Monday, January 31, 2011

the support of strong women

Each time I have been pregnant, I have longed for (and received, thankfully) the support of the strong women around me. I love birth stories of every type, whether or not they went according to the mother's hopes/plans! I think so often of the generations of women who have gone before me, including many of you, doing the work of growing a child within, laboring until he is ready, and then birthing that child, welcoming him with love, a soft breast, warm milk - no matter the pain it took to get him here. Such a common event is childbirth, but what a holy, extraordinary one too. Carrying a child for nine months wraps her up in skin and dreams, blood and potential; birth is the longest, most arduous unwrapping job, and of such a gift.

Now that I'm pregnant, I keep remembering this image from Zoralee's birth.
There are a series of shots from different angles (by my cousin, Sabrina),
but what I remember is the arms, always outstretched arms.**

There are invaluable men in my life too. In the first place, pregnancy itself is awfully difficult to attain without the presence of a man at some point. Beyond that, my hubby is my go-to guy for the extra needs of a pregnant woman (snicker, snicker - no but seriously, like getting me an enchilada at 10 p.m. or rubbing my neck to stave off headaches). He was an angel during Zoralee's birth. And he and my dad rushed around taking care of logistical things, like filling the birth tub, keeping the sidewalks clear of snow for the midwives' arrival, etc. I know that my dad and one of my uncles prays for this baby and I each and every day. So, I am certainly grateful for the man-folk. But this post is about the actual work of carrying a child for 9-ish months and then delivering him to the world.

Last week, I dressed for our trip to San Antonio. I wore a necklace that Tamie gave me when I miscarried last year. It is a tiny painting of a woman on a path. I thought of my generation of women, walking our journeys, struggling, emerging. I wore ear rings from Jason's Grandma Elizabeth, in honor of the past generations, from whom we learn so much - everything, really - with my own mom and grandmas in mind. And they, you, were a strength to me. I thought of you specifically when I laid on the exam table, even as my healthy baby came into view!

In early pregnancy a few months ago, I had a conversation with another pregnant woman. She had moved here with her family from India when she was a teenager, so we discussed the different cultural approaches to pregnancy, birth, early motherhood. Get this. In India, it is typical for a woman to go home to her own mother and spend the last trimester there, sometimes more, being cared for and waited upon. When the baby is born, the woman is expected to stay in bed for like a month, her only responsibility being to recuperate and to feed and love the new baby. They don't even allow visitors for a long time, and when the baby is something like 6 weeks old, it is taken out for its official meet the family and neighbors extravaganza. Even after that, they may stay at her mother's home for months. It could be whole year they are away from their own household, though I gather that's on the long end of things. I'm not sure what happens to the other children; surely the young ones come along.

As a side note, they also keep the baby's head shaved for a few years. That part made me a little sad. All that thick, dark hair shaved right off. I mean, I'm used to people crying when they give children their first hair TRIM at a year or two old - and sweetly saving locks of it for the baby books.

Anyway, I'd have to basically become a totally different person with a totally different background to subscribe to that kind of treatment, but I think it's really neat. When I tore a bit during delivery, my midwife said, "The best thing to do is just let this heal naturally, but since I don't trust you'll stay on bed rest for a solid week, I'm going to stitch it." She is a smart lady. And as long as I was all stitched up, we took Z on a little hike through the woods, up to church, at 3 days old. Thinking back, that may have had something to do with continuing to bleed for ages. Nevertheless, laying still is very hard, because right away I want to show the baby the chicken coop! I'm not saying this is a strength or a weakness; it's just a thing. Possibly a Western thing - not the Old West of cowboys, well yeah, that too - but like Western culture. (That was a hardcore rabbit trail, starting with an Indian-American woman and ending with the Old West.)

I end by saying, women, you are a huge source of strength to me, and I thank you sincerely.

**Photo: I had quite a few participants over the course of the three days, all of whom I asked to be there. As it turns out, the literal presence of so many people might've been a factor in my slow labor. There's always a catch to the good stuff, right? But that photo is so meaningful to me because of what it stands for - hands outstretched, comfort, assurance that I can do this!


Rena said...

What a sweet post. I love the whole circle of life thing, going through childbirth and bringing a daughter into the world, then eventually watching that daughter give birth to her own child, and knowing that's the same thing my mother went through to give me life. Cultural differences, but all for the same reason and with the same love.

Shana said...

I just love that picture....reaching and reaching out...arms reaching...