Birth Out Loud
A Young Voices guest post by Hannah Cressy
I was the “birth girl” in college– which actually, at Wesleyan, wasn’t so strange. Most college students don’t have their birth plans at the ready or procrastinate by researching rebozos and lactation classes, but I’ve been amazed at how interested my peers often become when I discuss birth. Birth is one topic for which everyone has a story; we all come into this world in different circumstances, some fast and some slow, some alone and some with many siblings. I was recently cooking dinner with five male friends, and we began talking about a birth that I recently attended as a doula. Two hours later, these college guys were still asking me questions, telling their own birth stories or those of their siblings, and joining me in lamenting the injustices of America’s health care system. Birth is not a niche interest; it is everyone’s first story.
I am drawn to birth because of its universality, its emotional weight, and its capacity to reveal women’s own power to themselves and to their families. I knew from age seven that I would somehow be involved with what I perceived as the magical and secretive process of pregnancy; I stayed with a neighbor after school every day who, during the stretch of time I was regularly present in their home, had several babies. I watched her grow and change, practice babywearing, attend birth classes–but I wasn’t allowed to know the whole story of pregnancy, which of course, starts and ends with a naked woman. I suppose I initially wanted to know everything about birth because birth was hidden from me. So, from then on, I secretly learned as much as I could about birth, and told my parents when I was eleven years old that I would be a pediatrician.
I finally decided, at age 18, that I would be a midwife, and have since spent four years at Wesleyan preparing for this dream. I became a birth doula and volunteered at San Francisco General Hospital for a summer, where I attended my first twelve births. Finally working in the “birth world”, particularly with the midwives of that hospital, felt like home. I needed to share this feeling with my peers at Wesleyan, but wondered if anyone was interested. Along with some classmates, I helped organize a lecture and discussion facilitated by Maureen Whitman of Birth Philosophy and Maire MacLean of New Family Nurture, regarding birth and breastfeeding in the context of the current culture, media and medical models. The event was well attended, attracting a group of over 40 students.
Realizing that the students at Wesleyan would be interested in a more in-depth exploration of these topics, I then applied to teach a credited Wesleyan class on the politics of birth and reproductive justice in America. I had to turn down dozens of people trying to join the seminar! This is something that so many young people care about, once we’re exposed to the debates surrounding birth in America. Just as I’d felt in second grade, I realized that this topic can sometimes remain silenced in the college atmosphere, assumed as something that we’re “too young to worry about”. Yet, I do worry about birth because it will affect most of my friends, and affects the majority of women and families. The seminar went amazingly well, and another student is hoping to teach it again in the coming school year. This past year, I became an abortion doula as well as a postpartum doula and am currently starting my own postpartum doula business practice in Burlington, Vermont (see doulahannah.com). I will soon be applying to graduate school to become a Certified Nurse Midwife (CNM). I hope to continue to find ways to help women realize their own power by being in control of their reproductive decisions, and ways to make birth a conversation topic for everyone!
Hannah is a recent graduate of Wesleyan University, where she mixed Feminist/Gender/Sexuality studies, biology, and anthropology to learn about social justice and healing through many lenses. She currently works as a postpartum doula and counselor in Burlington, Vermont, and plans to become a Certified Nurse Midwife.