A laboring mother is frantically driven to the hospital by her husband. When they arrive, their doctor tells them about this wonderful new technology they have that allows the mother to transfer 50% of the pain of birthing their child to the child’s father! They agree, and as her labor progesses they’re amazed at how well her husband is handling it. They ask the doctor if he can bear more of the wife’s pain and the doctor tells her she can transfer 100%, the husband doesn’t even flinch and handles it like a champ. As they’re driving home a few days later he starts to gloat about how women always complain about how painful it is to have a child, and he barely felt it! They pull up in front of their house and find their mailman passed out on the porch clutching his belly.
A good friend of mine taught me that when you’re going to ask people for money, it’s best to open with a joke. It’s disarming. The sobering statistics about maternal mortality, not so much. When you give people bad news, it puts them on the defense, leaves them waiting for the other shoe to drop. They know you’re going to ask for help, but they don’t know how much help you’re going to need and they’re wary about committing to washing dishes when they just came over to hold the newborn.
I’ve been ruminating on this post for a long time. On this blog, and on my page, I pride myself on being “real” about motherhood. I want us to have honest discussions and laugh about the absurdity of parenting. I walk a fine line most of the time between sharing too much, and sharing not enough. Keeping it real and alienating mothers who have a different experience than I do.
Last fall I started running. If you don’t know me, you probably won’t recognize the absurdity of that. I am not a sporty person, I’m not competitive, and by all accounts my life was complicated enough.
So why did I do it?
When my friends would ask, I’d do my best Forest Gump and say “I just felt like running” but the truth was, most days I didn’t feel like running.
As my daughter approached the 1 year mark, she was nursing less. I started feeling more and more like she was my last baby and was slammed with the staggering realization one night that I didn’t know what to do with my body. I couldn’t remember the last time I’d done something for my body for its own sake, I didn’t even feel like it was mine anymore. After 5 years of babymaking, I couldn’t even recognize it.
When does this happen to women? It’s tempting to say that maternity does it, but the more I thought about it, the more I realized it happens much sooner than that.
I remember not being able to play sports in grade school because, already rocking a tall chubby body, I didn’t want the boys to think I wasn’t “feminine” enough.
I stopped picking clothes because I liked them and started sticking to neutrals and flattering silhouettes. I started being interested in things that girls should be interested in and experimenting with makeup and debating trends.
Is this when it happens? Puberty? A woman’s whole purpose for her body is it’s ability to attract a man, and then it switches to growing babies. But when is it ours?
My daughter is nearly 2 now and starting to get into tutus. That’s great right? Adorable even. And clearly she loves them and it’s a natural choice for her, but I’d be lying if I said there wasn’t some part of me that felt conflicted by it. My little girl with my same tall chubby genes can wear whatever she wants… but can’t that be something with less glitter?
When does it happen moms? When do we lose ownership of our bodies?
I started running because I knew my kids would nap for 2 hours, and for those two hours I could have total peace. Unlike being at home where I’d feel compelled to clean or fold laundry during nap time, I could find myself and do something for myself for a few hours. And the endorphins amazed me. I’d put in my headphones, start a brisk walk, and it was total freedom. The kids were well rested, I was well adusted. It was a transformative experience for me.
By spring I’d graduated from 5Ks to 10Ks, and in May I ran my first half marathon. I was quite simply addicted. I wanted to see what else my body could do, so I started playing softball too. When I noticed my biceps getting bigger from pushing nearly 100 pounds of double stroller, I started doing a little weight training.
A few months ago I collaborated with a charity called Every Mother Counts. This is not just a charity, it’s a mission statement for me. It’s a group that honors women’s bodies so thoroughly, they believe the best and safest way to support a women is to give them resources and get out of the way. They train local women in remote areas with simple midwifery skills, they donate medical supplies, they offer transportation to hospitals in the case of a complication. In short, they believe that women’s bodies belong to them.
I believe so strongly in their work, that I’ve spent weeks struggling with how I can write this post without sounding too shmoozy. You should want to help them, but you should also feel compelled to learn what they do and how far your dollar goes. 100% of your donation goes directly to the cause. This isn’t some pink ribbon thing where you’re paying a CEO a 6 figure salary, every dollar goes to mothers and midwives and support. No one on the board of directors uses donations to pay a salary or host charity balls. It’s all legit. And if you’re a bleeding heart liberal, or a more conservative voter, this is a very politically neutral charity. They don’t provide birth contrl, they don’t do abortions, they don’t dabble in political instability or religious missions. They take women in remote areas who might die from childbirth and they find ways to save their lives. That’s it. Sounds small, but isn’t it really miraculous?
We have this tenuous link to our bodies, we want to belive they’re permanent, but our perception of ourselves is constantly changing based on what we’re able to do. Donating to this campaign is a small thing you can do to affirm the divinity of women’s bodies.
I asked my group, where we debate all issues of parenting, when they felt like they lost ownership of their bodies and they were able to talk it in this almost detached way that made me a little sad. It’s like, society expects us to not care what we can do after we have kids, and I creates this vicious cycle of alienation from ourselves.
So, I opened this post with a joke about being able to transfer the pain of childbirth. And maybe you chuckled a little because you know it’s impossible and absurd. But I want to present you with a radical idea: What if we as collective can shoulder the identity of “womanhood”? What if we can define what our bodies can do and transfer the pain of what it can’t among ourselves? What if we could lift each other up and cheer each other on in a way we rarely see women do in the bloodsport of mothering?
You may not understand why I run or think it’s insane that I’d choose to run a marathon when my life is already pretty chaotic. But maybe you can put that aside and cheer for me, because the very real root of the matter is that I’ve been cheering for all of you for the last 3 years.
For 3 years I’ve been getting angry on your behalf and laughing at the haters with you. For 3 years and with 80,000 other women fighting the same battles we’ve lifted each other up and built a sort of community. I’ve made some lifelong friends on Sanctimommy, and many of you have as well. Can we put a price on that? Let’s say $10. If you’ve ever felt supported or validated on my page, can you donate $10 to a mother in another country who doesn’t have support or validation and furthermore might actually die without it?
If you can’t, that’s fine. We’re all in a different place in our lives. But if you can, imagine the community we’re building, imagine the power of that $10 to lift other women up and tell them that you value the power of their bodies.
Every. Mother. Counts.
And this mother is counting on you. Please consider helping me.