I didn’t think I would need to hear these words again. After an almost twenty year battle of dealing with the mental aftermath of an eating disorder, I thought I had turned a final corner in how I viewed myself, seeing my body as the beautiful creation that was made just for me. I have even had moments of seeing this almost 9 month pregnant self in the mirror and actually amazed that I felt like singing from West Side Story, “I feel pretty! Oh so pretty!” Those days of hating my body and abusing it in order to force it to subdue to the look I wanted it to be (or that society convinced me I should be) were behind me, right?
It seems even I, a champion of a new feminism and author on a book about the beauty of womanhood, even I am affected by our culture’s emphasis to not respect our bodies, to use them, to discipline them and force them to our will. (Say it ain’t so!) Ah, but it is. No one is immune to our culture’s affect on our thoughts and actions. We need to be so diligent and aware of this so we may counteract it in our own lives.
For me, it came about recently. I have rheumatoid arthritis. I’ve had it since I was 19. In my early 20s, there were times when I was in such pain that I couldn’t walk. After drugs and doctor’s advice didn’t give me full relief, I ultimately found respite from the disease through dietary changes. However, at the end of each pregnancy, RA’s ugly head rears up. And it has gotten worse with each pregnancy.
Here I am again at 38 ½ weeks, and I am not able to function very well. Every step I take is an effort. Every step is a knife into my hips and nails into my ankles. I have been prescribed pain medications, but they only go so far. I have been praying my body would get the hint and this baby would come sooner rather than later. Imagine my excited hope when I spent one Saturday afternoon working through 8 hours of contractions. They weren’t super strong, but they were consistent. I never went into the hospital because we were just waiting for my body to cross that line into “oh shoot! Yeah, we better go in!” But it never did. After 8 hours, the contractions stopped and I begrudgingly went to bed.
Monday morning I went in for my 38 week OB appointment. I was embarrassed at how long it took me to walk through the halls and more so by the tears that welled in my eyes anytime someone asked how I was doing or if they could help me. I was angry with my body for not cooperating and causing me such misery … and it showed. My OB practitioner I see at the clinic is a Certified Nurse Practitioner/midwife. She has always supported me in my choice of medication-free/ intervention-free labors. She came in with smiles and saw me and stopped, asking how I was. I cried. Truly, I was at my breaking point.
She said many women are at this stage, but I do have an extra burden with the RA. She then said “You don’t want to change your birth plan though, do you?” I wanted to scream “I just want this baby born RIGHT NOW! I don’t care what intervention we use!” But I actually said, “I would like to know my options.” So, she talked about inducing as early as next week, but she’d want to see a little more dilation or the baby dropping a bit more, before we did that. But yes! It is possible! She said sometimes even just knowing that you have “an out” can give you the strength to get through. However, knowing how much I love natural labors, she would hate to intervene too soon and end up using tons of pitocin or worse with a C-section.
I then shook my head. I said, “I’m in so much pain. And I went through a whole day of contractions and then nothing. My body is just broken; it doesn’t know what it’s doing.”
She immediately looked intently at me, “No. That’s not true at all! Your body is not broken! You are doing a wonderful job! You have an extra burden of pain to carry, but try to look on the bright side. Many women have troublesome pregnancies and multiple miscarriages, you don’t. Setting the arthritis pain aside, you have beautiful pregnancies! Your labors are natural and healthy and so are your babies! You are more blessed than you realize!”
She rolled her chair to me, handing me a kleenex. “Now, I want you to know that you do have “an out,” but I also want you to know that you can do this! Your body knows what it is doing and it is not ready yet. This baby will come when the time is right. You may need to sacrifice a little more during this time, but you can do it. What I do suggest if you choose to make that sacrifice, if you choose to say “Yes” to baby coming in your body’s timeline, is that you give yourself the freedom to say “No” to practically everything else during this time. That’s one way you can alleviate some of the discomfort and yet still give your body time.”
She hugged me and wrapped up the appointment with the scheduling info for next week saying she would support whatever I wanted to do. But we would leave the decision open-ended for now and just take it one day at a time.
I left there in peace. And as I contemplated her words throughout the rest of my day, I realized what was happening. I was once again trying to control my body. I was not respecting the gift of my body that the Creator gave me, but trying to manipulate it, control it, and subdue it, and I was frustrating myself by getting nowhere. As I cancelled my errands for the rest of the day, I saw the beauty of the new feminism ideal rise again. My body is not broken. My body is not broken. My body is not broken.
These words echoed in my mind and I realized what I really had done. We are so quick to want to finish one job and move on to the next, to be reliable, successful, self-sufficient. Yet, this is not the feminine way. We can be these things, and yet, there is more. There is relationship dependency, listening to and working with our bodies (not against them) and enjoying life (not racing through it to the next achievement). Mia culpa. I’m choosing now to respect my body, to sacrifice this suffering so the baby can come when my body is ready. I’m choosing to take the road less traveled, and I pray it will make all the difference…
Theresa Martin blogs at New Feminism Rising.
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