"We have a secret in our culture and it's not that birth is painful, it's that women are strong."
-Laura Stavoe Harm
It's no secret that birth is uncomfortable, to say the least. For some women, it's the worst pain they've ever experienced. For others, the contractions feel no different than menstrual cramps. The media and our culture likes to play on the fact that birth is all pain and sorrow. But what they and so many people seem loose during the birth process, is the woman herself.
As a labor and delivery nurse, I've had the honor of looking at her. Of watching her at her weakest and most vulnerable moments. And what I've learned, is that she is strong. And that strength, if you choose to open your eyes and see it, is the most incredibly beautiful and awe-inspiring thing ever.
I see in the young woman whose labor happened so fast she didn't have time for any pain medication. She looks up at me with tears in her eyes and asks, "Can't I have an epidural?" I tell her, "No, sweet one, your baby is right there, one push and your pain will be over." And just like that she chooses to push through her pain and her baby is born. That is strength.
I see it the mom who wanted with everything in her to have a natural birth, but her baby's heart rate is crashing and she is rushed to the operating room for an emergency cesarean. Through the tears in her eyes, both of joy and a dream lost, I see her beauty and strength.
I see it in the frightened mother who is all alone. Who wanted to abort her baby, but at the last minute chose to change her mind. I see the darkness turn into light as mother and baby share their first hug, with baby skin to skin on mom's chest. Baby's wide eyes look up at the one who said yes, and the new mother has a smile that refuses to be wiped off her face. That is strength.
I see beauty in the woman who tried for years to get pregnant and then after baby showers, a nursery complete and car seat ready in the car, walks into labor and delivery only to find her baby has no heartbeat. The pain of labor is nothing compared to the bitter ache of a weeping and broken heart. A woman walking through the valley of stillbirth feels anything but strong, but I can tell you, there is no greater strength I have seen.
And then, there is the woman who refuses to believe the lie that birth has to be painful and scary. She has trained herself like a marathon runner, to view birth as a natural, normal, beautiful event. Her labor and birth can be described as nothing less than graceful. She sits with her eyes closed, sighing peacefully as she prepares to deliver her baby into the world. Inwardly, she may be screaming but on the outside she looks like a woman practicing yoga and everyone around her watches in awe. She gently brings her baby down inch by inch and her baby enters the world. That is strength.
I have seen so many different types of births. And what it all comes down to is every single woman who has said yes to motherhood, displays a type of strength. Sometimes it can't be described, sometimes you don't see it until after the fact. But many times the woman doesn't know her strength. She needs someone to see it in her, and show her. And that is what we are here for.
In birth, there is no turning back. There is no choice but to be brave and to dive into uncharted waters. It's like choosing to go down a slide. Yes, it's scary at first. But the first thing you have to do is let go. And every woman giving birth deserves a loving, compassionate hand to guide her through it. Someone who will remind her that it is in our weakest, most vulnerable moments that strength is made known.
I hope we, whose "work" is the miracle of birth, never forget to truly see the woman. What an honor it is to see a woman transform into a mother. It is so easy to get caught up in the paperwork, running back and forth to rooms and following doctors orders, that we loose track of what really counts and what those ladies and their babies will always remember.
Let us be the ones who unveil a well-kept secret. Women are strong.