I heard something wonderful last week. It came from a pregnancy* exercise teacher at a class I had just joined:
"This exercise might be good for the birth, I mean *knowing laugh* it won't stop it hurting of course, but it might be useful"
It seems like a pretty minor and obvious statement but it was actually a bit of a surprise. My previous forays into antenatal exercise classes (mainly yoga) have come with far greater promises: A gentle twist of my neck would nourish my immune system, lying down would put me in touch with the vibrations of the earth (this in a second floor studio btw) and breathing like Darth Vader would open my pelvis and and provide an easy birth, one where I'd barely notice any pain.
The problem is all of that is total BS. I love yoga. I love how at the end of a session I feel warm, relaxed and strong. I love that my usually unceasingly busy mind is stilled, just for a while.
That is the real magic, that is enough. I don't need to imbue the actions with miraculous powers of healing or pseudo-spiritual beliefs. It makes me feel good, it stretches out a little space for my already squashed lungs and if I can get through a class without humiliating myself by falling on my nose or farting then I feel pretty pleased with myself.
So hearing that simple statement that strength and flexibility are helpful for a physically arduous process like labour, but that they won't magically prevent the pain, was a relief. It went a long way towards loosening the little knot of apprehension I always get when starting this kind of class and wondering just how much nonsense I will have to accept into the bargain.
Of course yoga classes aren't the only part of pregnancy where this need to add extra magic exists.
There is a growing sea of products, services and philosophies that claim to make our pregnancies and births that bit more special. They often invoke empowerment, and goddesses, promising to make pregnancy and birth wondrous, easy and natural. Like there is some great, universal, secret truth to all this. That we somehow lost sight of when we started going to supermarkets and watching TV.
NHS resources are stretched so thin that women often have little time to ask questions. Let alone build relationships and actually feel cared for at probably the most important and worrying period of their lives to date. So it's no wonder many of us look elsewhere to fill the gaps in those long months. If you have the cash there are no end of people willing to
At times these philosophers and practitioners stray into telling women to avoid conventional medical care all together. In the false belief that we are somehow the perfect end point of creation or evolution. That our bodies will all instinctively grow healthy babies, know when to give birth to them and do so with ease. If only we believe, do the class, buy the product and don't mess with nature's great plan.
But nature, as I've said so many times on here, doesn't work like that. She is complicated, messy, glorious and she doesn't give a damn about any single individual. But she is also far more wondrous and magical in her imperfections than in any of the beliefs to the contrary.
The fact that I am sitting here at all is a miracle of nature.
Over 1.5 billion years ago one little cell engulfed a different type of little cell. For the first (and last) time in history, those particular types of cell survived and formed a particular type of symbiotic relationship from which descended all multi cellular life on earth. The simple slimy sea creatures, the fish that crawled onto land, the first little furry things that hid from mighty dinosaurs and every monkey, ape and human that came before us. And the vast, vast, majority of all those lives ended before they could reproduce. We, all of us, are life's unlikely winners who beat ridiculous odds over and over again for millennia. The existence of the most ordinary, boring person on this earth is utterly wondrous.
That I have a baby growing in my belly now is just as amazing. The chances of any given sperm or egg making it to fertilization are tiny. But then there are the trials of genetic recombination, implantation, hormones and myriad other potential pitfalls. Yet somehow this little creature has jumped every hurdle it has so far encountered, without me doing anything other than take some vitamin pills to be on the safe side.
Her/His birth will be a wonder too. But not because I will channel my inner goddess or breath the baby out in a state of empowered, pain free bliss (or while doing that Darth Vader impression). If that works for you go for it, but I have other magic to conjure:
Nature gives different gifts to all her creations, she gave humans incredible brains. They let us thrive in environments that seem ridiculous for such clawless, furless, vulnerable creatures. The price for our brains is that childbirth isn't always easy or even survivable. Yet we amazing humans haven't just put up with that. We've used our astonishing gift to find ways to help nature or perhaps to cheat her. Those amazing, nature given brains decided to get women to help each other give birth, they invented tools to help labouring women into better positions or ease out a baby that had become stuck. They created drugs to ease pain and fight infections and eventually pieced together all the required components of complex surgery that could save the lives of women whose baby's own, brain filled, heads were just too big.
My first baby's head was one of those that was just too big, a C section saved us and will (if all goes to plan) bring this one into the world. I'm incredible lucky to be alive and to have that option.
Nature is full of wonder and full of flaws, she is complex way beyond our current imagining. Yet we can work with her, try to understand her and so do astonishing things ourselves.
I don't need to guild that wonder with extra magic. There is a tiny heart beating in my womb, tiny limbs kicking. One of the most complex brains that has ever existed is forming and refining itself while I sit here drinking decaf tea and wittering to the internet.
I don't need this to be more special, more mystical or somehow spiritual. It is already amazing beyond anything those ideas can create. It is science, it is magic and it is enough.
* Yes I am pregnant! I was incredibly lucky after last years miscarriage to get pregnant again quite quickly and have so far made it to 21 weeks with everything seeming to be fine. I'm sure I'll have plenty more to say about that on here if only I can stay awake past the kids bedtime in order to write it down. In the mean time I'll leave you with one of the more curious images I found while looking for pictures for this post. Amazingly this is the first thing that comes up if you type "pregnancy nature" into Getty image search...