This post was written for inclusion in the monthly Carnival of Natural Parenting hosted by Code Name: Mama and Hobo Mama. This month our participants have waxed poetic about how their parenting has inspired others, or how others have inspired them. Please read to the end to find a list of links to the other carnival participants.
Several years ago, when Mikko was but a glimmer in the future, in those pre-child days when I was filled with certainty of how everyone should parent because I'd had the good fortune never to have had to prove it, I met a woman online who was a parent in fact.
It was a sort of random meeting. Sam did a lot of film criticism, so Sam and I watched a lot of movies and talked them over together, and we became involved in a Christian online film forum where it was, at the time, a bunch of guys … and me. I don't remember what movie it was, but talk turned to childbirth and the theology of pain. Being a woman (the only non-lurking woman), I felt a responsibility to tell my gender's side of the story. To me, it wasn't entirely an abstract discussion, as it was to these young guys — it was my future. I would be giving birth, and I was adamant:
- I did not like pain.
- I would have an epidural.
Theologically speaking, I think I was in the right. I won't go into all that here, but I stand by my arguments that God (at least not a God I'd want to believe in) is not big on making people suffer.
Birth-wise, though, my thoughts were unformed and knee-jerk, based on cultural norms rather than my own research or experience. I knew of two options for birthing:
- Natural, i.e., screaming
- Epidural, i.e., heaven
I couldn't fathom why anyone wouldn't agree with me on this. I even brought most of the guys to my side (in retrospect, ack) … except for one. He was married and was one of the few parents on the film board. He and his wife had several children, and he told me she had chosen natural birth at a birthing center for all of hers. He convinced her to sign up for an account with the message board so she could chat on the subject.
I was prepared to be skeptical. She was Catholic, so I suspected some sort of religious devotion to suffering. (Any Catholics reading along can roll their eyes at this point; that's fine.)
She talked about how she had wanted a natural birth because of the negative effects epidurals can have on newborns and on the progression of labor and the start of breastfeeding. She talked about how she didn't believe women were intended by God to suffer — and how, indeed, she tried not to through her natural birthing techniques, including water birth. She talked about how much she loved the birthing center and how distraught she was that her state's new laws were threatening the legality of birthing centers and the use of health insurance at them.
What she didn't do was what I was doing back to her. Well, I hope I was at least polite; I'm too afraid to go back and read what I wrote back then. But she didn't talk down to me. She didn't treat me like some sort of freak show. She heard my point of view, agreed with what she agreed with, disagreed with other points politely, and simply told her story. Without fanfare, without trying to persuade me over to her side, without berating me for choosing "wrong," and without any apparent hopelessness that I would ever change, she just laid it out: I had several natural births, she said, and I enjoyed it, and I am going to again.
Fast forward a few years, and I'm researching birth options for myself. If you can't guess, I ended up, somehow, in the natural birth camp. I no longer think of natural birth as being for martyrs and hippies and people who aren't smart enough to know what medical science has to offer. How I got there is a whole 'nother story, for another day, but suffice it to say that now I'm the one who confidently goes around telling other women, Yup, I had a natural birth. Yes, I would do it again.
And I feel like I'm now in that woman's place: often alone, often the only one voicing that opinion in a clamor of people advocating hospitals and interventions and oh, no, the pain.
My parents, for instance, were quite baldly concerned when they heard we were planning a home birth — and my dad told me afterward he was relieved we had ended up transferring to the hospital. It was kindly meant, but it was almost like a slap in the face, when I was grieving the loss of my planned peaceful birth. It also said volumes about his trust in my research and my common sense.
So I'm always wary when I discuss birth options with people around me, which has come up most often in church groups. Pregnant women would swap stories and advice about which hospital has the best birthing suite or which OB is the most sympathetic, and when I'd put in a plug for a midwife or using a birthing tub, I usually got blank stares back, or worse.
I remember awkwardly trying to explain, for instance, why using childbirth hypnosis wasn't anti-Christian and having to correct a misapprehension that Hypnobabies didn't in fact hypnotize the baby but the mother. All right, that one made me chuckle.
So you can imagine my surprise when the same person who thought Hypnobabies was for babies announced to me a few months ago at her baby shower, "Oh, yes, we're having a home birth. I thought you'd like to know, since you were our inspiration for it."
You could have knocked me over with a chux pad.
This friend is an accountant and very logical and ordered. I knew she was health-conscious and that she and her husband were into green living, but I had no idea she was even considering natural birthing options. I wouldn't have expected it. Even though they had asked me some questions about Mikko's cloth diapers and elimination communication and breastfeeding and other topics, I somehow always assumed it was either idle curiosity or, I don't know, ammunition to disagree with me? Which seems very uncharitable in retrospect.
We went over to see the little family, their baby boy now a couple weeks old. The new mother was nursing him when I walked in. As we were talking, she pointed to the corner of the living room and said, "He ended up being born there, in the tub we had set up. I hadn't even planned on that, but it just ended up being right."
So there my story comes full circle. I still don't think of myself as an inspiration. I don't credit my wonderful choices and advocacy for this friend's or anyone's choices, because — well, for one, I'm sure there were a lot of motivations leading to her decision, and, for two, I'm not that vain. But it's funny now to think of that natural-birthing mama on the film board, and how I disparaged her choices all the while they were sneakily planting a seed in my brain. I keep thinking now that if she remembers me at all, she must remember me as the person who was so against natural birth, the person who would never change her mind in a million years. I feel like I need to contact her, to let her know: You were an inspiration to me. You opened up my mind to a new way of thinking, even though it took a few years to bear fruit.
It gives me hope. It makes me humble, too. I don't have to change people's minds. I don't have to railroad them into agreeing with me. I can just live, share my story, be calm and cheerful and confident about my choices, and people might just be attracted. It's not my fault if they aren't, and not my accomplishment if they are. I can be a role model without stressing about it. I am a role model, whether I want to be or not. I hope I can continue making choices with integrity so that I'm pleased whenever anyone wants to follow in a path I've chosen, just as I'm happy to follow those before me.
Please take time to read the submissions by the other carnival participants:
- Woman Seeking Inspiration — Seeking Mother's struggles and joys to find her own path in motherhood have inspired others — to her surprise! (@seekingmother )
- Paving the Way — Jessica at This is Worthwhile makes a conscious effort every day to be a role model. (@tisworthwhile )
- No Rules Without Reason — The Recovering Procrastinator wants to inspire her husband to discipline their children gently. (@jenwestpfahl)
- Creating a Culture of Positive Parenting Role Models — Michelle at The Parent Vortex shows parents at the playground how to do a front wrap cross carry and tells nurses about her successful home births, as a way of modeling natural parenting in public. (@TheParentVortex)
- Making A Difference for Mamas — Shana at Tales of Minor Interest took an embarrassing pumping incident at work and turned it into an opportunity for all the employees who breastfeed.
- Inspiring Snowflakes — Joni Rae at Tales of Kitchen Witch Momma is a role model for the most important people: her children. (@kitchenwitch)
- Paying it Forward — Amber at Strocel.com inspires new (and often scared) mamas with these simple words: "It will be OK." (@AmberStrocel)
- A SAHD's View on Parenting Role Models — Chris at Stay At Home Dad in Lansing doesn't have many role models as a SAHD — but hopes to be one to his daughter. (@tessasdad)
- Am I a Role Model? A Review — Deb at Science@home brings attachment parenting out of the baby age and shows how it applies (with science fun!) to parenting through all of childhood. (@ScienceMum)
- Say Something Good — Arwyn at Raising My Boychick reminds women that it is within our right to be proud of ourselves without apology. (@RaisingBoychick)
- Try, Try Again — Thomasin at Propson Palingenesis wants to inspire like the Little Engine that Could.
- I'm a Parenting Inspiration, Who Knew? — Sarah at OneStarryNight has received several beautiful comments about just what an inspiration she has been, if not in real life then definitely online. (@starrymom)
- That Little Thing — NavelgazingBajan at Navelgazing demonstrates the ripple effect, one status update at a time. (@BlkWmnDoBF)
- How Has Your Day Been? — mrs green @ littlegreenblog inspired her friend to be an active listener for her children. (@myzerowaste)
- No, Thank You! — If you are reading Maman A Droit's post, you've probably inspired her. (@MamanADroit)
- My Top 3 Natural Parenting Principles — Deb Chitwood at Living Montessori Now describes how her family's natural and Montessori principles inspired others. (@DebChitwood)
- My Hope for a Better Life — Mandy at Living Peacefully With Children hopes her choices inspire her children toward a better life.
- Natural Parenting Felt Natural — Sheryl at Little Snowflakes didn't plan on natural parenting — but her son led her there. (@sheryljesin)
- Rest. Is it even possible? — Janet at where birth and feminism intersect has found that even role models need rest — and that there are ways to fit it into everyday parenting life. (@feministbirther)
- May Carnival of Natural Parenting: Role model — Lauren at Hobo Mama was the fortunate recipient of a seed of inspiration, and has been privileged to plant some of those seeds herself, though she didn't know it at the time. (@Hobo_Mama)
- crunchspiration — the grumbles at grumbles and grunts wants to inspire others to parent from their heart. (@thegrumbles)
- No Extra Inspiration Required — Zoey at Good Goog doesn't think she inspires anyone and wasn't inspired by anyone in return — except by her daughter. (@zoeyspeak)
- Upstream Parenting — Luschka at Diary of a First Child blogs for that one mother in one hundred who will find her words helpful. (@diaryfirstchild)
- Parenting Advice for the Girl from Outer Space — If Mommy Soup at Cream of Mommy Soup could give one piece of inspirational advice to new parents, it would be to parent with kindness. (@MommySoup)
- Natural Parenting Carnival — Role Model — Sarah at Consider Eden feels the pressure at trying — and failing — to live up to her role models. (@ConsiderEden)
- May Carnival of Natural Parenting: Role Model — Dionna at Code Name: Mama encourages natural parenting mamas to take joy in the fact that they are touching lives and making a difference to children every day. (@CodeNameMama)
- Inspiration Goes Both Ways — Melodie at Breastfeeding Moms Unite! is flustered that people consider her a breastfeeding role model — but the lovely comments she's received prove it's so. (@bfmom)
- My Seven — Danielle at born.in.japan has identified seven role models in her life who brought her to natural parenting. Who are your seven? (@borninjp)
- A Quiet Example — Alison at BluebirdMama was one of the first parents in her group of friends — and has come to see almost all those friends follow in her natural birthing footsteps, whether intentionally or not.
- Gentle Discipline Warrior — Paige at Baby Dust Diaries has inspired a gentle discipline movement — join her! (@babydust)
- Change The World... One Parent At A Time — Mamapoekie is more comfortable inspiring parents online than she is in real life. (@mamapoekie)
- Inspirational Parenting — pchanner at A Mom's Fresh Start has intentionally tried to be a role model but was unprepared for how soon someone would take notice. (@pchanner)
- My Inspiration — Erin at A Beatnik's Beat on Life has written thank-you letters to everyone who's inspired her to become the lactivist and natural parenting advocate she is today. (@babybeatnik)