I’ve been struggling with where to park this one…do two midwives really have the right to question common practices in elementary schools across the nation? In the spirit of sharing the hours (and hours and hours) of time we’ve spent laying on someone else’s couch and talking about what we can do to inoculate girls and young women against the myriad ways that adult women don’t feel empowered to take care of themselves, or use their voices to state their needs, or introduce topics that might bring conflict into their lives….here goes.
Jane and I were on the phone (again!) and we got sidetracked (again!) and started sharing stories about girls we know, the girls we were, and the time we’ve spent teaching girls. Up comes the topic, “It’s like pulling teeth to get a girl to use the bathroom without asking permission first.” Not often the hot topic in midwifery circles—at first I thought we were talking about empowering girls to empty their bladder. Ms. Jane, ever the former school teacher, shared stories of telling her students that if they would just use the bathroom when they need to without telling her about it, or asking her permission to do it, she would also abstain from telling them when she needed to use the bathroom. In the perfect way that she has, she made it clear to them that this arrangement would work as long as they used it responsibly and didn’t linger, loiter, or use the time to organize against The Man. Now don’t be shocked all you folks who rely on stickers and hall passes and complicated systems whereby only one student can use the bathroom pass at a time (please watch Weeds and note the girl positively begging her teacher to be allowed to use the bathroom—pleading which was ignored and denied—and the subsequent in-situ explosion). But her system—the one where the teacher says, “I trust you to know the needs of your body and manage those needs in a responsible way,” worked. On and on the conversation traveled until there was a flash inside my head.
It’s no wonder that birthing is so darn hard for so many American women. We are taught to deny our most basic bodily sensations from a very early age here. And then it is reinforced year after year and hour after long hour in some cases. A full bladder is a wonderful thing—the sensation of pressure that results from hydration is so informative. Not only does it tell us that we are taking care of our bodies by drinking, but it tells us that our bodies have a system used to regulate liquids, toxins, vitamins, and all of the other lovely little goodies that compose our urine. But mostly it is great because our body yells at us to get up and move and use our very amazing and natural abilities to create change and restore comfort.
You can see where I’m going…if we spend our lives denying the signals in our bodies that positively scream at us to move or make change or simply let go the urine in our bladders…how on earth are we supposed to suddenly respond to those signals for which we have never developed receptors? Why would we ever even know what to listen for, how to listen, or how to receive and react to the messages our body and baby send us during labor and birth?
Don’t get me wrong, it all works…eventually. Because gravity and the force of what my son once proudly and loudly referred to as, “the MOST POWERFUL muscle in the human body!!” do tend to conspire to eject our babies from our bodies despite everything we do, and don’t do to aid in the process. All of the extra time it takes us to just let our bodies take over is too much time in the world of modern obstetrics, and 30-40% of us here in Seattle will have our babies in the OR because of the time we are taking with labor. It appears that the increased cesarean rate may be traceable to the rules of elementary school as much as anything else.
You draw the conclusions—and consider—the conversations you will have at the next parent-teacher conference.