By a lot of people’s definition, I am a total hippie. I am an environmentalist, I like holistic medicine, and I eat relatively healthy. But when I stand next to those who universally are considered hippies, I start to look pretty square. I dress conservatively (and when I don’t, I lean more towards punk than hippie), I shave, bathe regularly, wear makeup, keep my hair well groomed and feminine in appearance, I don’t have weird piercings, I don’t wear hemp, I don’t smell like patchouli, and I always, always wear a bra. I don’t act much like the hippies either. I don’t do drugs, listen to jam bands, smoke cigarettes, practice free love, and I’ve never been to Burning Man. I am a Christian that attends church regularly, I drive a relatively new car, I live in the suburbs with a husband and 1.5 kids, and more often than not commute by car. I shop at Costco, Target, and Old Navy. And when it comes to the things I do that are similar to things hippies do, such as buy organic food, bike commute when I can, and champion alternative energy, I tend to do them for very different reasons than most hippies I know. Most hippies I know do these things for quasi spiritual reasons, and for a means of rebelling against the status quo. I’m much more into scientific reasoning, and maybe a little bit about sticking it to The Man (which is subtly different than rebelling against the status quo). I get annoyed when, for example, I go to a meeting for a school sponsored local foods club and find a bunch of dreadlocked potheads discussing what’s going to happen in 2012 and the energy vibrations of quinoa. Ugh. Give me Michael Pollan, Marion Nestle, and Joan Dye Gussow over Bob Marley, Jerry Garcia, and Timothy Leary any day.
My interest in unmedicated birth is often viewed as another one of my hippie dippy qualities, but again, when I think about it, my reasons for preferring unmedicated birth over medicated birth are pretty different than most hippies I know. I have chosen unmedicated birth for a variety of reasons, for one, I have done quite a bit of research and have come to the conclusion that it’s safer for both myself and my baby. I also have discovered, through research, that it makes a lot of aspects of birth easier than what I would experience in medicated birth, which sounds oxymoronic, I know, but it is true that for most women an unmedicated birth will go faster, involve less pushing, have a faster and easier recovery, and make breastfeeding easier. (It might be more accurately said that medication during birth makes these aspects harder for most women, since unmedicated is the original state and medicated is the altered one). I have considered the hippie reasons and have found them to have some validity. Yes, my natural birth with Elijah was a spiritual experience in many ways, and I did most definitely get a hormonal high that lasted for days and at it’s strongest point was most definitely the most euphoric experience I’ve ever had. But the hippie reasons for unmedicated birth are at the very bottom of my list. Even these research based reasons do not top my list of reasons why I choose unmedicated birth.
My number one reason for choosing unmedicated birth is the one reason that most advocates of unmedicated birth tend to shy away from. I choose unmedicated birth because it shows myself and others just how tough I am.
I’m going to go ahead and own it, not be ashamed of it. I don’t think it’s a bad thing to want to prove to yourself and the world around you that you are strong. In fact, that is exactly what is so empowering about unmedicated birth. And I can’t express enough just how much I needed that in my first birth. I went through an entire pregnancy feeling stupid, ashamed, used up, abandoned, unworthy, and sad. I needed the reminder that I was strong, that I was powerful, that I could do great and hard things all on my own. I needed to prove to everyone who thought I was just some stupid little girl who foolishly got herself into a bad situation that I was something more than that. And the person I needed to convince the most was myself.
I think it’s sad that unmedicated birth advocates seem to shy away from this reason for doing it so much. They do it because they don’t want to be seen as feminine machos, as one doctor mockingly put it in the documentary The Business of Being Born. They do it as a response to the old “No one’s going to give you a trophy”. They don’t like being accused of thinking they’re better than other women who don’t accomplish this feat.
But for a moment, let’s compare the feat of unmedicated child birth to the feat of running a half marathon, a feat I also accomplished in 2010. If I said I had chosen to run a half marathon (which, actually, I didn’t do, I chose to run a full marathon but didn’t make it) because wanted to do something very hard to remind myself and those around me that I’m tough enough to do something that hard, to feel strong and proud if myself, no one would question that. No one would look at me and say “Do you think you’re better than us? No one is going to give you a trophy, you know. It’s stupid to put yourself through all that pain to do that.” Do other marathon runners hear me talk about how what I did made me feel strong and tough and hush me up, saying “Don’t do that, do be all macho about it. Talk about the spiritual experience it was, or the health benefits.” No. People say “Wow, what an inspiration! Good for you! Doing that may not be for me but I applaud you for doing it!” or “I feel the same way when I do it!”
It’s recognized that people run marathons, climb mountains, and do great, hard things for a variety of reasons, and it is perfectly embraceable if one of those reasons is just to feel your own strength. Why should unmedicated birth be any different? Okay, sure, maybe we shouldn’t place unmedicated birth on the pedestal of unusual yet empowering things that you have a choice to do and don’t really need to do. But in our modern, luxurious, sedentary lives, we don’t get the opportunity to regularly accomplish feats of physical strength to keep fresh in our minds how strong and capable of them. I might argue that while mountain climbing and marathon running might not seem natural to some, it is a perfectly natural replacement for the physical trials we have lost in our modern times. Unmedicated birth is natural, yes. So is marathon running. It’s the only natural we have left.
I think if we embraced the empowering, prove your strength nature of unmedicated childbirth, it might appeal to more people. Let’s be honest, a lot of people aren’t looking for a spiritual experience out of birth. They don’t worry much about the scientific data, and they’re a little creeped out at the idea of having an orgasm during the birth of their child. But pitch the idea as you would the idea of running a marathon (which, I might add is more painful at many points, and if you count in training much, much, much longer than labor), and suddenly you’re going to find more people on board.
I know I for one am no longer going to pretend that I didn’t feel a strong sense of pride to have delivered a 9 pound, 4.5 oz baby without any pain medication. I’m not saying I’m better than anyone, but I’m really glad I took that opportunity to prove I was strong. Just like running those 13.1 miles two Octobers ago.
Guess my baby stats!
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