By Nora Weatherby
Web Exclusive - January 29, 2007
"Giving birth has definitely been a transformative component of my life. I have really embraced the gift of motherhood. The compassion and the caring have really opened my heart," a young mother of two said to me over a cup of coffee. We spent two hours together, laughing, crying and sharing.
The only hint that this was an interview was the small silver tape recorder that lay in between the napkins and the mugs. We did not know each other outside of this meeting. A mutual friend had introduced us. But, for those two hours we could have been mistaken for old friends—sisters, even.
It was in my senior year in high school and I was doing a thesis project on the variety of experiences surrounding birth and motherhood. Birth Culture, I called it. This interview was one of eighteen that I conducted over the course of two months. I spoke with all kinds of different women from many walks of life. In listening to their stories, I was consistently struck by how personal and transforming the birth experience is, and how truly different it can be for each woman—yet I was also awed by the similarities. I was moved by how profoundly the experience of pregnancy, childbirth and motherhood can change a woman but also how it can bring women together and create a bond so strong; a bond like sisterhood but deeper and more primal.
At the time that I conducted the interviews I was seventeen years old and had only been involved with the local birth community for a little over a year. As a junior in high school I interned with a local doula and childbirth educator. As I became more involved with women in this community, I felt more and more welcome and like a part of this circle of intuition and wisdom. I began to understand my own womanhood through conversations and experiences with doulas, midwives and mothers. I felt like I was being given a tremendous gift. When I went through the process of conducting interviews for Birth Culture the following year, I was able to recognize how unique this gift really was.
I began to question a lot about what we are conditioned to believe as individuals—particularly as women in this culture. The thing about pregnancy (and then later about childbirth and parenting) is that the experience isn't one small aspect of life; it isn't something to be handled by someone else like a doctor, midwife, partner or doula. It is an individual journey of confrontation. It is an opportunity for growth and healing. It is a pathway to a deeper understanding of one's self. It is a beautiful thing. It can also be painful—even devastating—to confront yourself, your body, your history and your feelings about such intimate relationships and transitions. Just like being a woman in America can be both liberating and objectifying, (especially growing up with the kinds of body images and influences that are in pop culture today), so are pregnancy and birth full of similar dualities and complexities.
For each woman it is a separate journey to come into motherhood, including those who enter through adoption. For some it is graceful and for some it is humbling. For some it feels intuitive, healing—for others it is awkward and difficult. Having spent so many hours speaking with women about their personal paths to motherhood, I've concluded that it is essential for women to take the initiative (while also being supported by her partner, family and caregivers) to own their personal experience, to take what is theirs in pain and in joy, so they may be empowered to find the connection to the universal that runs so deep and lives in all women: mothers, sisters, friends.
The gift of this experience was also an opening into understanding the gift of womanhood.
Nora Weatherby was born and raised in Upstate New York. She is currently studying writing at the University of New Hampshire and hopes to someday integrate writing with her birth work. Nora is still aspiring to be a midwife and looks forward to being involved full time with the birth community. This article is the beginning of her journey. Her poem, Circle of Womanhood, expresses her journey.