Is there any greater feat than carrying, nurturing your unborn child, and giving birth? Is there anything that comes remotely close to this incredible gift?
I ask this because it would seem that some people do not comprehend the toll this takes on a woman’s body. I write this not to garner sympathy for women, far from it actually. I write this in the hope to educate. Perhaps change someone’s perception. But most of all, I write this to encourage compassion and understanding because ignorance is not an excuse in 2023.
I find it quite bizarre, frustrating, and even misogynistic that women’s bodies, health, and choices are still not taken seriously. Are still minimised. Dismissed. Ignored. That women are even told that things related to our hormones are “all in our head.” That we couldn’t possibly know our own bodies more than some doctor who spends five whole minutes with us. If it wasn’t so dangerous, it would be laughable. I wonder what the world would be like if it were men carrying our children and giving birth. Somehow, I think it would be different.
I hear the comment: but women were put on this earth to carry and birth our children. Really? That’s our sole purpose? We are simply a child-carrying vessel? What about: women were put on this earth to be afforded the same choices as men?
Our body may be built to carry our children, but it is not a mandate that we do so. Some of us don’t have the ability to become pregnant or carry a child, and that makes us no less of a woman. Some of us choose not to, and that’s fine also, because after all, it is our body. And some of us decide to have children and our body nurtures that unborn child. Sometimes we suffer terrible morning sickness. Our body changes. A growing baby in the womb puts all sorts of pressure on our bodies and our organs. We are fatigued, exhausted. Our immune system often doesn’t function optimally because of the nutrients the baby is taking. It is an enormous physical toll on our body. It’s an enormous emotional toll on our body.
If we suffer from other health conditions, this can put us and our baby at a greater risk. Our cognitive function changes because we are growing another human being inside of us. As the baby grows, it puts pressure on our bladder, our ribs, our lower back, our sciatic nerve, to name but a few. If we get sick, we can’t take most medications because of the inherent danger to our unborn baby. So we struggle and suffer through illness and pain. We spend a disproportionate amount of time in the bathroom as our bladder cannot hold as much as it used to. We can’t eat what we used to. We burst out of our clothes. We can’t get comfortable, and our ability to get a good night sleep reduces. Exhaustion sets in.
Then we go into labour. Of course all labours are different, but many are long and painful, as the baby moves through the birth canal to make its way into the world. The pain of the contractions can leave us in shock, our body feeling like its tearing from the inside out. We may shiver and shake or vomit during labour from the intensity. And just when we think we might get a reprieve, the baby’s head crowns and it feels like we have been set on fire. A burning searing pain that without careful intervention could rip from front to back. Causing weeks of healing and pain. This can go quickly or last an hour or more. Yes, we have epidurals, gas, and C-sections, but each have their risks and pain will be felt at some point.
After an exhausting labour where we are most often left physically and mentally depleted, we now have this tiny human dependent on us for their very survival. If we breastfeed that can be difficult and painful. Despite popular belief, breastfeeding does not come naturally for all women and can be challenging and stressful.
We have the changes in our hormones affecting our emotional well-being. And now we only get a few hours sleep at a time. Our body is changing again and needs to go through a lengthy healing process—after birth contractions, cracked nipples, mastitis, hemorrhoids, and on it goes. Imagine not being able to rest when your body has been through such an enormous experience? That regardless of how you are feeling, you keep going, because you don’t have a choice.
Creating, carrying, and birthing a new life is an incredible gift. And those of us who choose to have children understand that gift, but we also acknowledge what it does to our body. Being open and reflective about our experiences can help others. There are far too many women that lack support and that is a tragedy. Women speaking about our journey of childbirth can be invaluable, if done in the right way. It’s not to frighten other women but rather to enlighten them. Authenticity is the key, rather than these fairytale perfection stories that do little but make women feel “less then” because they are unrealistic and virtually impossible. Let’s speak the truth. The beautiful, messy, exciting, scary, painfully exhausting, roller-coaster, challenging and realistic truth.
Perhaps the most disempowering and belittling things spoken are by those who have never carried and given birth to a child. And I wonder what motivates them to speak of something they have absolutely no true understanding of. It comes from a dark place. An unhealed place. A place that needs to invalidate another to feel better about themselves. An insecure place. A scared place. You see, anyone who’s secure in themselves, confident, happy, and fulfilled, has no reason to disempower or belittle another. Male or female. If you cannot show understanding and compassion, best to remain quiet.
We should all be treated respectfully; a woman who is growing another human inside of her and pushing that human out of her body nine months later should be empowered. She should be regaled. She should be looked upon like the Goddess that she is. It’s an epic ordeal and one that forever changes a woman’s body.
This notion that a woman should simply know what to do because she is a woman is ridiculous. That everything should just come so naturally. That once the baby is born she is expected to take on everything. That she should lose all the weight, bounce back to her pre-pregnancy body, and be up for sex within weeks is selfish and disrespectful. I’ve heard this more times than I care to remember and if that’s the mentality of these sort of men, they don’t deserve their child or their partner. I cannot fathom a man who thinks his opinion and his wants are more important than the physical and mental health of his partner and the safety of his child. Why do I mention the safety of the child? Well, because if the mother’s mental health is suffering and the father has little empathy or care and leaves the caretaking toll to the mother, there is a risk to safety.
Before I get abused for only talking about the woman—the mother and not the father—this is about the pregnant woman. I’m a woman and a mother; I’m not a man or a father, so I cannot speak to that. The point of this article is to highlight what a pregnant woman goes through and remind people that compassion is key.
So let’s open the discussion. Let’s start talking about this honestly and frankly. Let’s start educating people who for whatever reason cannot seem to educate themselves. A pregnant woman should be taken care of in every way. A new mother should be supported, empowered, and validated. Parenting is a hard job and as a society most people acknowledge that, so how about we acknowledge the pregnant woman and respect that she is going through all sorts of changes. Of course if you’ve not had a child, it’s hard to understand what it’s like, but it all starts with kindness, care, and compassion.
If our body hasn’t been through pregnancy and birth, let’s not pretend we have the insight and knowledge of something we’ve never experienced. If we have been through pregnancy and birth let’s not compare who had the harder journey or invalidate another woman. Words of comfort and support are all a pregnant woman and new mother needs. To listen and empathise in a nonjudgmental and caring space. Surely that’s not too hard, is it?
If you look through the eyes of love instead of judgement, your whole perspective changes.