I could tell you women are strong, powerful, brave, self-aware, supported, loved, connected, and more.
Or I could show you. With that, maybe you can show yourself.
On Thursday, April 19th, 2012, The Piano Man and I live streamed Sugarbaby’s birth (see videos of the birth here). On that day there were over 105,000 page views on the live stream birth page and we know there were at least just over 18,000 participants on the live chat stream. I never imagined our birth experience would reach so many.
When we found out we were expecting last fall we began to ask ourselves how we could use this pregnancy and the birth for good for not only our family but others. The Piano Man and I tossed around ideas and talked about options. Then we quickly fell deep into managing HG mode and the conversation ground to a halt.
But the desire was still there. The idea of live streaming the birth tickled at the back of my mind and I found myself reflecting on the labor and birth videos I had watched over the years either preparing for my own births or as a student midwife. Those women that allowed camera crews into their births inspired me for both myself and eventually for the women I supported in labor and birth. A couple of years ago I saw a live birth streamed from a birth center and was drawn into the camaraderie of those chatting and watching the birth online. It was a virtual experience of the sisterhood of the red tent. Here was my opportunity to extend that experience to others and help educate others on not only home birth but birth in general.
Why do this? It wasn’t to convince anyone to have a home birth or even an unmedicated natural birth if possible. I have read criticism of others that have chosen to share their births with the world. These women were called horrible names, exhibitionists, narcissists, careless, vain, and much, much more. I knew that should I share my birth it was possibly opening myself and my family to harsh attacks from those that wouldn’t understand. And I had to ask myself what if something DID go wrong? Still, there was one thing I couldn’t get out of my mind.
Back when I was 20 years old and pregnant with Earth Baby, I never dreamed I could handle anyone in the room when I birthed, let alone a camera. In fact, I thought I was crazy brave to look in the mirror while pushing to see what was happening on the other side of the blue drape that cut me in half and removed me from my own body. Yet I had some idea of what to expect in the birth of my first daughter less because of the childbirth education class we attended at the hospital and more because of the videos we viewed in preparation. Videos of other women who had permitted a camera to capture their moment. Progressively over time though I began to see birth a bit differently and when I became a student midwife I experienced something that taught me even more.
Birth is beautiful, mysterious, and intensely intimate. Yet it is also ordinary, normal, and common place. Birth has a way of unveiling a woman’s true inner strength where she can more fully embrace her own power. Every day women give birth not only to their child but to themselves as mothers. Birth doesn’t complete her, it just reveals another layer of who she is by daring to expose her without filters, without pretense, with raw power to herself. Even with the ordinary nature of this profound event, most women have never really seen a real birth and at worst their expectations and education have been limited to that of entertainment media and the often one-upping horror stories of friends. For many at best they go through a class talking about birth but with only limited exposure to an actual birth. So women often experience this life changing journey with no idea of the path so many, many have trod before them.
This isn’t how it used to be or even how it is in some parts of the world today. Women supported each other, birth being more than an event that happened to an individual woman but rather an experience that united all the women of a community. It wasn’t all rosy and perfect, but it was real and that authenticity allowed the power of birth to impact more than just the family embracing the new person. Power, particularly power that is difficult to control, scares us sometimes though, and in an effort to make birth safer we lost that community aspect of birth as women began to birth in isolation with only those considered trained professionals present. In that absence of community in birth, fear could grow unchecked.
I’m grateful for the advancements made in keeping birth safe and for those trained professionals that can help us get our babies when safety is in jeopardy. I’m also grateful for the women that allowed cameras into their intimate moments of birth so I could receive the message that the sensationalized media versions of birth that would have me believe that my own body was frightening, that women aren’t strong enough, and that surrendering the control over my body to strangers was the only way to navigate the passage of birth safely are simply not true. Because those women were brave enough to share I discovered my own inner strength to have the audacity to pursue a different kind of birth experience for myself and my baby. With fear removed I could explore and inform myself as to what kind of birth my baby and I would be able to have. Thanks to those women I went on to have an unmedicated hospital birth followed by 5 safe, low risk home births. Thirteen years later I am now audacious enough to pay it forward and to share those truths with others.
The birth of Sugarbaby wasn’t quite as I expected but that’s kind of the beauty of birth, there’s only so much that you can expect. By now I’ve learned not to have strong expectations about my birth but rather to be flexible and prepared for just about anything. Still, never establishing a regular contraction pattern frustrated me and made it more difficult for me to relax through the contractions. A stubborn baby with not-so-great positioning led to hip pain that wore me down after a while. I had no intentions of artificially breaking my bag of waters but when I had been in labor with an irregular contraction pattern for over 12 hours and hip pain that wouldn’t let up, I felt my energy and endurance giving way. Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine I’d give birth on hands and knees, it has been my least favorite position every time before but this time, with a difficult position for baby, it was where I found myself. My ideal surrendered to my flexible strength for what I needed not only physically but emotionally and Sugarbaby and I had the right birth for us as a pair.
Some people don’t understand why we shared our birth and I admit it’s a little strange when someone at church tells me they just watched my birth video last week. I know what I sounded like on that video, I know what they saw. But that’s kind of just it, now we all know and maybe someone is less afraid, less detached, less unsure about her own journey through birth. Which is exactly why I shared my birth experience.