Someone very dear to me recently had her second miscarriage after both times having gone through much time, expense, and physical hardship to conceive; and of course the emotional fallout is devastating. So many women feel or have felt the need to see a pregnancy through to its miraculous conclusion, myself included. Many of us feel that carrying and giving birth to a baby is what defines us as women. Is this feeling purely societal or is it soaked into our DNA?
Surely society defines women by our fertility: We’re premenopausal, perimenopausal, or postmenopausal. But it’s not just a societal fact. Our bodies function around having or not having children, with hormones fluctuating in readiness in case there’s an opportunity for us to get pregnant, keeping the womb fresh when there are missed opportunities, and shutting down the shop when we get too old to deal with the 3 o’clock feedings. The woman industry will never go out of business selling us pills, pads, and plugs aimed at managing our baby-making organs.
Is that why some of us feel inadequate when our bodies don’t behave as written in a text book? I had to have C-sections (not by choice) to have both of my children, and even without the pitying looks from the older women in the family who had their babies the proper way, I felt (feel) as if I somehow did not have the full experience of childbirth–no labor pains, no pushing. It’s no matter that I was ripped open with a scalpel and then gutted. Epic fail nonetheless.
Having the childbirth experience: It’s the reason why some women who don’t want children—or shouldn’t have children–have them anyway. However, they soon find out what adoptive mothers know and birth mothers discover within hours days of bringing the first baby home, that childbirth is the least part of motherhood, if it factors in at all. In my community and family, it is not uncommon for women who may or may not have biological children of their own to raise another woman’s child on an informal basis, whether it be a grandchild, neice/ nephew, or neighbor.
So what about “mothering”–that is to say, the act of nurturing: is that learned or is it part of a woman’s makeup? Is it taught through example by our “mothers,” can we watch how mothers not our own behave and learn by observing, can we read books about it, pick up pointers from television? Since all of our reproductive organs are inside of us, is the nurturing organ in there, too?
And men, can they be nurturers? Needless to say (but I can’t resist saying it anyway) that from a technical standpoint, a man’s physical contribution to childbirth is over and done with before conception: Does this make a difference? It’s true that many men are more fully engaged in child-rearing nowadays than they were years ago and I know men whose lives revolve around their families as a unit, an entity.
But in a heterosexual 2-parent household, are men totally children centered, rearranging their lives to stay on top of meals, clothing, baths, milestones, socialization, schedules, school, friends, scrapes, tears, emotional development, and on and on? Do they assume any part of the sacrifices this may entail? Or is taking care of the infinite details our ultimate role as women, who perform this relatively thankless job with love and ferocity and who would do it all over again without question if given the choice to go back in time?
Am I revealing a generation gap in my thinking? Are things different in households with “untraditional” family structures?
I am not simply trying to say, “All is well, you can be a mother without going through childbirth,” nor am I downplaying the experience of pregnancy (although I personally think society mythologizes it; it’s hard ). My heart goes out to my dear friend and all who are going through this situation. This post was meant to express empathy for the complexities of womanhood as it relates to having children, because in so many ways, any women can identify with the pain of miscarriage. Do you agree, disagree? I’d love to hear your thoughts.
© Sweepy Jean and Sweepy Jean Explores the (Webby) World, 2010.