the first day of fasting was today. the first day is usually the hardest, after a few days i get into the rhythm of things and it's not so difficult. in case you're not familiar with the basics of fasting the way we do it, here's how it goes. we wake up before sunrise to eat breakfast. in the middle of winter it's not so bad, we can get up at around 5am and have a solid meal. after that we take no food or drink, not even water, until the sun sets - around 6pm at the moment. so it's basically all day without food.
that's just the basic part. it should also be a time when you avoid any kind of bad behaviour - lying, gossiping, cheating, arguments and so on. in our house, we also have the tv turned off for a month, but keeping away from youtube is going to be a real struggle! the point is that the fast is not just a physical abstinence but also an opportunity for mental purity and cleansing. actually, the physical abstinence is the easier part.
the topic of today is birth, but i mean to include pregnancy and the couple of months after birth as well. there are so many things i have to be grateful for around pregnancy and childbirth. the first is my ability to conceive. having a friend who has been having incredible difficulty in conceiving, and who has spent tens of thousands of dollars on fertility treatments without positive result, i know that's a huge blessing.
i had my own little experience of not being able to conceive when i was ready to have a second child. it took me around two years to get pregnant, which is not bad at all in the scheme of things. but it gave me a taste for what life is like for those who aren't able to conceive. not only is there the grief, the longing to have a child, the nosiness and thoughtless comments of friends and relatives, but also the fact that society places so little value on women who don't have children. best examples: helen clark and now julia gillard. it doesn't matter what else they've achieved nor how much they've contributed to the society they live in. there are so many people ready to put them down just for the fact that they don't have children.
i recall another friend telling me of how hurt she was by someone ringing her up and accusing her of lacking understanding because she didn't have children. it really cut her, because her childless state isn't from choice. i can't understand how people can be so thoughtless but there you go. she's an amazing woman, and i hope she carries that sense of her incredible value within her. maybe it's time for me to tell her again how wonderful she is.
i didn't have to deal with most of those things - only a couple of thoughtless but well-meaning comments from people who assured me that it was wrong to have an only child and that i should have another as soon as possible.
once i'd conceived, i was able to carry my children to term. i have never had the misfortune to suffer a miscarriage. i still remember the very moving post by stef about her experience, and a couple of subsequent ones which really helped to understand how difficult an experience this is. also useful is her advice of things not to say to someone who has had a miscarriage.
i had excellent healthcare during my pregnancy. for my first pregnancy, i chose to have a specialist as my lead maternity carer. for my second pregnancy, i had an independent midwife. i'm close to a good hospital, with the latest in facilities and technology. there were trained experts available when i needed them.
one thing i really appreciated was having control over the birthing process. this is something that is special for nz women, that we can discuss with our midwives how we want our birth experience to be, we are able to make informed choices without being dictated to. my birthing plan was really simple: i told my midwife that i wanted every possible drug available during labour, and i wanted those drugs at the earliest possible time. i don't believe all that crap about the nobility of suffering, especially if it's needless suffering and there is the means available to reduce it.
but back to pregnancy. i was lucky to not have any major medical issues like high blood pressure or low blood pressure. i have had similar experiences to julie, but again, in the scheme of things, not too bad (i shared my experience in comments there, just to emphasise that pregnancy is not some simple, quick & easy experience). but i didn't have to endure two months of bed rest like another friend. i was able to be mobile and active, and worked until i was 8 months for both pregnancies.
as to labour, well the less said the better. i certainly wasn't stoic and brave; i screamed and was a total mess. but i got through it safely, with only a few stitches each times. i didn't have to go through a cesearian section. i was so lucky that both my children were born healthy and arrived only a few days late. i didn't have to worry about a premature baby. i didn't have to watch my baby live in an incubator for days or weeks, like a little nephew of mine had to. i was able to have my child with me, and bond with it. i was lucky enough that the bond was instant and strong.
i was able to breastfeed both my children to the age of about 7 months. i did have a difficult time establishing breastfeeding both times, with the cracked and very sore nipples, and resorting to a breastpump. but after the first week, i was all set and my babies were fully breastfed. that was indeed a blessing, and i understand that many women aren't able to have that experience and are made to feel guilty about it, which is really not fair.
i had family members around me to support me through the process. i would not have survived without my mum, who offered me endless support, particularly after my children were born. she gave her time, her expertise, her love and attention. i can never repay just this one little aspect of the kindness i have received from her. she is a wonderful mother and i am lucky to have her, and to have her close by. i don't know how people manage without family support. i remember those first few weeks after birth, when going grocery shopping while leaving the baby with mum was such a valuable break. i remember leaving the baby to scream in the bedroom, and calling mum from the lounge because i couldn't cope that day. she walked to my house immediately and took the pressure off, giving me the break i needed.
i was lucky to be present for two births of other women. it was a rewarding but not exactly a pleasant experience. they chose me to be their support person, because they had no close family in the country. i stayed firmly at the head end of proceedings, even when the midwife said "i can see the baby's head! come and have a look!". no thanks, said i, i'm perfectly fine where i am and i would much rather not have a look.
after both births, two different midwives asked me if i worked in the health field. oh no, i said, i'm a chartered accountant. but you should totally become a midwife, they said enthusiastically. no thank you, was my reply, i'm perfectly happy being a chartered accountant. they disappointedly asked me why, and i said "well, it's probably because i don't like the sight of blood, and then there's all that other messy stuff with the placenta and afterbirth, and the vomitting and the poos. and having to watch someone else going through extreme pain is just not fun. the bit at the end where i get to see and hold the baby is really quite good, but i'd rather not be involved with the rest of it, if that's ok with you".
because i feel this way about the mechanics of giving birth, i appreciate even more the health professional who dedicate their lives to helping women deliver. given the unpredictability and the terrible hours involved, i think it's wonderful that people step up to take on this work.
i have not really had to deal with an unwanted pregnancy - not in the sense of worrying about how i'd manage, whether i could afford it, what consequences i would face if i got pregnant outside of marriage. none of these stresses were mine, and i never had to face the pressure to terminate, nor the pressure of being forced to carry a child i didn't want.
i think of all the women who have died in childbirth, and or have had their child die. i think of the women who have had to go through labour far away from medical care or any kind of pain-killing drugs. i think of the women who bring children in this world knowing that they don't have the means to feed them, or knowing they live in the midst of war and violence. i think of women who have the responsibilty of raising a child with disabilities, and of the particular pressures that brings. i think about the women who have been forced to adopt or to part with their child soon after birth.
if you would like to support women with breastfeeding, la leche league is one organisation you could volunteer with. offering to babysit for a new mother is really, really helpful thing to do, and here is a website for a mothers support organisation. again, most large charity organisations will have projects for providing health care for pregnancy and childbirth, and here is one example.
all in all, it is impossible to quantify the magnitude of my privilege when it comes to issues around pregnancy and childbirth and i am extremely grateful for each and every blessing. if you are a woman who has gone through any of the stressful situations i've mentioned above, my thoughts and prayers are with you.