Birth and How We Bring Up Girls

As a childbirth educator, a large part of my role is breaking down misconceptions surrounding birth and the female body. The overwhelming, pervasive idea in our culture that seeps into the subconscious of women is that our bodies are broken and need medical attention immediately when we are about to give birth. What I love about Daisy Birthing is it brings together the integral concept of mind, body and spirit when approaching labour and sees women's strengths and the power of positive thought.

For a lot of mums, Daisy is a revelation. We are taught from a young age that a woman's job is to be clean and tidy and submissive. So many modern women trying to function in our society subsequently operate on a highly-strung, tightly-controlled level that pregnancy is a huge shock. The fact that their bodies are working hard in a primal, animal way goes against everything we have been taught about a woman's nature. Pregnancy forces us to abandon the glossy, manicured version of womanhood we aspire to be. Pregnancy acquaints us with the true work of womanhood - it is bloody, and dirty, and exhilarating.

We bring up girls to aspire to be princesses, the earliest fashion magazines that they read are full of instructions on how to flirt or polish yourself up for a man. Menstruation therefore is also a huge shock for a lot of young girls, a betrayal of the body that it could reduce us in this animal way. The shameful secret that involves hiding tampons and cringing as sanitary towels make a rustling sound in toilet cubicles. Under no circumstances must anybody know our true, life-giving nature. We can't imagine Cinderella ever having to rinse out her menstrual cup.

This pressure to conform is overwhelming, even from those who love us best. As a young woman reaching maturity, I was not unaware of the appreciation and approval I had from my family and peers when I behaved in a conventional way. What more beautiful sight is there than a young girl with flowing hair in a dress, sweet and meek? I aspired to be as miniscule and self-effacing as I could and the approval rained down from boys, teachers and family. But I remember wearing my sister's oversized jumpers so nobody would see my developing body and maybe then they would stop calling me 'Tits'. I remember hiding in the bathroom shaving my legs because we were only allowed to use the punishing epilator in my house (beauty is pain). I remember my friend Sarah feeling compelled to wax her dark upper lips at the tender age of 11 and the wax getting stuck and we had to ask my friend's stepmother for help. Why did we do these things?

I did not even love other women. I saw them as prickly, awkward counterparts to my carefree male friends who I could joke around with. This is how we see each other, encouraged by society, as rivals and competitors for attention and approval. It has taken years of work (ongoing to this day) to change the stereotypes in my head about how women should behave and how I view women in friendships. It is all to hide from us this truth that women are strong, we are stronger than you could ever know, especially when we are working together towards a common goal much like in the birth room.

I feel glad sometimes that Judah, my son, will never experience this struggle. At the same time, I feel so much anger with how daughters are treated. It is as if they are still considered possessions, their beauty directly correlating to their worth. Although I birthed my son and do my best to raise him with love and kindness every day, I would never consider to have ownership over his body. As soon as we became two separate beings he started his own path and it is not my right to dictate to him how he adorns or changes his body to suit his satisfaction.

I remember the guilt and shame I felt at every transgression. When I cut my hair off and dyed it purple. I believe the words from my family were "you've ruined yourself." When I began to experiment with piercings and boys, I was told "you're not a packet of crisps, passed around for everybody to have one!" and the ever popular: "what did you go and do that to yourself for?" When all I was doing was behaving in a way that was not deemed appropriate for a young girl, even though I was not harming anybody.

It still happens to this day. I am fortunate to have left the teenage years behind and the agonising experience of hormonal shifts combined with self-expression. I am confident in the way that I look and dress, I would say for the first time in my life I am happy with what I see in the mirror. I still get the disapproving looks and the comments from people who I thought were better than that. "I don't know why you'd want to go and get all those horrible tattoos for". The contrast when I dress or behave more conventionally is like night and day. "Doesn't mummy look pretty?" "See, don't you feel happier now?"

I am fortunate enough to have enough self-awareness and knowledge of our society that these comments roll off my back most days. I know these people mean well and they are struggling to compromise the values in their head of what a good woman and mother should be. They cannot reconcile these ideas and perhaps they never will.  But the overwhelming message?

Conform. We love you when you conform.

And this is the message everywhere, whether on television or in adverts or those films where the girl gets the makeover and suddenly she's everybody's best friend. As women our value is placed on our appearance and our deference and if you don't follow suit then you just start to rile people up.

Why is this significant for birth?

Birth is a scary event in a woman's life. Firstly, she loses that tightly-held control she has exerted over her body, whether through calorie counting, exercise or cosmetics. Secondly, not only is she now fighting against/conforming to the ideal image of a WOMAN, she now has to confront the ideal image of a MOTHER. The self-sacrificing mother who would put her baby's wellbeing above everything else, no matter what the personal cost. This image is manipulated by people into getting women to do what they want them to. Simultaneously fulfilling these two archetypes to everybody's satisfaction is daunting. Her body that she has kept so pristine and hair-free is going to sweat and bleed and excrete and that famous 'dignity' women are renowned for having will be all but lost. 

In Daisy Birthing, the hypnotic movement of the body with the positive affirmations about our body's worth and value, as well as taking us into the subconscious and replacing the harmful messages with good ones is something I am so privileged to be able to assist. Seeing women go from scared and unsure to confident and calm is the greatest gift, the exhilaration when they realise they did it themselves. The body's ability to grow and birth a baby is nothing short of miraculous and it is in this period of time that we get acquainted with our ancient self, our wiser, earthy womanhood. The perfect, plastic adverts showing what a woman should be are a fabrication, there is no truth in them and they melt away under scrutiny.

For the average woman, when she arrives at that hospital, what is she going to do? She's going to be frightened and know that as a woman the best chance she has for an easy time and for kindness from others is to conform with what they expect from her. As women, we do this every single day. So she will get on the bed, and submit to tests, and be compliant because that is all she knows. This woman has learned that her body does not belong to her, it is public property and she will do as she is told. Being confronted with your darker, primal nature can be frightening and it is unsurprising that we want to block it out with interventions and medical assistance.

It takes guts to stand up and say "you know what, actually, I'm going to do it how I want to."
Nobody likes an assertive woman. It makes them uncomfortable, we know this from the disapproval of our peers and the media at our small transgressions (armpit hair shaming, anybody?) When you are at the mercy of medical professionals you don't want them to treat you like a freak. You want to feel safe and comfortable when you birth, so you revert to type. 

You do what you're told.
"Conform," they say, "We love you when you conform."