“The mirror will give us neither knowledge or truth. Men have wasted away before it, entranced by what they have seen, or been driven mad, not knowing if what it shows is real or even possible.”
-Albus Dumbledore to Harry Potter talking about the Mirror of Erised, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.
Years ago, I was quite interested in this idea of visualizing one’s fantasy birth. My draw to it was one of having neighbors of mine (yes, in my neighborhood people got out of their houses and talked with each other) imagine something they had never thought of in regards to birth. I would say something like, “ You know, if you could birth anywhere and any way, what would it look like? What would you be doing? You probably wouldn’t be birthing on the streets of City Heights. You probably wouldn’t be with many monitors on you in the hospital with strangers, but where would you be?” I have to admit, that this line of questioning was pretty rigged. I myself had an idea of what the ideal birth would look like for them.
I can say, however, I liked some of the results as some people had never even thought about having choices about where and how they birthed. They had never thought about birth being something to look forward to as a process. To me, this led to some good conversations. However, some of my neighbors were from Laos and had stories of birthing unassisted as they didn’t have midwives available at the time. One mother’s sister died after birth when the placenta didn’t come out and there was no where to go for help. The idea of what was “ideal” suddenly seemed different.
I had another neighbor who was a midwife from Mexico. She became a midwife just out of meeting the need of helping others in the slums of Cuernavaca. Here in the US, women still came to her house for sobadas, massage, in pregnancy to help with baby positioning. She once showed me how, one day, when she was alone in the house, she went into labor and delivered her twins into her hands on the edge of the couch holding one in each hand. She was quite proud, but there was no glorification of the moment of being alone. The idea of “ideal” suddenly seemed different.
First, the privilege of planning a birth where and with whom you wanted to care for you was striking. Second, our background plays into what we might fantasize about birth place and the providers and it can be quite complex about what drives this fantasy.
In the natural birth community and the increasing access to social media, the idea of exploring how birth may look in various settings is readily available. As women watch one birth at a time on youtube, some report to me that they would like to look like this person as she labors or do things similar to that other person. What is interesting to me is about that “other” birth, the person that they don’t want to look like. The person they may be judging. It leads to me wondering beyond the fantasy birth.
What comes up for you when you watch her birth? Do you think she sees herself in the same way you do? What is it about that birth which says, “no, I don’t want to look like that?” And, of course, I tend to ask, “What if you do look like that?” “What if that is what you need to do to give birth?” “What if you make those noises or move that way?” “What if you did have interventions?” “Who would you be if you did that?” Although I appreciate it as part of hunting for what one desires, I am no longer caught up in the fantasy of birth. I am interested in the side of the woman that is resistant to doing something differently that that vision of how birth was “supposed” to be.
Although I haven’t asked the question about fantasy birth for many years, there are many out there who still ask it. I still think it is beneficial to dream, don’t get me wrong. We need to dream and think about what we truly want. Having an overview of where we would like to be may give us clues to how we can explore options for birth. Birthing babies is important work. Choosing those who will be with us or planning where to birth is important work. As a home birth midwife, some come to me after dreaming and know where they want to birth. They are following that dream. It is with purpose and intent and desire. Dreaming has its place.
However, there are some in natural birth culture who encourage women to avoid going beyond this vision. This means that women are encouraged not to explore ideas of how they may not live up to this vision. One may live up to or even surpass a vision of a birth one has seen or heard (maybe it is even your own previous birth). One may also birth in the least expected or planned way. They may moan or yell or cuss or have complications or birth in unexpected places.
In response to people who believe women should stay with that image of a perfect birth, how does continuing to envision the fantasy birth serve her? How does concentrating on that fantasy birth as the only potential develop inner resources whether it has to do with pain coping or unexpected circumstances for the birth or postpartum? How could fixating on this image affect one’s resilience? And if thinking beyond that image of birth doesn’t happen, what about a woman preparing for parenting? Resilience for birth can be useful for resilience for parenting.
These women, mothers-to-be, looking up at this mirror and reflecting on this fantasy birth, day in and day out, as parental preparation are the same women who when things don’t go as expected are traumatized. I’m not saying there are guarantees either way and that a woman who has prepared for a transport or for unexpected circumstances won’t have trauma. These women will be better positioned to get the most out of the unexpected or have compassion for themselves. By looking beyond the fantasy or the ideal, the woman learns to draw on her inner and outer resources. She begins to look for moments and ways to connect in situations that are different than fantasy. Because at this point, continuing to look at the fantasy birth as ideal is learning neither knowledge or truth. And, as Albus Dumbledore said, “ It does not do to dwell on your dreams and forget to live.”