As a thirty year old woman I find the world of magazines a little unappealing. They’re too young, they’re too sexy, they’re too superficial, they’re too fake or they’re too real.
The Mummy mags don’t fill me with inspiration either. When I was pregnant they were great but now I’m not I’ve found myself to be in a bit of a void. Even if the words ‘Mother’ or ‘Baby’ feature heavily in the title you can guarantee the majority of articles (and adverts) inside are about being pregnant. If the title says ‘Parenting’ I’m supposed to have multiple children, all of whom should be much much older than my little guy.
But there is one magazine I like enough to buy almost every month – and believe me, almost is a real compliment. I rarely remember to buy milk as often as I should.
That magazine is Red. It’s clever and it’s funny; it doesn’t assume that I left my ambition or determination in my twenties; it acknowledges that I’m more than one thing, that I’m a different woman at different times of the day. There are articles about pregnancy and motherhood, but even better are the articles about Mums who are also other things – they run their own businesses, they write, they run, they do whatever it is they’re good at and they do it around their families. Their kids are important but they’re not their definition.
Unfortunately, reading Red today I didn’t feel that usual positivity because I read ‘Don’t Push It’ by Emma Beddington. For those of you who haven’t read it, Emma talks about women who talk about their experience of childbirth “to make other people feel bad.”
The term “birth-boasting” is used to describe the way women discuss their experiences, and while I understand the term completely – who hasn’t felt the urge to scream SHUT UP!!! at the woman who tries to go one better than you in every aspect of your own delivery? – I think she’s being vastly unfair to women who are happy with the way their children arrived.
I didn’t, by any means, have an easy birth. Emma talks about wishing women would be more like men in the way they describe their experiences: that she’d prefer it if they said they’d had forty-three stitches than none at all. I was in theatre for an hour, being worked on by two people, and I had so many stitches they didn’t count them. But that’s not what I talk about. Not only do I not want to sound like I’m saying “look at me! See how brave I am?” but also because, as I’ve mentioned before, I think it’s disgusting when women try to scare each other (more than we already are) about childbirth.
I talk about my experience of birth being a positive one. It was a positive one. Lots went wrong – believe me, lots went wrong – but it could have been so much worse. My son was the result. Why should I be afraid to say that I’m happy with the way it happened for fear of sounding like I’m bragging?
Far worse than those who are happy with their experiences are those who have to tell you – in great detail, the first time you’ve met them, in a checkout queue – how much harder than everyone else’s their birth was. Not the ones who really had bad experiences, but those who embellish every detail and exaggerate to such an extent it wouldn’t be physically possible for their bodies to do the things they’re claiming.
And of course there’s the part of me who feels silently overjoyed when women rave about natural births, homeopathy and positive thinking but then take every drug they had ever criticised, but I’m also really pleased when women who had been planning on taking every drug possible (like me) or hoping for a C-section (also, at times throughout my pregnancy, like me) end up not needing pain relief and cope with the whole thing much better than they had expected.
I’m not ashamed to say that I was terrified of giving birth, but I also refuse to be ashamed of the fact that I managed so well. When people ask me how it was I say it was good. I mean it. Am I implying that women who can’t describe their experiences in the same way are “failures”, as Emma suggests? Of course I’m not. I’m not implying anything about anyone else’s experience. I’m not even thinking about anyone else’s experience. I’m just talking about mine.
The varieties of birth-boasting are as follows, according to Emma: “the 30 minute labour, the ‘spiritual’ water birth epiphany, the super-relaxing home birth, the 10-pounder with no drugs and no stitches.”
Those are all legitimate birth experiences. They’re not uncommon, they’re not exaggerated and they’re certainly not offensive. If I’m proud that I gave birth to my nine pound seven baby on only gas and air in two hours am I really saying that I’m “superior” to someone who gave birth to a five pound baby with an epidural in seventy- two hours?
Or am I, in fact, incredibly proud of what my body can do, and how well I felt that I coped with an experience I had been dreading?
As much as I dislike those women who try to scare others, I also resent those who think talking about it as though it’s not “carnage” is somehow against the rules. Men are already in awe of us, no matter how much they try to deny it, so why are we so intent on making it sound even worse than it is? What purpose does scaring other women serve? Why can’t we try to support each other without it being called boasting? Why shouldn’t women talk about the things they did to make their birth easier, or more positive, or more in tune with their beliefs? Why does it have to be “the size and shape of your pelvis” that’s to be congratulated if a woman has enjoyed the experience and not something she’s opted to do for herself?
“Some women, it seems, are desperate to tell you how they aced childbirth, as if it makes them somehow better people, superwomen.” And why shouldn’t we feel like that? However well your birth went, however close to your birth plan you stayed, whatever emergency procedures were employed, isn’t it amazing that we brought a baby into the world?
When Ted was placed on my chest I certainly felt like a superwoman. Why can’t we tell each other it’s okay to feel like that? That we’re proud of each other?
It seems to me that it’s not the so-called “birth boasters” who are competing in some imaginary point-scoring game, but rather Emma Beddington herself.