Monday, December 13, 2010

Birth Reading

I'm about halfway through reading In Her Own Voice: Childbirth Stories from Mennonite Women.  I'm not Mennonite by culture myself, but my husband's family is, and I've attended Mennonite churches for most of the last half of my life.  It's interesting to learn about my husband's heritage, as it is so different in many ways from my own.  All the branches of my family tree have been in Canada for centuries, I think some of my father's ancestors even immigrated here in the 1600's.  They are mostly of English, Irish, and Scottish ancestry.  I've heard whisperings of Greek and Spanish blood too, but we've never found any evidence.  I think it might be just an attempt to have some more exotic sounding lineage.  It is kind of neat to find stories about my ancestors in local history books, and small town museums around here.  However, I do sometimes feel a bit awkward about it as well, knowing that those ancestors were likely knowingly or unknowingly part of the wave of European immigrants who pushed First Nations people off their land, and treated them horribly.  The Mennonite's story in Canada, at least in my husband's family's case, is much newer.  On his father's side, my husband is first generation Canadian; on his mother's, second generation.

This book is a fascinating read so far, and I just discovered that you can read several chapters of the book online at google books here.  I'm attempting to better educate myself about childbirth before I go through the experience again.  Videos are a bit too much of a sensory experience for me at this point; I think reading is a better option for me.  I used to enjoy watching TLC's A Baby Story, that is, I used to enjoy it before I actually had my own baby story.  The first time that I watched it after giving birth to my son, I had flashbacks and broke out into a cold sweat.  It probably didn't help that I was watching it from the dentist chair, waiting for a long overdue root canal.  I don't know why they say that you forget childbirth; the memories are still quite vivid in my mind.  I am, however, hopeful that the next experience will be a better one.  At moments, I am even confident of this.  I recently shared my son's birth story with a friend who is in the field of emergency medicine, and is also a doula.  After hearing my story, she described it as the "perfect storm", in which so many factors bizarrely combined to create a ... remarkable experience.  I know that I don't have the worst birth story out there; by far there are tragic and more horrible stories.  In the end, I have a beautiful, healthy little boy.  The experience was just so much different than what I expected.  I'm hoping that by preparing myself better this time, I will be ready for anything!

One thing that struck me as I was reading these stories was that women usually tried to keep their pregnancy a secret for as long as possible.  Even from their other children.  There are several stories in which the older children had absolutely no idea that their mother was expecting another baby.  We do things so differently in that regard nowadays; it would seem so strange not to tell our children that a sibling is on the way.  I've been reading "My New Baby" with my little boy lately, trying to get him used to the idea of having a little brother or sister.  It's a fantastic book; there are no words, which kind of frees you up to talk about anything that you see in the pictures.  It's the only kid's book that I've ever seen that actually depicts a mother nursing her baby instead of bottle feeding.  It also shows the Dad changing diapers, and wearing a baby carrier.

I remember when I was expecting my first son, my grandmother told me a story about how she had dinner guests the week before she delivered my  mother, and they had no idea she was pregnant.  She saw them the following week, and they were so surprised that she had just had another baby.  My Grandma say that women in her time were "so embarrassed" about being pregnant, and practically went into seclusion for their pregnancies.  She couldn't quite articulate what was so embarrassing about being pregnant, being that she was married and all.  Even at the time when my mother was expecting me, attitudes seem to have been quite different about pregnancy than they are now.  I can only think of one or two photographs that I have seen of my mother when she was pregnant with me, and she is dressed in loose, flowing tops.  Now, maternity photo shoots are quite the popular thing, and maternity clothing is designed to show off that baby bump.  I wonder how they actually managed to keep pregnancy a secret. I don't think there is any possibility that I would have been able to keep my gargantuan pregnant proportions from suspecting eyes even if I had wanted to when I was pregnant.  I suppose not everybody carries babies the way that I do: massively.  Seriously.  Sometimes I look at pictures of myself near the end of my son's pregnancy, and wonder how I managed to stay upright.

The other aspect of these stories that caught my attention is how women used to learn about childbirth mostly from their female relatives.  Their births were attended by sisters, mothers, and other female relatives for the most part.  Some women had means enough to pay a midwife.  Stories of hospital births, or even doctor-attended homebirths start to appear in later stories.  There doesn't seem to be the same level of involvement in birthing education or attendance in childbirth between women in our day.  I know very few women who have chosen to have family members other than their husband present at the birth of their children.  I don't think it is better or worse one way or the other, it's simply interesting to note the shift in this regard.

Although it is not a focus of the interviews in this book, I was intrigued to note the different methods of pain relief in childbirth mentioned in the different interviews.  I remember reading in Birth Day by Mark Sloan, M.D. (no, not the fictional doctor of the same name from Grey's Anatomy!) a more detailed history of pain relief measures in childbirth through the ages.  Apparently, Queen Victoria was one of the first public figures to advocate for pain relief in childbirth.  It seems that it was perceived as the duty of women to bear the pain of childbirth without any relief or complaint as punishment for original sin.  I've always had a bit of a soft spot for stuffy old Vicki since I read that.  It seems that the pendulum of pain relief in childbirth swung wildly in the opposite direction at some point though.  Many of the women interviewed in the first book I mentioned had to fight to be awake during the delivery of their babies.  After pain relief became the norm, it seems like it was just expected that women would want to be completely unconscious during delivery.  This is the same generation of women who also had their arms and sometimes even legs tied to the hospital bed during labour and delivery.  Now, that is awful.

In my own baby news, I had my detailed ultrasound last Wednesday, and all went well!  There is no sign of the sub-chorionic bleeding anymore, which is a huge answer to prayer.  I'm 19 weeks and three days, and it seems to be a completely normal pregnancy now.  I decided not to find out the gender.  But I'm still waffling, so if I need another ultrasound, I reserve the right to change my mind!


  1. You know, my parents are both menno, and when both my sis and I were preggo (at the same time), people kept on saying "oh your mom must be so excited to have two grandchildren." and I would always reply, "no, not really." my mom almost never showed excitement about our pregnancies...especially early on. then we we went to take maternity photos, my mom told me she thought pregnant bellies were ugly!!! i couldn't believe it!!! after some sorting through things, my mom and i came to the understanding that when she grew up (in a small menno town), pregnancy was something to be embarressed about so the fact that we were celebrating it and the beauty of the belly was totally foreign to her. that was a really interesting revelation to me during pregnancy. btw, once the baby was born, she was one excited grandma!!

    btw, i'm sorry your birthing experience was so horrible. i'm praying that this time around you get to really experience the beauty behind it. yes, mine was painful, but really, a wonderful, wonderful thing to experience (not that I want to do it again anytime soon).

  2. i like the little baby spinning around on your page, but why won't he smile at me??

  3. Maybe because it's a she and you called it a he. Just kidding, it's probably a boy.
    Katherine - that's so interesting. I guess it's hard for some generations or cultures to see the beauty in something that they've been told their whole lives that it's something to be embarrassed about. I'm sure your mom is an excited grandma with such a cute granddaughter!


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