a birth legacy…

Birth Activist is hosting a blog carnival in honor of Women’s History Month, asking that individuals write about their herione when it comes to childbirth and pregnancy. I briefly considered writing about Laura Shanley. She has done quite a bit to advocate for unassisted birthers. However, while I admire what she has done, I’ve always felt an internal strength when it comes to our decision to have unassisted childbirths (UC), and it reminded me of someone else.

My grandmother was a nosy, persnickity old woman who didn’t have any problem telling you just what she thought you should be doing. She had homebirths with the first two of her three children, including my father, but after the treatment we received from my husband’s parents and family after just mentioning homebirth, we decided to keep our decision to UC to ourselves until after our first child was born. My grandmother found out after our son was born, and the next time she called, I waited, half expecting to hear a rant from her. Instead, she stated that I was a “strong girl from good stock.” She then asked if that baby was sleeping with us, to which I replied yes, mentally cringing for any backlash. Instead, she said, “Good! That’s where babies need to be – snuggled up to their mamas!” It surprised me. She spread the word through my father’s family to anyone who brought up our decision that my husband and I were highly intelligent, well-educated individuals who knew what we were doing and would then repeat her phrase about me being a “strong girl from good stock”.

I waited again when I was pregnant for the second time, as she obviously knew we would be having another unassisted birth. She didn’t say anything until after our little daughter was born. I was speaking with her on the phone when she asked if I had had that baby by myself again. When I replied yes, she told me that was how her grandmother had done it. I was intrigued, as I never had heard this story before. Apparently her grandmother, my great-great-grandmother had birthed all 12 of her children unassisted. My grandmother told me that “she would come in from the field and have the baby. The next day, she would strap that baby to her with a piece of cloth and head back on out to work.” That was all that was ever said. I later recalled seeing a list of names at some time in my childhood. I happen to share my great-great-grandmother’s first name, albeit by coincidence, as my mother never knew the name.

When I think about who my heroines are when it comes to birth, I am reminded, not of a single person tangled in our generation’s technology and hysteria, but of all the women who have gone before me, lovingly birthing their children. These are the women who have perpetuated our species, who have raised us, and who have passed on their knowledge and strength to subsequent generations through the legacy of birth and child-rearing.

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