Monday, October 6, 2014

“Why do women exaggerate the pain of childbirth?”

Why do people exaggerate the pain of child birth,” asked Adong, one of my Facebook connections. She said she has given birth and it wasn’t that bad! I watched the thread for a while but it didn’t answer her question for the time I was watching.  I can’t contribute my own experience to this question. My child birth experience was minus labour, anesthetized and completely painless before and after. Still, because there are a lot of things about motherhood (which I have experience of) that I have heard women completely exaggerate, I wonder about the biggie. “Do women exaggerate the pain of childbirth?” Incidentally, this same subject came up at dinner with friends on Saturday. One of the ladies said that “every second of the pain” she felt in child birthing 8 years ago, is still “imprinted” on her brain. I turned that around in my head for a while but I gave up trying to imagine it. “How can a sensation however strong be imprinted on one’s mind 8 years on?” I almost wished I had experienced it. It sounds truly profound.

But then again, ‘profound’ experiences seem to litter the landscape of motherhood. For instance, mothers say that when they first held their babies, they were overcome by profound love. Well, I felt no such thing. I remember looking at the child and thinking, “She, like every newborn I have ever seen, looks like a lizard. Why were those women saying she’s cute? But she does have my nose.” Indeed, I didn’t love her for at least two months. How could I? First of all, newborns have absolutely no character. Plus, she was kind of inconvenient. She cried at odd hours for no apparent reason, threatened to slip out of my hands while I washed her and her presence gave people the impression that I was now a social person that they could just visit fwaa around the clock. Now I had to make small talk.  But mostly, she had zero character. Who loves a person like that? Well, not me. I understood my responsibilities and therefore fed & bathed her on a schedule but I really couldn’t say I was all that taken up by her. Now somebody is going to come here and quote me some statistics on how C-sections prevent the natural mother-child bonding. Trust me, I just don’t have it in me to love unconditionally and my condition is that one at least exhibits ko some character. Emerging from a particular orifice of my body isn't going to let you off the hook on that one. After two months though, she started to smile. Randomly but still, that was something to start a relationship on. Quickly thereafter, I really did come to love my child. She wailed out of other people’s arms into mine, which was totally awesome and motivating. Mostly though, it dawned on me that she was indisputably mine. She would always be available and safe for me to love. She wasn’t going to go off and find another mother and because I had birthed her, I would always have the unquestionable right to budge into her space and demonstrate my love. And that there; availability and safety, I can tell you is the bedrock of parental love, if not all love. Isn't this why we ask people to marry us? Such that from that point on they will be available and safe for us to love with abandon --- in theory at least?

The littering of suspicious profoundness continues all over the timeline of motherhood. For instance we mothers like to claim that being mothers is our biggest life achievement. Note that we don’t even qualify that. We don’t say "being a good mother is …” Nope! Just being whichever kind of mother we are. I might even have said this myself from time to time but if being a mother was my greatest achievement, I would be kind of depressed about my life. Don’t get me wrong. I do recognize that in evolutionary terms (and this is the closest I come to religious obedience) the purpose of my existence is to reproduce humans. I do recognize that the continued existence of this race depends on my willingness to not only birth babies but also see them through to the point that they are old enough and able to birth the next round of us. I am not in any way disgruntled about this set up of things. In fact it does have its charms. That being said, I do take my non-purpose driven hobbies (if you like) quite seriously too. Often, even more seriously than the default purpose. When I do write a bestselling book, I will truthfully tell you what the greatest achievement of my life is.

I could go for a really long time about the many profound motherhood mystiques that I seem to be slightly offside about even though by many people’s praises, I am actually a good mother. But let’s round back to Adong’s question, approaching it more broadly this time. Why do we build myth after myth about the profoundness of motherhood? 

One of the friends at the Saturday dinner has this theory: It is his considered opinion that the whole motherhood mystique narrative  is a cultural construct that comes from, interestingly, two polar places. On the one hand, women advance it because motherhood “is the one space they have a control over.”He says that because we are constantly fighting for and losing dominance to men in all other spaces, we've taken the one thing that they can't argue with us over and turned it into a high throne. Kinda like the old man who can’t go to war and therefore turns to God and even declares that spiritual warfare is the highest and most important battle of them all.  This too was his example not mine.  
He goes on to say that on the other hand, culture, which as we know is driven by The Patriarchy, furthers this narrative to hoodwink women into continuing to give birth to babies --- a thing which to right thinking women would be abhorrent because it ruins their bodies, causes them pain and thereafter limits their life choices. This he likens to how, knowing that death is necessary but completely undesirable; we try to psyche ourselves into living with it by calling funerals, “a celebration of life.” Perhaps, if we didn't try to put a positive spin on it, we’d be even more maniacal about avoiding death and would eventually succeed in creating a completely unsustainable population situation.  In the same way, we glorify the mundane (and logically undesirable) process of birthing and raising children so that women can birth them into infinity and that way, we avoid another unsustainable population situation.

Well, when intelligent people who use words like “narratives” and “spaces” speak, I just do the reporting.  


  1. That Pain my dear friends varies from one mother -to-be to another, i honestly do not think the birth method and bonding are related at all, a mother can love her child or even someone else's child the same. but that pain close to 2 years is still engraved in my mind. I almost went crazy!

    1. Pole mukwano. But I don't actually remember you going on and on about the pain...
      I am just slightly uncomfortable with women playing into a narrative that may also be used to manipulative them. We should be acknowledged for being mothers simply motherhood is all its mundane ordinary ways is a pretty important social function. We shouldn't have to blow it out of proportion for it to count.

  2. I felt none of the pain since I was a c-section mum. But my c-section was an emergency one at 39 weeks, am still recovering from the trauma what could have been. The thought of reaching fullterm and going home with nothing to show for my 9 months effort almost permanently put me off having more children. I remember waking up confused, scared (I was given general anaesthesia). Was my child alive, dead, was she a special needs child? Those 20 minutes I waited for my child to brought to me are the longest in my life. But I loved my kababy right from the time I thought about having a child. She (no room for wishing for he) already a name two years before I even met the father. Right now she is in primary school, drives me nuts, but I love to her to pieces.

  3. You are Ninja. *Deep bow*

  4. People exaggerating the pain of child birth. Myths about motherhood?

    I have seen an in-law struggle through that 'centimeters' phase and thought to myself, now there's a party! My mother to this days till exclaims; "omwana oyo yannuma." Yet they say women forget that experience. Then I have seen a woman with four young children all under, at most eight years, walk to Mulago in the evening, only to return the following morning with a baby and right away get into her normal routine. What strength! But again her domestic life was that of strife. From my position. |A different story. In High school there was a girl whose menstrual cycle came with so much force she'd be put on meds. Not the regular painkillers. She had to leave school if the devil changed the cycle and the period landed while she was at school or stay home. On a personal non labor note, my menstrual cramps; all through my twenties there was a singular day upon which I would curse God out given the magnitude of (electric) pain in my lower back. I'd overdose on panadol in vain. Now four years ago a friend gave me an advil that truly deserves to be called a pain killer I dreaded that part of the month. Now one day I decided not to take the advil just to check and see if it's true, you know, when you feed well, exercise, etc, your chances of sailing through a menstrual cycle are high. Nope. I writhed, groaned and thrashed like a fool until when I dozed off. (Usually that is the process. Sans advils.) At this point in life I believe my labor pains/child birth will be as grueling as my menstrual cycle, or thrice worse. Hence, my psyche is in 'I fear' mode. I don't know if that makes my fear mythical, or an exaggeration. I trust everyone's experience is valid.

    Isn't evolution to science while creationism is to religion? Correct me if I am wrong.

    To what extent do women have control over motherhood given the deeply entrenched norm that states: as an example; "Omwana aba wa musajja." That is the kicker that validates the claim that women are 'hoodwinked' into anything If they are at all. If women had control over anything in this child rearing business, women would and should be walking their children/motherhood down the aisle.

  5. Well if childbirth exceeds the pain a body can bear, then why aren't all mothers dead from passing this imaginary line? Pancreatitis, which I have suffered, as well as millions of Men, makes childbirth seem like a bee sting. Tired of these ridiculous assumptions about the "Superior Female Form" Common ground is more valuable than boiling oceans. Stop hating on men every chance you have.

    Mother of five
    Grandmother twice