This month I turn one as a mother. My daughter, consequently, is also turning one—a first birthday I am excitedly planning. Specifically, I want to make Hazel a rainbow cake with lots of colored layers and white frosting. I’m not even sure she’ll be able to eat the cake (avoiding lots of sugar for a one-year-old and all), but among those family pictures I treasure, my mother held a cake for her little ones. I want to be like my mother. I am going to make a cake.
But planning my daughter’s party, I realized that I am also going to have a kind of birth-day anniversary. Other moms have told me that it takes a year to really process the experience of giving birth. While I did consider the significance of my “birthing community,” in a blog last fall, I realized a couple of weeks ago that I wasn’t done understanding what I, what mothers, and what life givers of all kinds go through to bring life into the world.
Driving to work recently, having left my daughter and husband at home like on so many weekends, I felt overcome with emotions about Hazel’s birth. I have also been told that we mothers forget—forget the pain and the birthing—in light of the life we’ve made. But do we forget? Or do we remember in waves like the one that hit me in the car on a Saturday morning? Do we remember in our bodies? Do we remember in unconscious ways within a society that only has so much room for women’s stories and their bodies? As a feminist, woman and mother, I want to know what I can re-member.
I had a somewhat difficult birthing experience, so when I remember the day Hazel was born, I usually remember fear: so much fear, for my baby, for myself, and overwhelmingly, of the pain. When confronting this fear months and now nearly a year after giving birth, I have found myself doubting my strength and resolve. Was I strong enough? Why wasn’t I stronger? Did I let my baby down? Did I let myself down? I wanted to be stronger. But today, instead of indicting myself for the struggle, I want to re-member my strength.
I re-member the fact that when I was overwhelmed with Pitocin induced contractions I asked for what I needed: I had an epidural. It took courage to ask for this, giving up on plans and ideals, feeling the weight of a culture that seems to treat “natural childbirth” as worthy and heroic, and intervention as “the easy way out.” None of it was easy; and I chose what was best for me.
I re-member the vulnerability and exposure of childbirth. I have never had so many wires in my vagina or so many people looking at it at once. I was sick in front of people I didn’t want to be sick in front of; I hurt in front of people when I would have rather hurt privately. But I asked for help. I discovered my “birthing community;” and I gained family in multiple ways.
I re-member that when I took Hazel home from the hospital it was hard for my post-surgery body to carry even her eight pounds to the restaurant across the street. But I did carry her. And today, I carry her twenty-three plus pounds everywhere: on walks through our neighborhood, to the park, to stores, while making lunch and carrying laundry, while playing ‘superman,’ or blowing raspberries onto her tummy.
Though I still have vivid memories of the day of Hazel’s birth, I am just starting to re-member my birthing experience. Even some of the assertions I make here are more conscious acts of will and re-claiming, rather than deep understandings that I’ve integrated into my emotional and spiritual life. But writing this blog, I want to celebrate my daughter and her birth-day—so I make these assertions, I re-member my strength, as a gift to her and to myself.
Sara Frykenberg, Ph.D.: Graduate of the Women’s Studies in Religion program at Claremont Graduate University, Sara’s research considers the way in which process feminist theo/alogies reveal a kind transitory violence present in the liminal space between abusive paradigms and new non-abusive creations: a counter-necessary violence. In addition to her feminist, theo/alogical and pedagogical pursuits, Sara is also an avid fan of science fiction and fantasy literature, and a level one Kundalini yoga teacher.