When I think back to the day I gave birth to my son, even now, 8 months later, it’s a bit hazy. I went into the whole birthing experience pretending to have an open mind – “Oh yes, whatever happens, happens. I’m open to any sort of birth, as long as my baby boy is healthy.” And yes, of course I didn’t care how he arrived, as long as he did arrive, but when it came down to it, I absolutely did have a strong idea of what I wanted my experience to be like. In my mind I envisioned a quiet, dim-lit room. My hair was up in a messy top knot and my cheeks had a nice rosy glow to them. It would be a natural labor, happen quickly, and sooner than I could say “push” in a breathy voice, darling Henry would be in our arms. And it’s not like I live in an unrealistic fantasy world. You know those women? The ones all your friends talk about? “Oh, my sister’s neighbor’s friend’s birth was just one hour and so easy, just a few pushes and she was out! No tearing. She was made to have babies.” Yeah. Well I know about three of those women in real life, so my own reality based on my surroundings was perhaps a little skewed. I thought that I’d be one of the lucky ones too…but no. No, no way.
Instead, my natural labor turned into three hours of natural pushing hell as Henry got stuck behind my pelvic bone. I turned, I twisted, I shimmied, I shaked, but that boy was not coming out. Do you know what it feels like to want so badly to get something (someone!) out of your body, trying for hours and hours, moving from position to position? Everything in your body is screaming push, push, push- but nothing. And then in my case, towards the end, even though your body is still screaming push, push, push…the nurses and doctors inform you that you absolutely cannot push, because your baby is not moving, and all you’re doing is slamming his head into your pelvic bone.
And that’s when I found myself half-naked, hanging from a squatting bar.
I remember when they brought the contraption in. Henry needed to be turned, and the boy wasn’t turning, so we resorted to trying out different positions. When the nursing student walked in with the long bar and attached it to either side of the bed’s poles, I wasn’t sure what to expect. But to be honest, after so many hours of the worst pain of my life, I would have done close to anything to move this process along.
They instructed me to get into a squatting position, arms up on the bar, and push into it as I felt the urge to do so. There was a moment during this portion of the birth where everything went into a bit of slow motion, and I remember looking around the room – the nurse in her blue scrubs pressing some buttons to my left, my husband – white faced and panic stricken, a nursing student, trying to be helpful but coming off more annoying than anything, and random others who were in and out, checking and re-checking.
In this slow motion moment, I recall having a very striking realization as I looked down at myself between my contractions.
There I was: Me, the girl who is often a little shy about changing in front of others, me, the in-shape and athletic girl who for some reason hadn’t always felt the most confident in a bathing suit, and me, the girl who dealt with an eating disorder for a couple of years in college. There I was- all modesty gone, any shred of caring about covering up gone, hanging from a bar, naked from the waist down, while strangers in scrubs walked in and out of my room.
Some say that once you actually have your baby your body issues disappear. You realize that you sustained this little life for so many months and your body deserves all of the respect and love you can give it. You might look down at this magical little being, and from that moment you are forever changed; you suddenly have a new view as to what is important. But just as my (incredibly lofty and ridiculous) expectations for my birthing experience were not met, overcoming my insecurities didn’t happen just like that either.
So how did I get over my body issues? Taking a step out of myself at that very difficult moment and realizing that once you swing from a bar, naked, with all of those people staring here and there (and everywhere), nothing I could ever wear, do, or experience will ever make me as vulnerable as I was in that moment. There I was, in all of my naked glory. There was blood, sweat, who knows what else, and in that snapshot of my life I almost wanted to laugh at how ridiculously far it was from my top-knotted, rosy-cheeked birthing fantasy.
But you know what? I did it. There was no other option. There was no time to cover up, no time to care, and in that moment, there was nothing else to do but push through it. And when you’re faced with obstacles like this one, you can either falter, or triumph. And even though I didn’t have the choice to falter (that baby was coming!), my triumph came in my own mind. Everyone has their own “squatting bar” they will face. Something that will make you look at yourself in a new light, and realize that so many of the things you thought were so important aren’t really that important after all. For me, I gained a bit more respect for myself- not just because I pushed through and ended up with the most amazing little boy to show for it- but because in a moment where I felt so scared and felt like I could have crumbled under my own insecurities, I rose above it and came out a better woman on the other side.
In the next hour my son would be born via emergency c-section after both of our vitals dropped and we had to be rushed into the operating room, but in that one moment, everything changed. And of course later when I saw my baby boy for the first time things changed even more, but nothing will throw you into the deep end of body acceptance, than hanging half-naked from a squatting bar in front of an audience.
Nothing can compare to that crash course in getting over yourself.
So now, give me a bikini, give me short shorts, and maybe even a crop top for the summer. I’m all in.