Dirty Birth

Advent is long gone, but it is my favorite time of year.  It is the only time that I feel like I can blend in with the heard.  We are all waiting and hoping for light in a time of cold and darkness.  I was raised anti-catholic, and to fear Mary.  To give Mary any attention was to worship a false god.  Now I understand that fear of Mary has more to do with the patriarchy than an actual fear that we will deify her.

As I thought of advent this year, I meditated on Mary.  I wondered about her.  I couldn’t stop thinking about her.  So I wrote down my thoughts.

Dirty Birth

She was so tired.  The traveling was a chore and a burden and not as exciting as she wished it was.  Her back ached so much.  She did not ride the donkey very much.  Getting on it was too cumbersome with her distended belly.  Her legs and thighs ached because of its heavy gait.  The donkey was old anyway and it was their only donkey.  So she walked.  Her back had a deep ache and the ache was getting deeper and deeper.  

On all fours she rocked back and forth on her hands and knees.  The woman that the property owner had brought to help her, a midwife, wanted her to try to get up and squat with a birth stool, but the squatting hurt too much. Even with the midwife offering her own body as support- Miryam refused.  She was just fine on her knees.  The contractions were too close together for her to move between them anyway.  As each one came and crashed against her body, she breathed as deeply as she could and involuntarily swayed her hips.  Her body was simultaneously grasping for relief and working hard to move a baby out.  The midwife rubbed Miryam’s back and a young girl, no more than 9 years old, stood rigidly against the wooden wall, eyes wide.  The child was ready with the birthing stool, a pile of sun dried rags, oil, and a wool blanket that was clean enough.  It was all they had had time to bring.  The midwife had her bag and barked orders at the sleepy girl to assist her.

The laboring mother groaned loudly and tears streamed down her face.  Her back and bottom burned from the contractions and she wished her mother and cousin were there to be her midwives.  She did not cry from the physical pain.  She cried because the young wide-eyed girl reminded her of her former self.  It was only a few years ago that she was 9 and old women barked orders at her.  So many things had happened in the span of a few years.  She was not ready to be a mother and a wife no matter how wonderful the child could be.  Miryam was not sure, but she had been laboring since before sunset, and it was going to be morning soon.  She did not feel favored during these hours.  In this hour she was utterly alone and unseen.

She wept and dropped her head to the rough blanket they had given her on the dirt floor.  Her blanket was less than clean, but she did not care or notice.  It was dark in the stall and she was glad they could not see her cry.  She labored quietly, mind the groans and deep sighs.  She did not want to worry Yossef.  He was within earshot.  Or maybe he wouldn’t worry if she screamed and if she died.  If she were to die in labor, he would be free of her as his obligation.  He could start again.  He was a generous man.  He had kept his promises to her even when her belly swelled with child after she had been gone for months- living with her cousin.  People talked.  He stood by her and his promise.  She shook her head as if to shake the thoughts out.  If she survived this birth, she needed to prove herself strong and brave.

Miryam would not scream yet.  She swallowed the cries with the next contraction.  She had torn her dress off an hour ago and thankfully the midwife was unalarmed to see a naked laboring mother, bottom up, sweaty, and mooing.  The dress was filthy from the walk and smelled.  It was better that it was off.

The pain was unbearable.  Miryam wanted to rewind her life 40 weeks and say no to her blessing.  She wanted to crawl out of her skin and be back in the arms of her mother.  If she had the strength, she would have run away from the filthy stall.  She hadn’t forseen her life looking like this.  This was not how kings were born.

Miryam didn’t know what she believed anymore.

“You are getting close,” the midwife said and firmly pressed on Miryam’s lower back.  She poured warmed oil on her fingers and massaged the laboring mother.  Miryam was so relieved to have the midwife touch her.  She felt momentarily less alone and the pressure on her back was a distraction.  No one had touched her in so long.  Yossef was- well- he was afraid of her.  He was distant.  She felt utterly alone.  Sometimes there were bouts of relief and she felt reassured that he trusted her.  She was glad to be his betrothed.  He had saved her from the disgrace of being alone and pregnant.  But he kept his distance and expected her to be the model wife.  She was humble, diligent, and obedient.

She let out a cry and the midwife knew she was transitioning.

“I can see the head!”  The midwife shouted and used her fingers to make sure it was the top of the head she was feeling.  She motioned for the young girl to come to her.  Every birth was a new opportunity to learn.  The midwife would not tell her helper until later that she was glad to not feel an infant’s face, bottom, or feet.  The midwife was pleased that the soft spot of the infant’s head had a strong pulse.  Delivering dead babies was something she did often, but it never got easier.  Early in the labor, when the contractions were getting closer together, Miryam had nonsensically repeated that everything would be fine and that she was favored, but she also had a slight fever at that point.  The midwife didn’t mind a delirious laboring mother- she also didn’t mind if she did have a mother that was favored.  Uneventful births were happy births.

Miryam continued to rock and her head was on the ground now.  She grasped the blanket tightly and pushed with every contraction.  The pushing helped bring small moments of relief.  But she was so very tired.  She had been having contractions as they walked into town.  She was able to walk through most of them.  As they got closer and closer to town, she had to stop walking for the duration of each contraction.  Yossef was clueless and frightened.  Miryam was clueless and frightened.  She boldly threw her arms around  him for the longer ones, which took them both by surprise.

She yelled out as she pushed.  She could not hear herself and she did not hear the commotion about her.  The young girl brought the rags and knelt down behind Miryam.  Newly born babies were slippery and the rags would help her catch the infant.  The young girl would catch the babe, the midwife would continue to rub the warm oil to sooth the burning that came with crowning.  All the women were knelt there together, taking up space on the modest blanket that was covering a filthy floor.

Miryam’s back slouched and the midwife knew the young woman was exhausted.

“You told me you would be fine and you are doing exceptionally well.  Maybe you are favored.”    Miryam’s head nodded slightly even as she rested it upon the scratchy blanket.  The stall they were in glowed dimly with the light of two meager lanterns.  Dawn was coming, but it was still very dark.  None of the women felt the chill in the air because they were working tremendously hard to birth a baby.

“Now on this next one, take the biggest breath and push with everything you have and you can be done.  Prove to me you are favored,”  The midwife was both scolding her and encouraging her.  Miryam mustered all the strength she had left and lifted her head up off the blanket.  She inhaled and the midwife could see her back and ribs expand with air.

“That’s a good girl.  Now push!”

And as the midwife yelled at her to push Miryam groaned loudly until her body heaved with sobs.  The young girl caught the baby.  The midwife relaxed back on her heels.  Miryam collapsed forward on her side and before she knew it the 9 year old girl had already placed the baby on her sweaty chest.  Her hair was tangled and dirty and matted.  The baby cried out with life in her arms and she swept her hair away from her face to get a look at her child.  The midwife tied a string around the umbilical cord and wrapped the pair in the larger blanket.  They helped Miryam to sit up and nurse the baby.

Her contractions continued and they would continue until she delivered the after birth.  Miryam felt them and she was aware of the discomfort but it did not matter to her.  Her body hummed and glowed with the warmth of her healthy baby.  Her betrothed was not there, and she was unclean, so he would not come too close.  She would be tended to by her family if she was at home.  But for now, she was all alone and in place that was not her home, in a room that was barely fit for animals.  She wept softly, overcome, but she did not feel sorry for herself.

Maybe she was favored after all.




"Raising a Girl is too hard," says almost everyone.

What I write on here is dictated largely by my daily experiences.  This week I noticed something really interesting.  I was talking to two completely different social groups of twenty-somethings and somehow the same topic came up- having kids.  This is not an unusual thing for our age group.  We are watching friends and peers have kids.  We are excited/confused/terrified/anticipating doing this ourselves.  We chat about it at work or while eating meats cooked over fire.  It’s all very natural stuff to chat about.

At work this conversation spontaneously came up- I am not sure how (now that I am trying to remember, my mind is blank).  I think we were talking about siblings and birth order, and someone commented on how they hope they don’t have daughters because they are terrified of dealing with them.  That comment was followed by a chorus of “Oh yeahs” and “I only want boys”  or “girls are trouble.”

*Full disclosure- In the past I have only wanted boys, too.  My reason for this is totally different than those voiced in the 2 conversations I participated in this week.  I will get to my history in that arena later.  All you really need to know now is that I do not want only boys anymore.

 I was shocked that everyone in the ethnically diverse room- 8 people, 6 women and 1 man- all agreed that they wanted only boys (I am the 8th person, just in case you were using your fingers to count).  I am no statistician (despite acing college stats TWICE), but the odds are not looking good that all 7 of these folks will have male-only-offspring.  It makes me sad that when they find out they are having a girl, they will be disappointed, even if it is only a little disappointing.  I am sure they would feign happiness.  I am sure that if some of them had boys, they would then want girls.  I hate that girls would only be desired as an afterthought, though.  That is a disgusting shame.

I spoke up about this.

I said, “I want to raise strong women who love themselves.  And I want to raise strong men who love themselves and respect women.”  This response elicited a pretty solid chorus of head nods.  But their faces betrayed that they really didn’t want to be bothered.  Raising women who love themselves in this world is a tall order.  Yo.

Then yesterday, I was in a different social setting (informal backyard party), with a pretty homogeneous racial make-up.  Again the issue of having kids came up, and people expressed that they only wanted boys.  I think I was so surprised that I heard this same information again that I neglected to contribute to the conversation.  It is actually kind of shocking that I didn’t say anything.  I was too busy thinking about how I needed to write all of this down.

I think the thing that broke my heart the most about both of these conversations, was that the majority of people who did not want to raise daughters were women.  I won’t lie to you about this; I felt betrayed.  I wanted to say, “Come on guys, it’s not so bad.  Just be the mother you always wanted to have. Bam.  Get it done.”

I have a hard relationship with my mother.  So I never wanted kids, no matter their gender, because I did not want my future progeny to feel about me the way I have felt about my mother.  I have thought some pretty not-nice things about my mom.  Since I am a woman and my mother is a woman, I have some intense fears about repeating bad things and making the same mistakes she did.  It terrifies me, especially when I catch myself sounding like my mother.

 But here is the thing- I was not raised by a feminist.  I was not raised by a woman who is even my own race.  So I was/am ashamed of a what makes me ME.  I already have a cardboard children’s book on my bookshelf that is full of different colors of children that uses really fun adjectives to describe how all the colors are good and beautiful.  I want to be able to share that with my kids.  I want my kids to feel at home in their skin, no matter what color their skin happens to be.  I want them to feel like their hair is just perfect, no matter if they have little wispy frizz curls or beach waves.  I want my daughter to respect her own body and not look at menstruation as some dirty burden.  I want my boys to respect what women’s bodies can do (which is anything boy’s bodies can do) and not what they look like.  I will do this because I really wish that I was given that foundation.

I wasn’t proud of my Black history until I studied it myself in college (after being encouraged by my sister when I had the most epic identity crisis).  I wasn’t cool with my period until I read some great feminist literature and found the right products for my body (menstrual cups- it might be the product for you).

When I started my new job a few weeks ago, I went to the Target and bought myself a little make-up bag looking thing and filled it with all of the things I would need in case I got caught with my period at my work place (my cycle is just starting to regulate so I always need to be prepared, and I appreciate that you didn’t need to know that).  It has hand sanitizer, a mini bottle of advil, pads, tampons, liners.  I use a menstrual cup, but I don’t always remember to toss it in my bag.  I also know other people may come to my home and I like to have supplies for them just in case.  So I have my kit and I keep it in my bag (my co-workers think it is awesome and I am more than just a little jazzed that all the ladies come to me when they need supplies).  I said to myself, “boy, I wish my mom had made me one of these to keep in my backpack when I was in middle school.”  It would have made me feel so secure knowing I didn’t have to worry about getting my period at school.  And the make-up bag keeps everything nice and tidy and you don’t have stray tampons opening up in your bag and ibuprofen isn’t spilling out everywhere.  And if you carry a make-up bag to the bathroom, everyone just thinks you are gonna put on some lip gloss in there.  Note to self: make these kits for my daughters.

I am still terrified of being a horrible mother.  But I want to raise secure young people who love themselves and respect themselves.  I don’t want my kids to oversexualize their bodies or the bodies of others because they are not affirmed in their won sexuality or unacknowledged as sexual beings.  I also do not want them to be underprepared or uneducated about sex (am I the only person who never got the talk?).  I think if you raise kids to respect their bodies, they will respect everyone else’s bodies.  And if they are raised to love themselves, they will be loving towards others.  If they are raised to appreciate how they are unique and that being different is not bad, then they will see that people different from them are not terrifying.

I want to raise daughters because I want to raise good people.  And I really think you should raise some girls, too.  Odds are- you are gonna have to.  So better change your mind about it now.  I don’t think we can positively progress as a society, expect equal pay for women, get better maternity/paternity leave,  and respect for our bodies (Republicans: get out of my uterus.  I already told you I have a menstrual cup in my vag.  There is not enough room in there for the both of you.  Now git on home to your yacht or whatever) until baby girls are valued and wanted.  If you do not want to raise a girl, care for one, raise one to be a good citizen, then you can’t really be surprised when half our government doesn’t give a shit about them either.