Meeting the girlfriend and disrupting the story of birth.
This weekend I am meeting my son’s girlfriend. It is both Mother’s Day (in the United Kingdom) and my husband’s 60th birthday (he is much, much older than me). So not only am I meeting my son’s girlfriend but she is choosing to stay at our house for Mother’s Day weekend rather than with her own mother. I think that says more about my son than either mother.
I know very little about her—let’s call her A. I know my son is in love with her, and her with him. And that is all I need to know. He is an excellent judge of character with a kind heart and wise soul.
I must however, admit to some internet stalking—nothing obsessive you understand. A little bit of Facebook and Instagram and I can see no cause for alarm. Well…except that she looks totally normal. She is a beautiful young woman, with style and elegance. From what I can tell she is fun and sporty and totally, absolutely normal.
And that is excellent. Except, well…let me explain.
We are, for want of a better description, a family of hippies. You will walk into our home and smell incense and spices from the dhal simmering on the stove. Woodsmoke will linger in your hair and you will hear music from the four corners of the world, or Mr. P playing his sax, or me beating my drum, or silence as we meditate. We may live near the centre of a sophisticated busy town but step over our threshold and a whole other experience exists. One where the blankets and quilts are homemade and the sourdough starter has been part of the family longer than some of our friends.
And then there’s the actual meeting. My son, despite (or because of) his parents is remarkably preppy looking—he’s blond, six-foot-tall with a gym toned body. He has no tattoos, piercings and his hair is short, neat and tidy—unlike his parents! Mr. P has luscious long hair that complements my wild, curly explosion of locks. I am tattooed and pierced—and despite riding my bike around town, my body is toned more by dhal, sourdough bread and raw chocolate than weights and programmed exercise.
So let’s say she copes well with the initial sensory overload. There’s the food—mostly veggie, occasionally vegan, organic—lentils, spicy soups, pots of veggie casserole, homemade cakes. That’s not too difficult is it?
So we’re home and dry then. All sorted.
Yet as I walk around my home pondering the significance of this weekend I realise something else: my work, the job I do that isn’t a job but my passion and my purpose, is very evident. The calendar on the kitchen wall shows a woman in a birth pool, her husband behind her supporting her and a Midwife or Doula kneeling at her side. There is a knitted breast on our coffee table waiting for its stuffing. The walls of my study show anatomical drawings from the early 20th century of women’s bodies during pregnancy and how the muscles move, the ligaments stretch and the organs shift around to welcome the growing baby. The calendar in that room is of a woman breastfeeding a toddler at a wedding.
Whilst this is the norm in our lives, I am very well aware that some people have come to our home and been offended. They have thought (and said) these things aren’t suitable for everyday life or conversation around the kitchen table. I understand that, I really do, but I make no apologies for disrupting their story. The story they’ve been building since the moment they were born. The story where women’s bodies are something to be ashamed of. Stories where birth is horrific, traumatic, and we never talk about the “things” that happen during labour.
I support women, normal everyday women just like A during pregnancy and birth. I meet women who are striving to be successful in their careers, have happy marriages and create wonderful families. And they do this in the context of our 21st century British culture. And it saddens me because they react with horror at the thought of healthy vaginal discharge during pregnancy and breasts that leak valuable colostrum. They speak with euphemisms and hushed whispers about vaginas, breasts and they don’t know the difference between their cervix and their vagina. They want their baby clean before he’s handed to them and why on earth would they want to look at their placenta?
If nothing else, this weekend, I hope to disrupt her story of birth. To normalise women’s bodies and the way they work. For her to see washable cloth pads drying on the line and realise that we are wondrous. I do not see this with the women I work with. So many of them are career focussed (and that’s fine—let me show you my CV sometime) and disassociated with their bodies (I’m less okay about that).
So, son I promise to be nothing more or nothing less than myself; our home will be its usual welcoming, nurturing place. But I cannot promise not to say vagina at the kitchen table!
Author: Fleur Parker
Editor: Travis May
Photo: Movie Still