A few years ago, I wrote THIS POST on my Facebook page about the (quite frankly, ridiculous) saying, “Get ready to leave your dignity at the door” (when you give birth). It clearly resonated with a lot of women, so today I thought I would revisit it, but in a slightly different way. This came about after speaking with a friend about the idea of dignity, not only in birth but in general, as women.
Being a Woman is Not Undignified
Periods are normal, blood is normal – not undignified. Well, for most women they’re not. Of course, without access to menstrual products, it can be much more difficult, which is why organisations like Share the Dignity exist. Yet, I remember being so embarrassed by my period. I was too scared to ask my mum for menstrual products, which were referred to as “unmentionables” in our household.
Pap smears and breast examinations are not undignified. If done with kindness, gentleness, respect and consent, dignity can be maintained. Pregnancy is not undignified. Oh, sure, it can seem that way – it’s hard to find dignity when you’re having to decide whether to wee on the toilet and spew in a bucket when you have morning sickness. Or spew in the toilet and wee your pants because your pelvic floor just can’t cope with both, first thing in the morning.
BUT, like with anything else, dignity comes from how you are treated – by other people AND by yourself. I’m pretty sure I can say I’m not alone in the whole morning sickness wee-or-vomit conundrum. It doesn’t mean we cannot maintain dignity throughout the challenges that pregnancy presents us with because it is not the act in and of itself that determines the level of dignity.
Birth is not undignified, as the original post explains in more detail. Being vulnerable is not the same as losing your dignity – and if anyone tells you to leave your dignity at the door, ask for someone who will, instead, treat you with the dignity and respect you deserve. Even with the nudity, bodily fluids and sounds that will unfold in the birth room.
Postpartum is Not Undignified
Being stitched up does not mean losing your dignity – and I can tell you firsthand how much of a difference the person doing it can make. I was stitched in all three of my births. I definitely felt like I lost my dignity the first time. A doctor I didn’t know came into the room, put my (messy, bloody, uncleaned) legs up in stirrups, shone the spotlight on me and went about his business, even when I was sobbing from pain and fear.
In stark contrast, when I was stitched after my home birth, my midwife gave me time to bond with my baby first, explained my options to me and gave me the choice. She made sure I was ready and told me I could ask her to stop for a break at any time. She was gentle, checked in with me, and it was done on my own bed, with the second midwife holding a torch and my baby right nearby – dignity remaining intact. The same procedure, but very, very different feelings.
Wearing “granny undies” or “grown-up nappies” is not undignified – it’s practical. Leaking milk all over your shirt (even when wearing breast pads) is not undignified, either – it happens.
Don’t Feel Embarrassed
Having to cross your legs when you sneeze or cough, or wear pads when you exercise, is not undignified. Although having learnt the hard way, I would recommend pushing past any feelings of embarrassment or shame about it to seek help sooner, rather than leaving it for years!
Being a woman and mother does not have to mean “leaving your dignity at the door.” Being a woman and a mother is something to be damn proud of. Every woman deserves to be treated with kindness, respect and DIGNITY.
People who work with women and mothers need to work to maintain that dignity, despite the fluids, noises, nudity, granny undies and everything else that we’ve been told we should be embarrassed or ashamed of.
Dignity isn’t something that comes from the outside. It comes from how we treat ourselves, and how we are treated by others. No amount of bodily fluid, nudity or noise could ever take away our dignity if we are TREATED with dignity.