‘Are you at least going to send him a bottle of wine or a fruit basket?’ asked a mildly annoyed family member after I shared the news that I would be giving yet another gynecologist the boot. In all his accumulated wisdom, this particular doctor told me that my vagina would never be the same again if I used it for the very purpose it evolved for: giving birth. Also, an elective caesarian section could conveniently be scheduled around the Easter Weekend. But really, he assured me, it is the tightness of my vagina he was the most concerned with. He would, I am sure you understand, not be getting any fruit baskets or wine.

While this gynecologist seemed to find ‘loose’ vaginas in flagrant bad taste, the archetypical patriarch who preceded him hardly seemed cognisant of the fact that there are actual living women attached to the vaginas which he examines. All questions were directed at my partner, who the doctor ostensibly assumed knew more about my menstrual cycle than I did. The only time I was afforded a direct answer was for him to tell me in a fairly stern, paternal way that I would probably not be able to cope with the pain of childbirth. Challenge accepted, crusty old fart.

At this stage I was already nearly five months into my pregnancy and I felt stifled not only by the veritable sausage fest that is South Africa’s private medical fraternity, but also by the broader and unrealistic expectations placed on women during the birthing process. It made me feel disempowered and insecure by essentially convincing me that I do not have what it takes to go through childbirth. Now please do not get me wrong. I am no medical luddite who is opposed to C-sections and preaches for natural childbirth at any cost. It is a salient advancement which has saved the lives of many a mother and child. And if an elective caesarian would contribute to your positive birthing experience, I completely support your choice to have one. Let us be honest: both birthing options are, to put it mildly, not a fun day out to the beach. But the truth remains that a large portion of women can and should, in fact, have perfectly safe natural births. It is concerning that South Africa’s private hospital C-section rate has been labeled as ‘reckless’ by experts, seeing that it is a worrying 65 to 75 percent higher in some hospitals than the maximum percentage recommended by the World Health Organisation.

But I digress. I ultimately found my happiness with a wonderful midwifery team who took giving birth back to its roots. While I will not bore you with the agonising details of a sixteen hour labour without any meds and the impressive display of my treasured lexis of rather naughty words (which was decidedly not boring), I will tell you that I felt immeasurably empowered while I was supported by a group of other women, all who trusted wholly in the power of the female body functioning exactly as it was designed to. In some existential way, I now feel connected to the millions of women across continents and creeds who preceded me in childbirth and to the millions more who will follow.

However, this new discovery is not rooted in ‘motherhood’ for me, because I find the term prescriptive and exclusionist, perpetuated ad nauseam by that good old corporate super villain, the media. Personally, childbirth merely served as a catalyst which brought my awareness to my own place within the world’s wonderful womanhood. This is whatever connects and intersects your experiences with the experiences of other women. It could be anything and by no means is restricted to motherhood – a woman’s personal agency should always be celebrated and embraced. For me, though, for the first time in my life, I could look in the mirror and feel truly strong in my body and what it is capable of, because I realised that I belong to a greater collective.

Ultimately, I suppose, the lesson is that we need to keep the patriarchy out of our vaginas. And much more significantly, that women all have a remarkable force of strength within them, despite the perpetual psychological game by the media, or the medical fraternity, or even a careless and unthinking family member, which all contribute in part to making us feel the opposite. And once you realise that you have that strength, your personal worth is unconquerable. That force will never waver, and it will support and mold you when you most need it. And while you explore what it is that empowers you about your body, know I am standing right next to you, cheering you on.

For those of you wondering, very unsurprisingly, my vagina happily survived serving her bodily function. And the imminent gift of wine and fruit baskets? It naturally went to the newest members of my treasured sisterhood: the midwives.



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