restores vibrancy through dance, music, and motion. The power of ritual opens the way to a direct encounter with the mysterious wonder of life. Rest renews and restores the very cells of our often tired and over-stimulated bodies and minds.
Although I acknowledge the power of birth in its universal sense, as a doula I dive into the particular. Consider the power of a woman's body to give birth. The power of blood, sweat, and titanic challenge mixes with the labor of stretching, opening, and pushing. We all transitioned from a watery union with our mother's bodies to interdependent life on earth. All of us came through the body of a woman and whatever our relationship to this woman is today, this simple fact unites humanity. It also challenges us to create institutions dedicated to support the natural power of birthing and breastfeeding women.
A fierce dedication to the doula path informs my life. I’ve held the hands of women through cesarean deliveries; offered up my home as a safe place for laboring mothers in need of a location closer to the hospital; and even helped catch a baby when he arrived before the doctor did. The purpose behind providing this support is to ensure that the next generation receives the best possible start to life. A secure attachment bond with a healthy and loving mother, or mother figure, is indispensable.
Doulas work to ensure that the mother-child relationship gets off to the best possible start. The wellbeing of our human race is predicated upon such attachment. In A General Theory of Love, renowned professors of psychiatry Thomas Lewis, Fari Amani, and Richard Lannon reflect upon the biochemical roots of attachment and love located in the mammalian limbic brain. All nursing mammals are hormonally and intricately bonded with their young. Breastfeeding is evolution’s wise way of sustaining the caregiving dance through the transfer of nature’s most nutritiously dense food. The authors write that human children need “elaborate, individualized relationships with special, irreplaceable others.” Without this deep investment of personalized care, limbic damage results. One may be cognitively gifted but emotionally bereft due to the loss of these primal and vital bonds.
Whether I’m teaching prenatal yoga to a Muslim mother pregnant with twins or closing my eyes in prayer as African-American Baptists petition the Lord for support during a difficult labor, the purpose of doula work inspires me to reflect upon the root of all ethical systems. Doulas offer a counter balance to a medical system that places an inordinate amount of value on gadgets, medicine, and machines. Helpful and often life-saving equipment need not eclipse the power of compassion.
Doulas are called to care, to encourage, and to leave the world better than we found it. Why not start where the world for each of us began? Why not begin with birth? Let us draw strength from birthing women who embody the goddess in her glory. Let us engage with our passions and birth our dreams. Let us meditate on the miracle of our own births. Let us honor the women who, through their very bodies, bestowed on us the gifts of life and life’s companion gift, the mystery of death."
---Amy Wright Glenn in "Birth, Breath, and Death--- Meditations on Motherhood, Chaplaincy, and Life as a Doula".
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