03 Dec Vulnerability and Birth
Since my decision to start a podcast, I have been devouring as many different podcasts I can find to learn about the different styles, themes and content. Interestingly enough, it seems, no matter where I look, I come across Brene Brown and her discussion of vulnerability. The first one I listened to was Magic Lessons with Elizabeth Gilbert and my first impression was how funny she was and what a good storyteller she is. The second one was on Smart People podcast, then TED Talks and finally The Tim Ferris Show. For those who are unfamiliar with Brene Brown, she is a researcher, trained clinical social worker, author, and professor whose work centers around the research of shame, vulnerability and courage. In all of the talks I have been listening to she continues to strike on some very profound and provoking themes that I am lapping up and chewing on. As mentioned, her main discussion is vulnerability; what it means, how we as a culture perceive it and what happens when we do not allow vulnerability and creativity to manifest in our lives. Because I am a birth worker, I interpret most things through the lens of birth and motherhood.
My personal interpretation of the word vulnerable is to take down the armor and be emotionally exposed and open. Ms. Brown explains it as “The willingness to show up and be seen when you have zero control of the outcome.” She uses examples of being the first to say “I love you”, or sitting with a partner through chemotherapy or initiating sex with your partner. My mind went right to, what is more vulnerable than birth and motherhood? We live in a culture where we want to make the uncertain, certain and control all outcomes. Yet, birth is one of the few experiences where the less we try to control, often times, the better the outcome.
Birth is primal, the sounds, the movements, the experience. It is a place of true courage as the mother has no place to hide. This act of vulnerability can be extremely daunting for many, especially if there has been a history of abuse, body image issues or just being shy. A birthing mother is emotionally and physically exposed, raw and facing uncertainty, thus it is important to create a space for the mother to feel safe, seen and secure, so she can embrace her task of opening up to birth her baby. Any hint of shame needs to be removed.
For the most part, birth in our culture has been compartmentalized and devoid of much emotion and empathy. It often feels like boxes are just being checked off– Hook her up to the monitors- check. Do a vaginal exam- check, get her admitted and into a room- check. Do routine check ins- check. We have dehumanized one of the most creative and human experiences, birth. One mother I spoke with, who birthed via cesarean, expressed feeling like she was just another surgery and this momentous experience of becoming a mother was irrelevant to those around her.
Today, a student told me after class about an experience she had with a midwife. When the student showed up at the hospital, her midwife commented in a very negative tone, “You are coping too well to be as far along as you think you are.” The student, who is reserved by nature, responded with being loud and over the top in an “I’ll show you” attitude during the up-coming contractions. The midwife had shamed the student; making her feel not worthy of her attention or care at that moment, instead of being empathic and responsive to her needs and vulnerability.
As a culture we need to “re-humanize” birth and find a way for birthing women to feel worthy of love and belonging and safe being vulnerable during the birthing process. Partners, care providers and hospital staff need to help the woman feel connected to her birthing choices and her birthing body. Hence allowing her to really show up and be seen instead of pushed through the conveyor belt of most hospital settings. If a woman could be recognized for her individual needs and feel safe being vulnerable, perhaps our birth outcomes will improve. If a woman can emerge on the other side of birth with a sense of wholeness, maybe we would have less emotional trauma for postpartum mothers and she would be able to feel more secure moving into her new role: mother, which is truly an act of vulnerability and courage.
Photo credit: PrenatalCoach.com