It was just after 8 o’clock. We finally got the kids down to sleep after a long, chaotic day, and I decided it was time to unwind with a mindless episode of The Last Man on Earth. Do you know it? In a nutshell, it’s a comedic tale of a rag-tag group of people who band together after a virus wipes out the rest of humankind. Sounds hilarious, right?
Well, in this particular episode, Carol (a pregnant, eccentric woman with lots of heart) wakes up with a look of shock on her face as she peers down at the bed in front of her. She turns to her husband, Tandy, and mutters, “we’ve got company.” The camera pans back to reveal a newborn baby contentedly wriggling on the bed in between her legs—she had given birth in her sleep without feeling anything!
Another character, Erica—an Australian woman who had given birth to her own daughter after a long, painful labor only a couple months before—seems a bit miffed that Carol didn’t have to experience any of the discomforts of labor and birth. When it’s discovered some hours later that Carol has another baby (twins?!) awaiting birth, Erica is heard wishing Carol some discomfort—“just enough to respect the process”—this time around.
Yet another character, Melissa—a woman in her prime and in a committed relationship with another survivor, Todd—has absolutely no desire to have children of her own. She and Todd later take a young boy with no surviving family members under their wing.
Why am I rambling on and on about this episode, you may be asking yourself. I guess it’s because this episode—in its funny and often wildly-inaccurate way (checking dilation with a flashlight, anyone?)—illustrates so simply the diversity present in birth experiences, family planning, and even family structure. The sharing of stories and experiences is an inevitable part of pregnancy, birth, motherhood, and womanhood. It is through sharing experiences that we are connected to women all over the world and through all ages.
I remember shortly after the death and (still)birth of my second child at almost 40 weeks gestation, I wanted so badly to talk about his birth, just as I had with my oldest (living) son. I wanted to share how I labored for just over four hours and reached deep within myself to find that primal instinct necessary to bring my son’s body into this world. I wanted to laugh with my friends about the tidal wave of amniotic fluid that soaked my midwife and husband when my waters burst while pushing. It was hilarious! But not many seemed to want to hear it—whether because they genuinely couldn’t handle the grief underlining the story, or because they were concerned it would hurt me too much, I’ll never know (though I suspect it’s probably a combination of the two).
Our diverse experiences as people are valid; they are what make us human. Just as Carol’s and Erica’s pregnancies and births differed dramatically, and Melissa’s desire to have children was not what people might expect, we all have different wants/needs/realities. Through sharing our stories and listening to the stories and experiences of people unlike ourselves, we broaden our own perspectives and paradigms shift. It is when we seek to understand, learn from, and accept others’ points of view that we all benefit.
This process of listening, sharing, growing, stretching is not always—if ever—an easy one. It requires sacrifice, determination, and willingness. It requires vulnerability and empathy. It is my hope that this column on diversity—posting the fourth week of each month—allows each of us a safe place to own our stories, and start looking outside our own life experiences, beliefs, and biases to start on a path of connectedness. As Brené Brown puts so beautifully in her book Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead, “to love ourselves and support each other in the process of becoming real is perhaps the greatest single act of daring greatly.”
Who’s up for the challenge?