Why Birth is Disgusting ... To Some

So grateful for this beautiful and understanding post from one of our Mama Birth mothers.  I love how she is able to better understand other mothers from this interaction.  We all come from so many different places with our birth experiences.  Undoubtedly, no matter our age, birth changes us.  Finding understanding and love for each other is so much more useful than anger and offense.  Enjoy!

By Bethany Learn, Fit2B Studio

A while back, many mothers posted photos of their births as protest against facebook's unexplainable removal of breastfeeding and birth pictures that were often more tasteful than much of the other objectifying garbage we see on there. I'm not usually the protesting type, but I am passionate about birth and LOVE talking about my own two natural vaginal hospital births. So I changed my profile picture to this ... 

"This is disgusting." That was the very first comment to roll in under my precious picture of me standing through a difficult contraction while dilated to 6cm. Disgusting? Perhaps this respectable church woman who was practically my god-mother meant it was disgusting that facebook was removing pictures like it, but I dared to ask her to clarify. "The photo is disgusting. Nobody wants to see this." For some reason, I had a very physical reaction to her words. My fingers began to tremble, and I just sat there, staring at her unbelievable comment! This woman had given birth to several babies. She was an amazing grandmother. Why did she describe my rather modest birth photo as disgusting? 

I was hurt and shocked ... so I did what any self-respecting facebook addict does: I enlisted help from my 582 friends to refute and counteract her statement by posting a status that said something along the lines of, "I just changed my profile picture to one of my labor with my son, and one of my 'friends' just called it disgusting. Please go respond to her comment. Is she right?" Almost a hundred responses and various viewpoints poured into the resulting thread.

"She is wrong"
"This is a gorgeous pic"
"What is so ugly about it ... birth is beautiful"
"She's just a #&*%@ don't listen to her!"
These were just some of the responses.  But this woman isn't a bleepity-bleep. She is someone I have looked up to. She has been on mission trips to Africa, for crying out loud. And now my friends were calling her names. Oops. Did I mention she's also a shoestring relative? Double oops. There goes next summer's family reunion. What else could I do but call my mom.

"Mama, why is she angry? Why does she birth as disgusting?" I felt like a child again with a million questions, just wanting to understand something that surely made sense on another level, but not on mine. "Mom, when Iook at that picture, I see the shape of my son within me. I see my sister supporting me as she puts counter pressure on my back. I see the smile of the nurse who has finally given in to my request to NOT belt the monitor onto me! But what does she see that is so disgusting, Mom?" My mother then told me something that resonated with me and helped me to understand this old, angry woman who saw birth and swollen bellies and disgusting.

"Bethany, I've told you about my births, all four of them. When I had your brother 45 years ago, birth was not like it is now. You had so many choices! I was amazed at how powerful you were throughout your pregnancies and births, at how you were able to insist on what you wanted. With Bryan, they left me alone in a dark room. When I felt him coming, I had to scream for help. Your father wasn't allowed to be with me. I had to crawl into the hallway, vomiting and crying..." 

I asked my mother to please post her thoughts into the comment stream, and suddenly the attitude of everyone shifted. The younger women, including me, stopped being defensive, and a few more older women chimed in, sharing their tear-jerking stories. It's not that birth is disgusting to them; it's that some of our photos bring back nightmares of mistreatment and messages of Eve's sin. 

My heart now breaks for the older women among us who were refused the empowering experience that many of us now take for granted. They do not see the beauty of birth's blood, but we can show them. We can keep showing them they brought us into the world to bring change out of old systems. We can show them how we've found joy in the process, power in the pain, laughter in labor. 

Bethany Learn is the founder of Fit2B Studio, an online fitness studio that features wholesome home workouts for the whole family. She lives in Oregon with her husband and two children. Her hobbies include crocheting rugs out of old shirts, editing for indie authors, and working on "The Shabin," an off-grid shed/cabin on family land in Montana. 


Cindy said…
That's so incredible sad. I cried for your mother's story. I cried while being thankful for my two wonderfully supported, medication free home births.

It makes me so sad to hear what some women have gone through in birth (and sadly, what some women still go through because they don't know what to look for or what to ask for, or who to ask for help)
I am so blessed to have given birth in age where a woman is encouraged to call her own "shots". My heart breaks for the women of the past and even those in the present who are unaware and were denied the amazing and wonderfully spiritual experience that is natural birth. Thank you for sharing..may more women learn from this and choose to let their bodies do exactly what they were designed for.
Rae said…
My mom finally got to see a baby of hers being born, when I birthed my daughter in my kitchen. She had two c/s with me and with my brother. It ment a lot to her being able to be there and to witness.
Unknown said…
That was really beautiful Bethany! I am so blessed to have had three completely natural labor & deliveries. To have the support of my husband and family. You arose a good point though about the generation before us, and before them, that struggled with the entire process. When my grandmother was pregnant with her four babies she was mostly home and kept out of sight. Maternity clothes? None really. They let out their clothing and when my mom was pregnant they wore shirts too big and had absolutely no 'cute' maternity clothes. I also remember my grandmother talking about how she was given a pill to speed things up and 'make it all better'! All alone in the delivery room. I can't imagine not having my husband by my side while delivering God's gift. How sad your mother's story is.. I am glad I was able to have information at hand and know what I wanted and make sure that happened with my birthing plans. Thank God for incredible nurses as well! This day in age it is just amazing the amount of women out there that stand up for their rights and make it happen! Love it! I hope things went well with the original 'responder' to your fb post. Obviously she had a lot of pain and could not see the beauty in birth.
Rose said…
Sorry this is kinda rambly. My mom told me that after she had her babies, she and her mother were talking about childbirth when her mother asked her what it was like. For all of my grandmother's labors they put her in the twilight sleep and then woke her when it was time to push. When my mom described the whole labor experience my grandmother said she felt cheated because they told her that she had missed the most uncomfortable parts when in fact transition and pushing are often the most difficult. My mom was able to do all four of her military hospital births unmedicated and even did two of them on a bean bag chair which she said offered fantastic support. She was rather appalled when she was re-exposed to the world of childbirth after 26 years, when she went through it with me last year. All of the interference and pressure from doctors sickened her, especially since she felt like she and other women were making such strides in the late '70's and early '80's for natural birth and breastfeeding. She said it seems like things have gone so far the other way she doesn't know how anyone is able to have the birth of their choosing (unless they fight for it). I did for the most part because I am stubborn and tough, as well as being well informed, but that is another story :).
V said…
This made me bawl. We are SO blessed.
Wow. Great post. Thank you for sharing!!
CraftyEarthMama said…
Thank you for sharing this.
"This is disgusting" is a wrong and hurtful comment, but it;s so interesting to see where that type of comment towards a beautiful birth would come from. we all have very different stories and journies.
I love this, and it is really interesting to hear how different generations felt about their births. I had my first baby almost 50 years ago, in Jan 1962. I knew about natural childbirth and wanted to "try it". And my doctor said :"I don't see why not!" and then it just did not work out that way...at all.
I was alone, husband and mother in the waiting room. Nurse poking her head in the door occassionally to ask, "are you PAINS any closer together yet?"
When they gave me gas in the delivery room I was relieved and happy to be unconscious.
But later when I found out my baby was born 20 minutes later....I was FURIOUS!
After all that, they took the BIRTH away from me. Crazy.
So I went on the have 4 more babies, all in the hospital but natural unmedicated and uninterfered with births. TRIUMPHS!
At the same time I had my fist babies my SIL had a doctor who patted her on the hand and said" There there, Dear, You don't need to do a thing. I will take care of everything." (and this reassured her.
It all came right for ME when one of my daugthers came home to have her baby at our house and I caught the baby!
(How I would have loved to have a home birth myself, but did not know how to find a midwife and had NO support from husband and family)
Anyway, birth is both good and bad in ANY generation depending on what you KNOW. And of course having great support people is wonderful if you know how to find them.