Note: I’ve been wanting to write about the birth of Aidan for some time.. but it’s a hard topic for me to confront . So I’ve decided to do it little by little, if and when I can. I suspect my feelings will change over time, they often have.. but I still need to get these feelings out there. Today’s installment is less about the events around his birth and more a question about how we can raise our children not to be ashamed of their bodies.
From the time we can understand concepts of nudity, we are told to cover up.
We are taught to protect our privacy and be respectful of others privacy.
As women we are given bras at puberty and in recent times I’ve seen tiny bra-like tops for girl children.
We are chastised for lifting our skirts up and told to keep our legs crossed.
Then once the deed is done and we are finally opened, we give over. Apparently we don’t just open to the one man who we hopefully trust and love, but to everyone else as well.
Our arms are uncovered so we can be stuck with needles and blood taken from us.
Our legs are forced open and our insides are probed all “for the wellbeing of you and your child”.
We are watched, monitored, scrutinised, often naked or half naked as the agony of childbirth comes upon us.
More needles, more pain, sometimes we are cut right open, right then “for the wellbeing of you and your child”.
But no-one tells us this is ok.
No-one undoes those years of conditioning that privacy is all important.
And so instead of joy at the miracle of birth, some of us, just some of us, are left feeling forever violated.
Love for the child will give us the courage to feed them openly in public, or maybe we won’t. Maybe we will try furtively to hide our breasts and bow our bodies over the tiny life we’ve brought into the world. Maybe we will walk the lopsided walk of a proud mother, made ashamed of her body. Nowhere to hide, everything exposed. All of the things, we had been told to keep to ourselves from the moment we could understand the words.
Yet something written some time ago and read amongst the university crowds and the feminists movements, still strikes a happy chord for me.
‘Virgin’ means one as yet unmarked by them, for them. Not yet a woman in their terms…Not yet penetrated or possessed by them…A virgin is but the future for their exchanges, their commerce, and their transports. A kind of reserve for their explorations, consummations, and exploitations.1
Brutal and true. Does it have to be this way?
What if we were empowered to be open on our terms. What if in that crucial moment when it is our life and our chlid’s life on the line, we could feel OK with opening ourselves? What kind of programming early on, would it take to instill a sense of ownership like that? Certainly something stronger than “put your dress down, everyone can see your undies” that is purely based in the fear of embarrassment from others!
Maybe now, three years later, I understand why they try to make you write birth plans or think harder about what will happen during birth.. maybe that is the insitutional way to empower… but I don’t think they go far enough and I don’t think they can.
I think it is now up to me – to teach my daughter that her body is beautiful, is hers, to be cared for and developed. I will teach her, that sex is not something to be ashamed of and I will abolish the word virgin from my vocab. I will share with her the realities of childbirth and make her proud that through her body a new life might come into this world and it matters not what her body looks like at ANY time before, during or after that event.
I will teach her to be proud of her body. God forbid it should ever sustain violation, but I will teach her all the same, that her body was designed to protect her soul and she alone can let attacks on the soul through those outer defences. She will learn not to measure what is inside of her, by what is on the outside of others.
I might never be able to change my programming, but it is the responsibility of one generation to pass our learnings to the next. I hope these are lessons, my daughter can use.
1Luce Irigaray, “When Our Lips Speak together,” trans. Carolyn Burke, Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society, vol. 6, no. 1, 1980, p. 74. This Sex Which is Not One. Cornell Univ. Press, 1984.