Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Birthing Like a Girl

I was reading Linda’s comment to my post about an Expectant Grandparents class and it reminded me of a research presentation I went to several years ago. “Giving Birth Like a Girl,” summarized what U-M professor Karin Martin learned from interviewing women and having them tell their birth stories.

What she found is that the socialization women undergo – to be caretakers, to deflect attention away from themselves, to be deferential, to seek external validation – can conflict with many of the behaviors normal, even necessary for a good birth.

I’ve dug out my notes from her talk and here are a few interesting points:

· Women described their behavior during transition in negative terms and feel badly about it afterward: “Then I got crabby;” “I was really nasty to the nurses.”

· Women looked to their male partners to define their labor experience, both in the moment and afterward. One woman said she was tolerating labor fine, but her husband was so upset she got an epidural for his sake. Another woman kept seeking her husband’s corroboration as she told the birth story (“Right, dear?” “Didn’t I?”).

· Women continued to play “hostess” during labor, not wanting to inconvenience others. Several women talked about how they wanted to ask family to leave the room but didn’t because “they were so excited and had waited so long for this.” Women commented on feeling badly that they were “so demanding” of the nurses and partners. One woman even said that she really wanted to bellow loudly, but she was worried that might scare women in other rooms who wouldn’t know that she was actually feeling fine.

· Even those women who were comfortable running their own labors and were following their body’s lead admitted to some guilt after the fact for being “such a bitch.”

I raise this with my clients in advance of labor. I tell them that in labor they may find themselves acting in ways they might no ordinarily. I assure them the hospital rooms are very soundproof and that they can’t do anything that a nurse hasn’t already seen before.

Of course, the time to address this is long before doula meetings are happening. I think childhood is a good place to start. Teach girls how to listen to their needs, make space for them, and ask others to do the same. Then more of them will grow up to birth like women, or better yet, like the ferocious, primal she-beasts we all house inside.

2 Comments:

Blogger Dynamic Doula said...

As the mother of boys, I have to mention that teaching boys that girls just becuase a girl is strong and clear on her boundaries and needs, does not make her a man-hater or 'ball-buster'. We have to teach them to desire women who have these qualities, and are not meek. I don't know any women who are truly meek- why do we (in general) act like we are?

Confusing. :)

7:42 PM  
Blogger Linda said...

"to be caretakers, to deflect attention away from themselves, to be deferential, to seek external validation"

Very true for me. It is so terrifically hard for me to assert myself. I feel compelled -- like I don't even have any control over it -- to be nice, to feel like I am responsible for everyone else's well-being even when I am the one who needs support most, to not criticize, to not ask "too much", to not take the chance of hurting someone's feelings, to not rock the boat.

I remember during my first birth feeling so mad at the midwife, yet I kept apologizing and trying to do what she wanted. When the midwife arrived during my second labor I was deep into active labor, yet I immediately felt myself go into "hostess" mode -- like I had to smile, welcome her, and give her my attention. Then feeling uncomfortable about disrobing in front of her, and not feeling able to tell her I wanted privacy. Same thing happened near the end of my third birth, when my mother-in-law unexpectedly showed up, and I could not find the words to ask her to leave. Instead I made polite chit-chat with her, even as I entered transition.

I mean, here I am *aware* I am doing this, and how ridiculous it is, not only that but I know intellectually that it affects the labor adversely, yet I still cannot seem to bring myself to act in a way that will protect it.

Which is one (among many) of the reasons that I finally insisted on giving birth in complete privacy.

4:04 PM  

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