Respect (Just a Little Bit)
I’m about to make a plea for incorporating more respect, reverence, and humanity into childbirth. I’m even about to use words like ‘sacred’ and ‘miracle’ and refer to things like “places of worship” and “hallowed ground.”
Before I do, I want to make the following disclaimers before anyone gets particularly bent out of shape:
Disclaimer #1: I understand that some births can become scary, even emergency events. I also understand that labor is sometimes a devastating intersection where the beginning of life also meets the beginning of death. And I understand that birth attendants cannot always put on their “sacred and spiritual hats” when immediately addressing such matters. But I also think that if there is ever a time for respect and reverence and humanity–even if only after any emergencies have been attended to–it is during times such as these.
Disclaimer #2: I understand that not everyone is moved by The Religious or The Spiritual or The Divine. But I also think that one can at least have a sense of The Sacred when it comes to the birth of a human being, especially if one considers other life experiences (such as religious worship, memorials, holy texts, etc.) to be sacred.
Now, onto that plea. Or rather, onto my statement of beliefs about the respect that each woman should meet when she gives birth:
I believe every woman deserves to be met with the utmost respect, reverence, and humanity from each person she encounters when she gives birth. Her midwife. Her doctor. Her nurse. Her doula. Her partner. Her friends. Her family. Everyone.
And I believe in my heart of hearts that even if luck does not shine favorably upon a woman during her labor–if her birth experience takes a detour that is unexpected, or frightening, or even traumatic–she will emerge from that birth feeling more whole, less broken, and more empowered if the people who surround her treat her with respect. If each person who enters the labor and delivery room, or the birth center, or her home does so as if they were entering a sacred space.
And I believe that it doesn’t typically take a whole lot of effort to do so.
It shouldn’t take a lot of effort to listen to a woman’s wishes for her birth, and to respect those wishes when possible.
It shouldn’t take much exertion to communicate without coercion or condescension.
It shouldn’t take an unreasonable amount of strain to treat a laboring woman like a person and not like a mindless baby machine.
And it shouldn’t take a whole lot more effort to treat birthing women with the respect, reverence, and humanity that they deserve: to be in awe of what they are doing. To realize that they are amazing. And inspiring. And even miraculous.
This type of reverence and respect and humanity is exactly what Heather Armstrong from dooce.com describes in her account of attending her former assistant Katey’s labor:
The rest of this story goes like many other birthing stories, because when it was time to push she pushed like a champion, and I happened to be one of the lucky ones in the room to have a view of the baby as she came out, first her head and then her right arm came flying out, like, “Ta da! Here I am!” And then everyone in the room started crying. They named her Lily Blanche.
But what I guess makes this story quite different than any other birth I’ve personally attended or seen is the reverence with which every single person in that room treated the experience. It was like church in there, and for the hour and a half that I witnessed it, I just couldn’t believe it. It almost didn’t seem real. And as much as it was Katey’s experience and everything that she had hoped it would be, it’s what she gave to the rest of us that I won’t ever forget. Because we all had to come together, all four hundred and eighty of us, for her. We all gained something incredible from forming that community around her.
It’s a reverence that one not only gives to a woman giving birth but also receives tenfold just by being present at such a sacred event, and being open to that sacredness.
And at the risk of sounding shrill or snarky or both, I feel compelled to say this:
If you can’t bring even an ounce of reverence to a room where a woman is giving birth–if you cannot treat that space with the same level of respect that you have when you enter a place of worship or other hallowed ground–then you need to either keep your mouth shut or realize that you have no business being there.
For if a human being’s entrance into the world is not sacred, what is?
If it does not inspire us to take a step back a be in awe of the moment, and to recognize that any woman giving birth, no matter how she is doing it, deserves as much respect, reverence, and humanity as we can give her, what will?