“She had such a calm, quiet, beautiful birth!”
There seems to be some sort of ideal out there that birth is done right when we are quiet, calm “good” girls. This gives the impression that those of us who are loud during labor had done something wrong, or at least weren’t as good as our quiet peers.
Good girls are polite, don’t speak out of turn, and are quiet and respectful. They don’t ask for much and they definitely do what they are told. Good girls listen to those who are in charge, and they don’t question the directives delivered from their perceived superiors.
In labor, the good girl is quiet and calm. She stays in bed and doesn’t bother her doctors or nurses. She does exactly as she is told and she isn’t a nuisance to her care providers. She “breathes her baby” out and isn’t sweaty or messy. She is compliant and doesn’t have her hair mussed.
Where did this “good girl” in labor idea come from? We have to take a peek back at history. When birth moved out of the home and into the hospital in the early 1900’s, we see the beginnings of this concept. Hospitals, up through the early 1980’s, had maternity wards, not individual labor rooms. There would be 12, 15 or 20 women laboring in one ward with a small handful of nurses to monitor them. When it came time to push, they were brought to the delivery room. After birth they went to a multi-woman recovery room.
Now, since they were laboring all together, with little or no privacy, they were required to stay in bed and not be too demanding of their nurses. A woman who was loud and out of bed would “disturb” the other women in the ward and be more difficult for the nurses and staff to control. So, the laboring mother needed to be a “good girl” and be quiet, still and not complain. Staff needed a solution to this problem and new medications, combined with effective marketing, afforded them their answer.
Women, feminists, at the turn of the century were clamoring for pain medication. Twilight Sleep was the new thing and it brought them into the hospitals for birth. Pain medication was not only seen as desirable by the mothers, but by the staff as well. A painless birth was the way to go to make birth easier on all involved parties. Oh, but this doesn’t count dad. He wasn’t allowed in for labor and birth.
Digging a bit deeper into history, we get this idea of breathing to stay calm and manage pain, otherwise known as psychoprophylaxis. Lamaze’s original name, by the way, was The American Society of Psychoprophylaxis in Obstetrics (ASPO). This is usually referred to as “that Lamaze breathing thing”. (Which, by the way, most educators don’t teach anymore. It’s still listed in our curriculum, but it’s bumped way down the priority list.)
This technique, psychoprophylaxis, was developed in 1930’s in the Ukraine. There was a need for some pain relief techniques because of the post-WWI depression medication was in short supply.
To make a long story short, psychoprophylaxis was specifically designed to control women and to keep them, calm, quiet and in bed. Those noisy, demanding women who had the audacity to move their bodies in a way that seemed feral while the sounds emanating from their throats reminded staff of bedroom pleasures, needed to be restrained and restricted by either the scopolamine / morphine cocktail or by breathing techniques dictated by her husband. A husband’s job was, quite simply, to keep his wife quiet and well behaved during labor if there were no drugs available to her.
Want to know more? I blogged about this in greater detail a while back on Science & Sensibility.
Let’s move forward in time. Feminism shifted in the 1960’s and 1970’s with regards to childbirth. Our hippie foremothers brought forth the idea that birth can be natural and normal. The idea that women could be moving around in labor; that their husbands or partners could be there with them; that labor didn’t need massive medical intervention in all cases and that women did know a bit about their own bodies.
Yet, we are still confronted with the “good girl” idea. There are other childbirth education organizations out there that sell this idea of being quiet and calm during birth as the “right”, “preferred” or “best” way to go through labor. There are mothers out there who sing the praises of their “calm” births and how “beautiful” they were; which, in turn, sets the expectation that future births should be like that as well as making women feel less-than for not having a quiet, calm birth.
True enough, that some women are naturally quite and calm during labor and true that some women will “breathe the baby out”. However, that should not be the ideal. In fact, there shouldn’t be any ideal way to give birth.
Sometimes labor is loud. Sometimes we swear. Sometimes we puke and we poop. Sometimes we cry and we scream. Sometimes we yell at our partners and then feel guilty about it. Sometimes we make animal sounds and are on our hands and knees. Sometimes there is blood and fluid and it gets all over are legs and the bed and the floor. Sometimes our hair is messy and we are sweaty.
If we fight the process just to be seen as being a “good girl” we increase our pain and complicate birth. The idea that calm and quiet is good or ideal is erroneous. Calm and quiet may be birth for some of us – sure as heck wasn’t for me…
Birth is always beautiful. Laboring women are always beautiful. Mess and noise are normal. Birth is primal and it rocks us to our core and we can come out stronger and more confident because of it. If we permit ourselves to be present in our bodies during labor; if we tune in and pay attention; if we release and let go of the hold our societal conventions have regarding “good” behavior, then we have a much better birthing experience.
Remember, birth is beautiful and you don’t have to be a “good girl”.
Being Badass feels so much better!
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