Sunday, October 25, 2009

No medals here

Wow. Huge thanks to Jill (The Unnecesarean) for sharing this fabulous post by Arwyn: "Just like athletics: exploring a childbirth analogy." Jill described it as her "favorite breakdown of the childbirth-athletics analogy," and I have to agree that it is definitely my new favorite as well.

Arwyn eloquently discusses how our culture is quick and eager to praise, admire, and encourage those engaged in athletic feats--marathons, sporting events, and even local 5Ks, but when a woman attempts natural childbirth (a likewise challenging physical feat), she is lucky if she finds one or two supporters to cheer her on. Instead, far too often, it is those on the sidelines who should be her loudest cheerleaders who tell her she "can't do it."

I am personally saddened and disheartened when I (frequently) hear women tell me that it is their husbands who say, "You're definitely not tough enough for a natural birth," or who "can't bear to see her in pain," and thus push her toward an epidural. Would they also suggest that she's not tough enough for a marathon, if that was her goal, or stop her in the last grueling miles of the race and say, "You need to stop... I can't stand seeing you in so much pain"? I certainly hope they wouldn't. All this stuff has brought to mind this post from last June--"Nobody thinks you're a hero."

Here are a couple of teasers from Arwyn's post:
Everyone has heard of and no one doubts the existence of “runner’s high”, so why do we start plugging our ears and rolling our eyes and flapping our tongues when we speak of “birthing high”? Just as in athletics, in the absence of intolerable pain and unnecessary interferences (the latter of which is all too often responsible for the former), birthing has the potential to produce the most delicious chemical cocktail which feels good. (Divine even: I certainly felt like a birthing goddess afterward.) Even discounting that, or in its absence, there is potential for pride and a sense of accomplishment: something we value so much in athletics, yet scoff at in childbirth, where our effort benefits both us and another. We deny women that pride in accomplishment (for which support of athletics is so vital to girls’ sense of self and women’s equality), that boost in self-esteem and feeling of competency, right when we need it most: at the start of parenting, one of the most demanding journeys a person can undertake. . . .

But the current cultural construction of birth must change: not by moving backward to a time when women had no options in childbirth, and were expected — even encouraged — to suffer, and in which there were no medical interventions for when they were truly needed; but forward, to a time when our bodies are valued, our spirits are supported, and the work of birth is seen as hard, yes, and even sometimes painful, but within reach of most of us, and oh so worth it: just like athletics.
And some pics, for fun...

My dad (in the blue hat) finishing the Boston Marathon as a 50th birthday gift to himself, with his friend, and my (now deceased) brother, Steven, running the last 5 miles with him (behind my dad)...Me and my husband with his Boston Marathon finisher's medal (April '08)...My husband helping me run my first 10K, the longest race I've ever run...And then again, helping me through one of the most difficult (and best) experiences of my life (with my doula as another cheerleader)...So much better than a medal...


Brooke said...

Ah! I love this post! It made me choke up... And I couldn't agree with you more... Especially on your last statement... "so much better than a medal"!!! :o)

Sweetpea said...

Awesome! Sharing this!

Liz Johnson said...

I really love this post and the marathon analogy. Why don't people get that?!

Fig said...

Soooooo ...

I sort of disagree a little bit. Sort of. With parts of it. I actually wrote a post about this a few weeks ago but never put it up because I'm too lazy to be controversial.

Lately I've been kind of bothered by comparisons between birthing and marathon-running, and mostly by people saying stuff like "Wow, you're SUPERWOMAN" to women who have given birth without drugs.

While I agree that it is something to praise, and something for women to be proud of accomplishing, it makes me uncomfortable I guess because it suggests that giving birth is a super-human feat. And it isn't. We're all (at least most of us) capable of it. We were built to do it. I'm afraid that maybe some women are actually scared away from going unmedicated because they've heard it described as this huge, practically impossible feat.

Does that make sense?

Fig said...

Wait for it! I have further explanations for my orneriness.

Maybe the BIGGEST thing about it that bothers me is people act like women are birthing unmedicated just for bragging rights. Just to prove that they're tough enough. And that's NOT what it's about ... we believe it's what's best for us and our babies. We're not trying to earn medals, and many people seem to think we are. THAT bothers me.

(I have countless stories of doctors/nurses/etc. saying things like "Don't be a hero" or "You don't have to be superwoman" to laboring women who are refusing drugs. TICKS ME OFF.)

Anonymous said...

Fig - you make some great observations, but technically, a marathon is something nearly everyone is capable of, too.

I like the comparison because I am a runner and am still running through my third pregnancy. Just ran a 10K race yesterday, at 17 weeks pregnant. Felt great, and I feel like it is helping me prepare for the birth.

Liz Johnson said...

Fig, did you delete your controversial post?! If not, could you email it to me?!

I actually like your thoughts, Fig, because I agree that everybody can do it. A marathon does seem super-human to me (a non-runner), so I could see how the analogy could discourage women. But I do like the idea that your husband/support team wouldn't talk you out of doing something else you wanted to do that is hard (like getting a master's degree or something), so why would they tell you that you can't birth a baby??

I've had several people tell me "you don't get a gold star on your chart if you give birth without drugs." Yeah, because validation from others is EXACTLY the reason I would want to give birth without drugs. /wipes away sarcasm

Buscando la Luz said...

Fig, I totally get what you're saying. In fact, you are echoing a lot of what I said in this post:

I agree that most women are capable of birthing without medication, but that doesn't make it any easier. It's HARD. And the only experience I've had, personally, that comes close to the physical strain and endurance of birth is hard-core running (oh, and kidney stones was tough too). So I still assert that it's a great comparison.

And I concur with Anon. :-) Rock on, prego-running mama!

I love everyone's thoughts and comments. Keep 'em coming!

Fig said...

Yeah, I don't so much take issue with the marathon analogy as the Superwoman comments. Anything that fosters the culture of fear surrounding birth bugs me.

And ... not to split hairs or anything, but I don't believe most people can or should be marathon runners. Some of us can, and it's inspiring to see long distance runners mold their bodies that way. But honestly, I feel it's unrealistic for many people.

Not that ny opinion on the topic matters. A running expert, I am not. :-)

Liz, I never posted it. Someday I might. Or I'll email it to you. Or both.

Busca, I love that post! You wrote it during my blog embargo period, so I missed it before. It's awesome.

Fig said...

my opinion, sorry.

Faithful Lurker said...

I love this post. Thank you!!! I am teared up as well. Your birth pics are a beautiful reminder of our strength as women. We should be cheering each other on.

Arwyn said...

Thanks for the link! And I love those pictures. :)

Fig: I agree that the analogy breaks down around the cultural construction of who can and can't do birth/marathons. (Or rather, the cultural constructions are equally problematical: both athletes and natural birthers are constructed as the exception, as rare, as super human.) It's one of the many reasons I actually prefer the sex analogy: pretty much EVERYONE can have sex, in some form or another. (It also addresses the privacy and environment and physiology of birth better.)

But the point wasn't to say that birth is exactly like athletics: I'm a fat, sedentary woman, and have never run so much as a 5K in my life. (I started the c25k program when my partner was unemployed -- and I had the time! -- and was beyond thrilled when I made it to running for 3 minutes at a time. But that's as far as I got.) I also birthed a 10lb 6oz baby in a tub in my bedroom. To me, birth was (and is) far more accessible than a marathon, or anything athletic, really.

But I still maintain that there is value in the analogy. Not in the praise/superhuman/unachievable ways, but in how we approach it, as a worthwhile endeavor, with training and support and encouragement and reasonable expectations around pain and endurance.

I also address the medal aspect some in the post, in that it very much ISN'T about the medal: like charity running (which is the analogy I find closest, though still limited), there are no medals. It's just running for the joy of it, for doing something good for yourself and for another. And that's a lot like my experience of birth.

Buscando la Luz said...

Thanks for clicking over, Arwyn! Honored that you stopped by to comment. :-)

OrganicMama said...

If I had a dollar for every time a person said to me, "You don't get a medal for being in pain in labor", I'd be rich!

Unfortunately, a lot of the women I know have the idea that women who birth without drugs are trying to prove some kind of point (like Fig maintains). I agree that idea comes from a cultural perspective that undermines a woman's natural ability to give birth.

As usual, you remind us that it's perfectly normal and healthy to birth naturally (even if it does take a TON of energy!).