I had the privilege a few months ago of being there when one of the best women I know gave birth to her first child. I felt honoured to be present with her and her husband at such a terrifying, exciting, spiritual, and life altering moment in their lives.
The best laid plans…
Sometimes things don’t go the way you’d like them to when it comes to giving birth. I get that. And my friend got it too. But there’s still one thing that haunts me when it comes to remembering that experience. It wasn’t the puking, or the way her hands became stiff and contorted from the pain and fear all mixed together, or even the emergency c-section. It was the moment when the nurse looked my friend in the eye and said all too casually: “I know you’re in a lot of pain right now, but you’re actually not in labour.” That was the moment when I felt her spirit crumple. The moment when I felt something important and powerful being taken away.
The massive slap in the face
There are two major ways in which we as the general population understand the term labour. One as it relates to hard work, toil, exertion, or effort and another as it relates to the process of childbirth. I just looked it up to make sure, and the most common words associated with the verb labour are childbirth, birth, and delivery. Sounds fairly all-inclusive, right? Well apparently, not. I just came home from my neighbour’s house, who has undergone c-sections for each of her three children, and it turns out, that she had been told THE SAME THING her first time round; “You’re actually not in labour.” It seems to me that the medical definition of first stage labour as involving regular uterine contractions is being thrown far too lightly in the faces of women who are working with every mental and physical power they possess to ensure the safe and optimal arrival of their baby into this world. These women need all the love and the positive affirmation they can get. They don’t need to hear about technicalities that do nothing other than make their pain feel less real and their womanhood less validated. Of course they want the guidance of seasoned health professionals. That’s why they came to a hospital – but not like that. When I had a miscarriage, I wasn’t ever told that I hadn’t actually lost a baby, I’d lost a fetus. That would have been awful. It would have accomplished nothing other than to diminish my feelings of loss. So why do some health care professionals feel okay saying something similarly devastating to labouring mothers?
What to do
I can personally attest to the fact that the part of giving birth before you’re “in labour” enough to be admitted into the hospital can be the hardest part. But it’s not about that is it? It’s about celebrating the process of and the woman giving birth at every opportunity. It’s about realizing that our words have power. Not just in this, but in every instance. It’s a scary thing to see people who put a lot of intention and effort into hurting other people. But it’s almost just as scary to think that there are people who cause immense hurt and suffering almost without thinking or trying. So if you see someone who appears to be in a vulnerable situation, get on their team! And don’t be shy about it… other people might just get inspired (by you)!