Women aren’t warriors

I spent the last year being pregnant and giving birth to my beautiful two-month old. All these months I did my teaching, consumed a whole shelf of pregnancy books, and, I’m ashamed to say, did no writing. That last part has been gnawing at me–I have always wanted to be a prolific writer and so far, for the majority of my life, I haven’t been.

I guess that’s only part of it though. The other thing that holds me back from writing is that I, truly, am not sure what I can say that’s worth sharing on any platform. My facebook and twitter feeds have been empty for months.

But here’s something that I want more people in the relevant conversations to hear: Women aren’t warriors, so stop saying they are every time one of them gives birth.

This is not to downplay the giant effort it takes to give birth. I get it. I did it.

But when we call women heroes for giving birth, we exaggerate the amount of pain and effort women are capable of withstanding. The phrase “women are warriors” normalizes the trauma of labor (what’s more normal than war?) and overemphasizes the role played by the mother in the process. It also grossly underestimates all the medical interventions available throughout pregnancy and postpartum that keep women alive and well these days.

So when women struggle, shortly after birth, with the various aspects of child birthing and child rearing, they are more likely to suffer in silence and feel like failures. It makes it easy for us all to forget that the continuation of our species is a communal effort, not an individual one.

Postpartum depression happens to 1 in 8 women. I’m surprised it’s not more frequent, given the isolation, sleep deprivation, hormone dump, anxiety, guilt, and other things I’m forgetting to list. There are lots of books out there about that, I don’t need to get into it. What I can do is share a slice of my own experience to make my point more clear.

Like most pregnant women I know, I had a birth plan. The one I had typed out had instructions for doctors and nurses about how to address pain meds and when and who to cut the cord. In hindsight, I see that I had an unwritten one in my mind too, which clearly stated that I would go into labor naturally, on or before my due date, that I would be in complete control of everything that happens once I do. I had a doula, after all. Too bad for me, nature doesn’t read birth plans, written or otherwise. (Btw, I don’t think doctors and nurses read them either, but that’s a whole other issue.)

I had to be induced, which brought on fast contractions, and I progressed far quicker than anyone expected for a first time delivery, so the final two hours of active labor (with 20 mins of pushing I think? Felt like eternity) was just a total shit-show. No epidural, like absolutely nothing for pain, had to push asap because everyone was freaking out about baby’s heart rate. There was so much pain and discomfort that nobody could fix, so much that I couldn’t control or change–when the baby came out, my first was question was: “Is she alive?” I have never felt so helpless. My husband felt the same way.

I don’t want to say that I had a particularly traumatic birth or even an objectively bad experience. I was lucky to have had a lot of emotional support as well. But it was just….not what I planned. And that really sucked.

Am I depressed because of how my birth went? I don’t believe so. But it’s taken me weeks of processing and hashing out details of the birth over and over again with my support system–I still don’t feel quite over it. And this is with having really good medical care, a birth with thankfully no complications, and outstanding emotional and family support since. I can only imagine how it would have felt otherwise.

Yes, the outcome is a miracle and, in the end, all worth it. But women aren’t warriors. They are regular people who want to return in one piece. For that, we need good healthcare, childcare, maternity leave, supportive partners, the list goes on. Let’s work harder on achieving these things rather than glorifying the fleeting act of labor.

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