A few things have fallen into place for my pregnancy / birth.  I had made a tentative decision to see a midwife rather than an OB, and to give birth at a birthing center rather than in the hospital.  Now that I have seen the midwife and the birthing center, I'm sure about the midwife part.  My mother was trying to sway me on the hospital vs. birthing center, but I'm pretty sure I want the birthing center.

I have taken another step towards the crunchy granola outer fringe by reading up on hypnosis for labor and getting really excited about it.  The first book I read was "Hypnobirthing."  The idea is that by using self-hypnosis to stay relaxed, we can avoid a lot of the excruciating pain of labor. 

If, when you read "hypnosis," you think of someone swinging a pocket watch in front of your face and telling you that you are verrry sleeeepy, yeah I know.  That's what I thought about it too.  Half of what passes for my education came from "Mr. Ed" and "The Brady Bunch."

But I had the odd fortune of being taken to a therapist who included hypnosis in his treatment when I was about 13.  It was for weight loss, of course, and I remember the experience as being profoundly relaxing and empowering.  I have since noticed that state of deep focus that can come when doing something relaxing - hitting the sweet spot in a long run, ironing, coloring or drawing, raking leaves, swimming.  It's different for everyone but for me it often involves mild exertion or repetition. 

I've also noticed the power of the messages I tell myself.  I had a friend who once took me aside and told me that what I thought was self-deprecating humor was actually self-hating and not very funny.  She was right, and by making a conscious effort to be kinder to myself, even in jokes, I started believing the better version of my story.  I have to follow the same rules I follow for anybody else in the way I talk about myself.  I may do a stupid thing but I am not stupid.  I may feel ugly, but that's not the same as saying I am ugly.  Not even close.  After taking her suggestions to heart, my life improved.  I no longer found myself in relationships that were good enough for the unlovable, stupid me; I no longer even did as many of the stupid, unlovable things that seemed to be my destiny before. 

Anyway, the hypnobirthing idea comes in stages.  The first is that giving birth is natural and not necessarily excruciating.  The book points out that women in less developed countries don't associate a lot of drama with birth, and they don't expect it to be as long or as painful.  They seem to approach birth without fear.  Animals, also, don't make a lot of noise when they give birth.

This contrasts what we have been taught, again through movies and TV shows and word of mouth, that birth is painful, life-threatening, takes many many hours, and that a woman needs the help of a doctor to get it done.  How many times have we seen these elements of birthing in TV and movies?  The last time the woman has any say is when she says "Honey, it's time!"  From then on it's racing around, rushing to the hospital, doctors and nurses telling her what to do, pain, yelling, misery, culminating in a doctor telling her to "push!" and the baby coming.  Or surgery.  Or death.

Since this view of birth is what I have been taught, it has become fact, all the way down to the physical level.  My beliefs can make the difference between the birth experience I want, and something different, if I can't overcome these "facts" and teach my body something different. 

When I watched "The Business of Being Born," and saw several natural births, I would not have known they were births.  There was no yelling.  The woman seemed to be doing it herself, rather than having doctors and nurses yell at her, and then pull the baby out of her.  Everyone talked in low voices.  The woman seemed drawn deeply into herself.  Each time a baby came out, I couldn't believe it and I kept saying "That's IT?" 

It could be that we make it excruciating because of our fear, which has the specific physiological effect of tightening the exact muscles that need to be relaxing.  This not only causes pain but slows labor, and from what I hear there is a lot of pressure from the doctors for labor to "progress" which I think is medical talk for "get on with it so nobody sues us."  It makes sense that we could stop our labor if we were in immediate danger; but the stress and fear of pain makes our labor stop when we want it to get going.

I hesitate to write all this, and that is the really sad part.  I know some people, online and off, will scoff.  Sometimes when we really need support from other women, all we get is Girl Police.

Mean_girls_xl_01--film-B Girl Police is the self-hating aspect of being a woman that has always saddened me.  Here's an example.  During my freshman year of high school, I decided to wear a skirt and hose to school for no reason, except exploring a more feminine side of myself.  This was a stretch, because I had always been fat and not really been raised with girly stuff.  But it was a good stretch and I felt really happy and pretty as I walked up to my best friend at her locker. 

She looked me up and down and then hissed "You didn't SHAVE YOUR LEGS!  GROSS!" 

I'm very blonde, and not shaving has always been something I could get away with.  At the time, I didn't even know much about shaving, so I didn't think to do it.  But even so… where do we get all this shame and disgust?

Who teaches us that parts of ourselves are gross?  Not men.  Men love our hairiness and our jiggles and our smells.  It's other women.  Who teaches us that we look really bad without makeup?  That our butt does, in fact, look big in those pants – and that a big butt is a bad thing in the first place?  Other women. 

It's often subtle, as in "You should wear makeup more often" or "You look really nice today."  We're more open, getting our ugly on, when we let loose on other women behind their backs.  "So not a good look for her"  "oh no she ditn't"  "You know, she's the one who always wears a jumper…"  Sometimes the Girl Police are your friends (and I use that term loosely).  Sometimes they are the mean girls at your school, your workplace, your wherever.  Sometimes, unfortunately, they're your mom. 

Who taught me that getting my period was yucky, painful, and burdensome?  My mom.  When I was way over my head with very heavy periods and bad cramps in the fifth grade, my mom didn't so much as hook me up with an aspirin, or mention tampons to me when pads kept failing.  She just told me sternly to "clean myself up."  Who told me that I shouldn't like boys because I was fat?  My girlfriends in eighth grade. 

It's pretty sad.  Fast forward to now, and my mom is dead set against me giving birth outside of a hospital because at the birthing center there is no epidural.  The irony: my mom didn't get an epidural when she gave birth to my brother and me.  She had either a general or twilight.  She doesn't even know how much it hurt, because she wasn't there.  But instead of saying "Hey, maybe there is something to this.  Maybe it doesn't have to hurt as much," my mom is part of the Girl Police. 

She had pain and fear in childbirth, and while on the surface she thinks she's saving me from making a naive decision, I think deep down she's thinking: "I suffered, and you should too."  This is doubly sad because my mom is a die-hard feminist.  Usually she loves it when my opportunities as a woman are better than what hers were.

So in order for any of this to work – the natural childbirth, the hypnobirting, the timely progress of labor so I don't get transferred – I have to dig really, really deep and change my beliefs.   I have to believe that the hypnobirth stories are real, that the natural view of birth is real.  That learning about what those muscles are doing, and concentrating on letting them do it, will help.  That just because my translation of the Bible says "you will have pain in childbirth" doesn't mean that God wants me to suffer the way most American women do.  There is plenty of pain in pregnancy and plenty of pain in child-rearing, emotional pain being much worse than the rest of it. 

But I do believe it.  I don't think that not shaving is gross and I don't think that me without makeup is unattractive and I don't think my body needs a doctor to tell it how to release this baby.  (I know nothing but I'm trusting my instinct will take over).  Intervention is always a possibility and I get that.  I can do everything "right" and still end up in surgery.  I get that.  But I'm going to plan for the best case, and I think I'm going to need to just be naive, and hopeful, and plug my ears when around some regular women who've had babies.  Some of them just will not be supportive.

What about you?  Have you experienced (or have you been) Girl Police?