Childbirth is an infinitely dynamic physical and emotional transformation for a woman. Afterwards, a woman’s body will never be quite the same as it was before she carried a child. Luckily, in my case, I was able to put my body back together in even BETTER places than it was before I was pregnant. My births were the impetus for personal evolution in this way. In the United States, women are often not fully prepared or well informed for the enormity of this transformation and may therefore suffer greatly as a result.
Today, I admit, I was triggered on social media. A popular white male fitness instructor posted a meme that said, “Childbirth is an injury to the body. Treat it like one.”
I wrote back.
“It’s a great-looking meme to share but childbirth is not an injury to the body. The female physiology is designed to carry offspring and birth them out. In fact, in many cultures around the world, where womyn are given natural pre-natal and post-partum care, the female body goes back to its non-birthing state without problems. Childbirth becomes a “problem” when the female body is not allowed to mature in an “empowered” way (ie, used as it was designed to be used from day one) AND when a male-dominated power structure has evolved it into an injurious process viewed through a lens of pathology. Pre-natal movement dysfunctions (even remembered over generations) may make childbirth more challenging and these pre-existing conditions may not be known before the birth.
C-section is an injury to the body, yes. Episiotomy is an injury to the body. Other interventions cause injury. Let’s make the distinction and talk about ALL the ways womyn’s bodies are meant to do things (WITH the assistance and knowledge of many other womyn of many ages!) – and what happens when that system breaks down (as it has over centuries).”
As you might guess, and I as I hit “post” I also guessed, that the author and some of his women followers would be incensed.
One said she was “insulted” that I did not consider her c-section a “birth”. Another said that she is still suffering after her natural childbirths and that what I said was insulting to her story. (She didn’t elaborate on why or how.) Someone else wrote a laundry list of all the ways the body was damaged in childbirth, since, of course, I might not know.
To these women, I say, do not mistake me. I honor your birth experience with reverence. Whatever your path was in your birth experience, you have done what no one else could do. You brought your child into the world. You possess power beyond any male counterpart. I am a mother too. I know what it is like. I believe you are amazing. We should not give up that power for anything and we do not have to have an injury to be powerful. It is our culture that rewards suffering and ignores greatness. It is our culture and its separation from the Divine Feminine that sets women up for “injury” before they are even born themselves.
You cannot slap a label on childbirth. It is way more sacred than that. Can you be injured in childbirth? Yes. Does that mean childbirth is an injury? No.
An injury happens when an outside infliction causes bodily or mental/emotional harm.
To call childbirth an injury could be an insult to the innate and awe-some power that is present in the female body for birthing another human being – if I were willing to be insulted. But it conveniently perpetuates the patriarchal belief that women are the weaker sex and thus childbirth would be injurious. Menstruation is not an injury; though women bleed, they are not wounded. Check youtube for one of thousands of videos of female animals giving birth in the wild. To ask you if you think one of these mothers is “injured” would be asking only for your opinion (which is based on your experiences and beliefs – the lens through which you view the world). These wild mammalian mothers get up and walk around almost immediately after birth; their babies are born while they stand; their babies are born while they swim in a protective circle of other females. Do they need to recover? Of course. But if they were injured, they would be easy prey for predators and that would threaten their offspring. Nature did not design childbirth as an injury. Our separation from Nature makes childbirth injurious.
Viewed through the lens of the modern patriarchy, childbirth could be viewed as an injury. But I argue that the distinction is that there are many different kinds of wounds that can arise from childbirth, yes. And women who want to be honored for their power, in a male-dominated world that really doesn’t honor the innate qualities of the female body and spirit (hello, burning “witches” at the stake) but instead rewards people for their suffering, can be comforted by the idea that they martyred themselves in childbirth. I understand that some people may feel offended by this idea because childbirth is a deeply personal, emotional, and vulnerable experience. It IS the very heart of our divine essence.
(Note – ALL women possess this essence, it is not exclusive to mothers.)
If we say that childbirth can injure women, we open the door for training well before the birth, as a process for maintaining a lifetime of whole-body-whole-life wellness, as opposed to training for an event that transpires over a few days. No one can run a marathon without proper training. Women are now not given proper training. Instead they feel the only way out is to be a victim of the event that was to be their most powerful moment on Earth. And, you know what? If I didn’t know I was going to need all that training to get through a marathon, if I had assumed that I could make it to the finish line and be a hero without bodily transformation, and I was WRONG about that and I suffered, then I can see why the mantle of victimhood might be appealing.
As I read through the comments, I got a real sense that these women were feeling HURT that they did not know that childbirth could effect their pelvic floor function. “So many of these women come to see me with unexplained but very real pain. Nobody in the medical profession is interested in how to help these women and as a result they feel invisible and overlooked,” wrote one. When people get HURT, usually someone responds to their pain. Needs have to be satisfied when there is hurt, because we’re not worthy enough to get what we need without a darn good reason. (Pull yourself up by your bootstraps! Stop your crying!) This is all emotional injury stemming from a cultural failure. A culture that distances women from each other so we do not know things about how our bodies work. A culture that made it “dangerous” or fringe to have babies born at home.
Women DO need to continue to say, “I WAS INJURED BY MY CHILDBIRTH BECAUSE I DID NOT KNOW EVERYTHING ABOUT IT. I MAY NOT HAVE BEEN INJURED IF I HAD HAD ALL THE TRAINING AND SUPPORT I NEEDED.” And, there were women who were saying this in response. Mamas, keep going, take it further, don’t be quiet.
One commenter adamantly stated that my comment was offensive, and that every birth is traumatic, even if we don’t admit it to ourselves. Quite a whopping pile of projection. I was not traumatized by my two childbirths. I was unalterably transformed. They were the hardest thing I have ever done in my life. They cracked me wide open in several senses of the word, and after them I was in need of “putting back together,” (another process that has taken me a decade because I had three decades of dysfunction before my children were born).
By the same reasoning, I will assume that this woman felt empowered by the idea that her childbirths were indeed injuries, and I have no place trying to make her feel otherwise! Doing so would dishonor her feeling and understanding about what took place in her body. She gets to own that feeling, not me.
In birthing our children we also birth a new version of ourselves. This new person takes some time to get used to, and many women just don’t expect this.
To call childbirth an injury is to ignore the fact that there are things women should know about their bodies before pregnancy that could help them avoid injuries. It is a perfect recipe for injury-free childbirth? Nope. Do some mothers birth their children without injury? Yes. Does every woman regardless of their experience need assistance, support, and knowledge about how childbirth will change them? Yes. But all these things were also true BEFORE the birth and we have failed women in general by not providing them with this wisdom for wellness.
Buried in the angry comments, was this quiet response from another view:
“Childbirth is not an injury to a woman’s body. It is an event that changes a woman’s physical and emotional being in a multitude of ways, both positive and negative. I find it interesting that you posted a meme a few hours before this one that stated: “Mental strength is like physical strength. They get stronger with training.” Childbirth is like this. It’s a stressor on a woman’s body. One she is designed to handle. Childbirth and the subsequent raising of offspring gives her an experience of her own potential, of her own strength, not only physically, but emotionally and intellectually as well. It does not serve any woman to believe that childbirth is an injury to her strong and capable body, regardless of whether there was trauma, conscious or not, that occurred during the birthing process. To use your own words, “Strength isn’t built. It’s granted by the nervous system. That’s in your head” Yes. And that is exactly why I disagree with your categorization of childbirth as an injury. I prefer to think of childbirth as an experience. One that has the potential to help a woman realize the full strength and power inherent in her female being.”
I believe in supporting women through the realization of their power, not their weakness. I believe in bringing back our understanding of what it means to be a woman.