In part-interview and part philosophical discussion, fellow first time mama-to-be and all-around inspiring lady friend Shadea took some time to have a talk with me about pregnancy, vulnerability, identity, support, and options.
E: HI SHADEA.
S: HELLO EMILY!
So, first — will you tell anyone reading a little bit about you and your lovely husband, and basically about becoming pregnant for the first time?
Ah well. This will be hard not to run down a romantic memory lane and gush all over everyone in the most sickening way.
IT IS SO GROSS.
NO, it’s lovely!!! You two have such a luminous relationship. I went there, I said luminous.
I’ll try to be brief because we have a lot to talk about – Davis and I met in college working at the same coffee shop.
I was madly infatuated with him and we fell in love in the winter during a snowstorm. My power went out and I stayed with him for a week.
OMG IT’S SO SAPPY.
Within a few months of dating, we made plans to travel together in the summer. We went to few countries in Europe and then lived in Morocco for a month while I studied Arabic and did some research for my senior thesis.
See, I can’t start from anywhere but the start!
Anyway – Long story short, we hit all the major testing points before getting married – we traveled together, lived together and lived away from each other.
Right — I think that’s why you want to start at the beginning — you formed such a deep, strong relationship before babies or even marriage were on the table — that’s super important, and I feel similarly about Shaun and me. It’s so important to have a strong foundation to build upon.
And you got married when?
We’ve been married for 3.5 years (4 in May).
JESUS. Time flies.
Good, you remembered your anniversary. Points.
So — now you’re knocked up, like me — which to me is a really cool experience to have together since we’ve known each other so long.
For background to anyone reading– you and I have known each other since fourth grade which GOOD LORD.
Here is my favourite elementary school memory of you and me —
Competing over how many books we read?
Because I was thinking about that last night.
The only reason I eeked out a win in 5th grade was because you had *literally* read every book in the library and there were no more left for you to take tests on.
For some weird reason, we were the only ones in 5th grad Social Studies GT, and on Thursday afternoons, we scampered off to GT all by ourselves — and I was SO AWKWARD that year, with the Horrible Glasses and Tragic Bangs and a tacky church camp beaded necklace I would never take off. And you had that — knee thing? The issue with your knee and you wore a knee brace that made your one leg straight all the time, so you had to hobble?
And you were super tall and I was super short, and I would help you hobble off to GT where we tried to convince Mrs. Brown to let us email the White House.
OMG. OMG OMG
I completely forgot about that!
We were such an amazing pair.
We really were — I think we were the quintessential Weird Eccentric Girls who grow up to be Cool, Empowered Women. (I hope, anyway.)
For the record – I was mostly in awe of you, because I thought *I* read a lot.
My other favourite memory is EVERY TIME someone cast us in the high school play together and we couldn’t get through ANY SCENE without laughing, and on dress rehearsal, we laughed so hard, your mom yelled, “SHADEA!” from the audience.
I cannot even with this reliving shit. I’m crying over here.
I KNOW, it makes me weep thinking about it.
Anyway — back to babies — so you started messaging me shortly after I announced that I was pregnant. Which — you are actually 2 or 3 weeks ahead of me, correct? But you announced later than I did. What week are you/what’s your due date?
I’m in week 17, so I’m like 2 weeks ahead of you.
Yes, good. (I’m 15 weeks.)
And going back to that (hopefully) Cool, Empowered Women thing — we’ve had a lot of conversations about being pregnant/birth/parenting, and it’s been nice because we’re similarly minded on a lot of topics, which can sometimes be hard to find.
It was basically the reason I reached out, because it’s amazing how much fluff advice and fake commiserating can happen as soon as people find out you’re pregnant.
Which, is all well-intentioned, but there’s something really special about finding out someone you’ve known for so long is also going to be going through the same experience with you at the same time.
Right — in that blog post I published, I mentioned being overwhelmed and kind of scared at the beginning, and it was really nice to talk to you about that honestly, and have you validate that it’s a huge adjustment, because you were undergoing the same thing, currently.
I think it’s really great to have a community of Young Mothers around you, because everything is so NEW and fresh and a lot of other people have DONE IT and they want to tell you HOW TO DO IT — and you’re over here still trying to go, no wait, I’m PREGNANT?
Yup! It’s also much bigger than that in general, trying to hone in on who is in my “tribe,” who are real people that are in a community I can depend on.
People who have YOUR best interests at heart.
And bringing a child into a full world of adults who are your “village” – because Good God – you cannot and should not feel like you are doing something like this alone
Which, I think is part of what I observed and learned studying other cultures.
Right. There’s a lot of pressure to do everything RIGHT, and I think a lot of what you and I have talked about is that You Will Be Fine. You will try your best and you will figure it out. We’ve talked a LOT about fear mongering too, which is another topic I wanted to talk about with you today.
EMILY PIVOTS TOPIC. ARE YOU STILL WITH US, DEAR READAH?
Yes, the fear we have embedded about this process, from my perspective, is partly due to over-introspection and a high dependence on medical expertise
I just feel like — this is me officially getting up on my soap box here — we have such a disconnect from pregnancy and birth these days. We look at it through an Instagram filter of perfectness, how we want to appear – trying to make the perfect announcement and the perfect belly updates and the perfect nursery and I’M TOTALLY FINE OVER HERE, when in reality, we’re all crying along with our crying baby and hoping that no one finds out this is REALLY HARD FOR US.
And I think in popular culture, we only see birth in movies or TV, it’s just NOT TALKED ABOUT — and so most first time moms don’t always KNOW what ALL pregnancy or birth entails. They only see it on screen where it’s SCARY and PANIC and DANGER and PAIN.
Lawd help us from our posturing selves.
And we’ve really removed the majesty and spirituality from it. End result is Baby — and not always so much caring about the Mother, the Process, the Spiritual Growth that comes along.
Yes. One of the things I’ve read that was really formative for me on this topic of child-rearing was Lila Abu-Lughod’s “Tale of Two Pregnancies.” She basically recounts what it was like to have a child in Bedouin (read: traditional, tribal) Egypt versus in the modern medical context.
And how things like fertility and femininity are dealt with completely different. In the modern context, absolutely medical and somewhat disconnected from the mother, rote patient-problem-solution. In contrast, traditional societies see childbirth as something that is the realm of tradition and pass-down knowledge.
Right. Pregnancy and birth are both very PRIMAL things. One of the things that helps me when I feel scared about birth is the fact that MILLIONS of women have done it, for hundreds (thousands? you know me and numbers) of years.
That is basically one of my pregnancy “mantras.”
Millions of women over millions of years.
(Which actually it’s hundreds of thousands of years, but it doesn’t have quite the same ring and I’m folding us into a longer line of animal ancestors. Whatevs. )
I promise not to get Too Feminist right now — but I think we as a society really regard female bodies as something either Gross or Inappropriate. You can be a mother or a sweetheart or a whore, and that’s about it. So anything that’s just pure women magic science is gross and inappropriate — when it’s really very powerful and incredible that our bodies can do what they do. Whether you want to have children or not — the fact that you CAN is incredible.
So yes – You and I totally connected over this “JESUS EVERYONE CALM DOWN YOUR FREAKING ME OUT.”
We feel like we have to keep these stories kind of hidden — liking birth stories or birth photography is considered weird — and you aren’t supposed to talk about the details!!
Which, again, leaves new mothers-to-be feeling scared and vulnerable.
Vulnerability — that’s what I was thinking about. Like anytime I post something that’s very TRUTHY about REAL me feelings, people say that they admire my openness? And honestly, that makes me feel odd — like I ought NOT to have shared. Like it is weird, or no, I don’t mean that, maybe not WEIRD, just UNUSUAL. Different.
I think it takes an especially resolute person to filter out all the noise on that, to be self-confident enough to just say what they want to say, feel how they feel, and push back all them haters.
Because really, you can’t go through life caring about people’s reactions too much.
We try! We try not to care what people think!
And that’s probably going to be doubly true when thinking about the process of giving birth.
My husband was joking today that he totally expects me just to scream a lot and punch him while having contractions.
Yes! You don’t want to be grunting-sweating-moaning girl, but you just got to SURRENDER TO IT. You have to be willing to dig deep and go to That Place!!!! And THAT right there is the test — modern mentality is sometimes more of a shift to try and bypass that moment of Can I, Will I?
I say that and I like being feminine sometimes! It’s just the unrealistic expectations part that I am so put off by.
What a beautiful thing though! What an amazing opportunity to prove to yourself how strong you are!
Yes! Like January Harshe of Birth Without Fear says — as long as you feel supported and know you have options, that’s fine. So many women just don’t realize they have options. We’re trained not to question medical professionals, or say, this doesn’t seem right to me, or this doesn’t feel right for me, personally .
OK — so, let’s CHANGE SUBJECT AGAIN — and talk about your very awesome announcement picture. You definitely had a society/culture point to make and I thought that was very brave and cool.
I mean, I was really trying to think of a way to make an announcement that was exactly *not* what you described before – Oooo, look how happy we are! look how perfect! omg CUTE. so CUTE.
Right. You drove home a very important point about what makes a family and what makes a good home for a baby, in a very realistic way. Like you were not pretending this is 1950s and we have to spin every story to make us seem like we fit society.
Aw, thanks Emily. That’s sweet to say!
It’s true! It was brave and I DON’T mean that in the way I described above — like you were totally not afraid to say, I planned this baby, and that’s what works for MY family, but I am not every woman (cue Whitney Houston) and my family is not every family.
I just think it’s important for people to know it’s a beautiful thing and believe it should ultimately be a choice that you make – regardless if it was 100% planned or an accident – because it is responsibility and it does require emotional, physical and financial strength.
Yes! Exactly. It requires SO much of you on so many levels.
The major message I think I was trying to get across was countering the notion that being pro-choice is somehow promoting promiscuity and leading to the “degradation of society” — when to me, it is about empowering women to make a decision for themselves – gawd, what a modern luxury! – about when and with whom they’d like to start a family. Being the political being that I am, it just was so fitting to announce this coming change in such a way that also made a larger point – “Look y’all. Contraceptives are awesome. I’m really ready to have a kid now because I waited until i was ready. You’re not ready and something happens? You shouldn’t have to have a child out of guilt, shame or obligation. It should be a beautiful thing that you *decide* on.”
Yes! The message of pro-choice is missed a lot.
And speaking of being scared – gah – early on in my pregancy my husband was out in the boonies without reception, brewing beer, with his friends and he told me he would be home close to 6.
And he didn’t end up coming home until 11 or so, but I had a panic fit of paranoia and cried, running my head down the road of “What if he was in an accident? What if he died? Do I keep the baby? Do this on my own? Would that be too painful? I could not imagine!”
And it’s funny, but being pregnant has made me feel even more adamantly pro-choice. Because you should have that option – you find out your child will have major complications. You already have kids and are financially unable to support another, you have something unspeakable happen to you – it shouldn’t matter.
There’s this sura in the Quran – literally the only Sura I ever memorized – which basically says: You worship what you worship, and I worship what I worship. You have your religion and I have mine. And gawd, if we could just live that way.
You stated that so simply and beautifully.
So starting to wrap this up with a last few topics—it’s been really nice to have you experiencing this at the same time — because it’s so new to both of us, but both of us are committed to being open and honest and truthful, and even if we are being silly and goofy as we talk, and I hope this can be a way for other women to keep feeling free to be very honest and truthful, not feeling pressured to say they feel heavenly and blessed when their hips hurt and their digestion is backed up and they pee every twenty minutes.
I guess the main reason I wanted to talk with you and start a dialogue we could post — I am really lucky, and I think you are really lucky too — in that we have a small tribe of women who are really committed to being supportive in a real way — I’m thinking of my friends like Emi and Kristin who are experienced birthers and doulas, and friends like Laureny and Jeannie, who are very real about everything, especially birth.
But I also think there are a lot of young women who don’t have that. And who feel a lot of pressure to BE OK, and always be beaming and glowing, and have to be struggling with a lot of self-doubt. I mean, I have a superb support system and I still struggle with a lot of self-doubt and I don’t know what I would do if I didn’t have my fierce lady tribe and my incredible husband to help me hold it together.
Because so many women are having babies right now — everyone at my work jokes, “There’s something in the water!” but the truth is — we’re all late twenties, early thirties — this is the time people start procreating. So there are a ton of our high school classmates, our college friends, our coworkers who are going through this. And I can’t tell you how many people messaged me after my I’m Scared blog post to say — YES, I felt that way too! — when I was scared people would think I was awful. So we’ve got to keep this going.
Anyway! Let’s talk some resources that we recommend — since we were talking about Having Options and Feeling Supported — what are some resources that have helped you?
You mentioned a few books.
Woof. So I think I actually err on the side of simplicity there. Because mostly I’ve got one book that i’m reading to learn about the physical process of birth – The Birth Partner – and then, as you mentioned – simply talking to other moms about their experience.
I try to not focus so much on it, not because I don’t want to revel in it, but because, girl, I got shit to do.
And as much as I am in love with being a woman, I can’t live in a one-dimensional identity.
For me, one of the biggest ones is the Birth Without Fear blog. I read that for years even before I was trying to get pregnant. I think just hearing SO MANY stories, both good and bad, reminds you of that Millions of Women over Millions of Years concept. And that women survive any sort of circumstances, and that it IS possible to have a peaceful, empowering birth, instead of ONLY a scary, painful one.
I am glad you shared that blog with me!
For me, it just reiterated how personal my experience will be.
The Birth Hour podcast is another great resource just for exposure, and I’ve gotten some good birth mantras out of it. And wow, just listening to women tell (vocally) their own story and getting emotional — it’s so moving to HEAR how intense that emotion is, even years later.
I’ve talked to my mother(s), my aunts, grandmothers. My nana before she died.
Yes, getting real life experience and stories.
S: Yeah! And then, at the same time, keeping yourself from trying to pick out your “ideal birth” from those stories. Keeping in mind that there is so much variation in experience and that yours will be yours.
Yes, I think I may have told you this recently but I’m really trying to aim for some happy middle ground between I CAN TOTALLY DO THIS and also I AM NOT IN CONTROL, because I KNOW I need to be 145% in support of my OWN birth capability, and also not have this OCD Dreamer’s Vision of the Perfect Birth — because NO birth is the same and NO birth goes according to plan.