Childbirth and women’s reality – A Xmas post

Since the birth of my child, 2 and something years ago, one thing I have never managed to think about, let alone talk or write about, is the reality and trauma of childbirth. I am not planning to get into details now, I am still absolutely NOT ready to go there and frankly I don’t know if I ever will be. But I did find this quote today in an amazing book by Betty McLellan, “Overcoming Anxiety”. McLellan talks about how being silenced and being made to feel invisible is causing powerlessness and is a major cause of anxiety for women.

She explains how childbirth is another instance in which official (patriarchal) meaning can overshadow the reality of women’s experience. She talks about how childbirth for most women represents “excruciating pain and agony, loneliness and alienation”; feelings and sensations which are in total contradiction with the official patriarchal meaning, as we are told time and time again that childbirth is the most beautiful day of a woman’s life.

I can’t resist sharing this timely and perfect quote today.

 “The church’s role in covering up and denying women’s experience of childbirth is made evident with the telling of the story of the birth of Christ. Every year, the Christmas story is used as an opportunity to glorify motherhood and paint a picture of childbirth as a wonderful, almost ethereal experience. After a problem-free delivery in a fairy-tale setting, we are led to believe that Mary is thrilled by the singing of the angels and overjoyed at the visits by shepherd and wise men.

Told from the perspective of Mary herself, however, the story would probably be very different. She would talk about the pain, the discomfort, the smell of the stable, the lack of privacy, her concern about hygiene. She would express her annoyance at all those strangers visiting her when all she wanted was simply to be with her husband and baby. She would express her concerns about all that loud angelic singing when what she really wanted, in her exhausted state was to be left to sleep in peace while she could.”

As a woman in patriarchy, I have been living with depression, chronic anxiety and very low self esteem for many years. All of these symptoms became much worse since my experience of childbirth and since becoming a mother as I witnessed my life spin out of my control and I became for the first time totally powerlessness, both in the hospital labour ward and in my life ever since my baby was born.

I am having a sisterly thought today for Mary and for all the women who have been silenced and made invisible through motherhood. All those mothers who have lost the meaning of their lives and their sense of self while struggling in the nightmare of living in this patriarchal oppressive society and caring for another human being. All those mothers who have lost their lives in the hands of male dominated health system which puts profit above women’s lives.

Piero della Francesca's The Nativity  (This is what men think childbirth looks like)

Piero della Francesca’s The Nativity (This is what men think childbirth looks like)