When Modesty & Mannerisms Are a Mountain

Many pregnant women have a tonne of worries when it comes to labour, birth and new parenthood and many of those concerns are centered around modesty and mannerisms. Often, discussions around modesty and mannerisms in childbirth are few and far between and the ones that do take place portray the concern as comical. “Lucy laughed so hard telling me how she mooed like a cow during contractions”. Other times these types of concerns are just brushed off because they may not seem as important as conversations about pain management or care providers.

For some women these worries are a mountain and that slope they need to climb is debilitating. How will I interact with the people in the room? What will I say? How will I behave? Will I really moan and growl? What if I throw up? What if I poop a little when I’m pushing? How naked do I have to be? How uncomfortable will I feel if complete strangers see my lady parts? What will my partner think? What will the doctor/nurses/midwife think? The extra weight of these worries could be due to a meeker personality type or it could be based in culture or neither but either way, brushing these concerns off or making light of them can transform these questions into a list of horrors and it becomes very easy for the mother to feel overwhelmed. Every worry is valid and it’s important to remember that it comes from somewhere.

It is incredibly important to have a conversation about any worries and concerns before labour for all expecting parents. It might be best to discuss your concerns with your partner, or perhaps your care provider or even a professional might be a wiser choice. There may be many ways to overcome your worries or communicate what you need to get through it and come out the other side feeling respected. It may be of great benefit to ask women you know who have laboured about ways they worked to overcome feeling vulnerable and uncomfortable or judged and watched. They may have some great ideas. Sometimes it’s about thinking outside the box and other times it’s about changing your perspective too.

Not long ago a good friend of mine confided that she wasn’t sure she could ever invite me to attend her next birth as she was worried we wouldn’t be friends afterwards. “I’m not a very nice person when I’m in labour” she had said laughing. ┬áHilarious, yes but also a concern of many mothers. Women are often very surprised by the things they say and do in the throws of labour-land. There are stories abound of mothers screaming at their partners ‘don’t touch me’, ‘I hate you’ or ‘you did this to me’. It may help to keep in mind that there is so very much required of a birthing woman physically, emotionally and intellectually. It really is no wonder her filter goes out the window at times. She’s probably exhausted and maybe high on drugs or endorphins or both and she may not remember much of the details anyway.

A mother might scream, growl like chewbacca, flutter her lips like a horse or fall asleep sitting up. Some women are very vocal, smacking pillows with their clenched fists and cursing through contractions. Others barely say a word and are quite happy to stay inside themselves, rocking their hips back and forth and breathing. There really is no right way or wrong way to be in birth and every birthing woman is different. That is something to be embraced.

The truth is that birth is PRIMAL. It is gritty and sweaty and requires everything a mother has got. Natural or not, childbirth is the most challenging thing a woman’s body will ever go through. A lot of the worry comes from just not knowing what is going to happen or how a woman will behave. Primal is not somewhere we go very often in our society and it can feel very uncomfortable.

In labour a woman is very vulnerable and many mothers struggle most with the idea of having complete strangers potentially see their most intimate parts. It is difficult for any woman to wrap their heads around how they could possibly go about feeling comfortable with someone they have never met, or a number of people they have never met staring at their lady bits for an extended period of time. What if I tear and they have to sew me up? Can I wear a shirt or bra? Can I keep myself covered with a gown or blanket?

The blaring concern of pooping while pushing is a matter of perspective in my mind. No question, it is a very valid concern but it is important to know that it doesn’t always happen and if it does the nurse or midwife will have it off and away without saying a word. Mothers rarely even realize it’s happened and if they do, they rarely care. I promise no one in the room is going to stand around marveling at the sight. The birth of a precious child is moments away! Poop is pale in comparison.

Sometimes the worry a mother carries has nothing to do with the sights and sounds of labour. It can be as basic as who’s coming over. One of my greatest concerns during my pregnancy with my son was how I was going to give birth at home and make sure my midwives were taken care of at the same time. I knew I wouldn’t be able to play host and that really bothered me. I asked my sister to support me in my birth for a number of reasons and one was to be the host so I could turn that part of my brain off and focus. It worked like a charm. My entire team enjoyed delicious, fresh sandwiches and unlimited coffee while I laboured away. I’m sure some fruit and sandwich trays in the fridge would have sufficed too but this was lovely.

Some women find the closer their due date comes the more unsettled they begin to feel about a certain individual’s role in their birth or arrival near the time the baby is due. It could be a mother, mother-in-law, cousin, friend or anyone. The partner might have concerns about the kind of energy this person will bring to the birthing room. The mother might have concerns about how much more work having this person stay with them so close to the baby’s birth will be. It could be concerns about snarky comments, not being supportive of the families choices or any number of other things. Couples can feel obligated to have this person participate or fear the aftermath of expressing concerns or ‘changing their minds’. Perhaps the message here needs to be that it may be time to reassess the benefits and disadvantages of having this person at the birth or around at the time of the baby’s birth in an attempt to find a way over the mountain.

“Over every mountain there is a path, although it may not be seen from the valley” – Theodore Roethke

What are some ways a mother can find this path up her mountain of fears surrounding modesty and mannerisms?

I believe it starts with the conversation. What are her fears really? What is most important to her? What is the worst thing she think could happen and what steps could be taken to avoid that?

Her support team is critical. A birthing woman needs to feel supported and she needs to know that her support team will be there for her regardless of how she behaves, what she says, the sounds she makes, decisions she makes and regardless of what happens. They help her to feel safe, respected, heard, loved and valued and all of this helps to hold her space so she can focus and bring her baby into the world. As a supporter (whether it’s a husband, wife, mother, sister, friend or doula) working together to create this for her is key.

All she might need is for her supporters to quietly shut the door, dim the lights, cover her with a blanket and growl like chewbacca right along with her or she may need her team to advocate for her and communicate her mountain to elicit understanding and so everyone is on the same page working towards a positive birth experience. Women work hard to bring their babies into the world. Some moan and groan, some laugh and cry. ┬áThere are many fears, worries and concerns for new families and with that should come a great deal of support and understanding. Seeing that newborn baby curled up in her arms and all the emotion on her face in that moment, the pride, the love. She did it! That’s what it’s about, climbing the mountain anyway and reaching the summit.

What were/are some of your greatest fears and worries about labour? Did you find ways to overcome them?


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