Submitted by Laura Vladimirova
Some awakenings happen in the midst of serious conflict, when ideas crash up against the walls of your mind. Sometimes they happen in the least expected of moments, like when a thought sort of just bumps around. It can stew there for some time and eventually set off a cascade of new ideas that transform our whole philosophies. My most recent realization, or thought bump, happened at an art opening in downtown Manhattan, and it’s changed my thinking about womanhood ever since.
I had just come from the final day of my doula training with Debra Pascali Bonaro at Birth Day Presence. I was filled with inspiration about caretakers, babies and birth. The art gallery was getting crowded, friends were walking in and drinks were everywhere. The vibe was warm, though I admit, I was only somewhat present at the event — my mind was truly elsewhere.
Cut to twenty minutes later and in walks a stunningly glowing woman with a chunky baby in her arms and her bearded partner in tow. Baby was totally cool as a cucumber, even when he was passed around from friend to cooing friend. He was happily entertained by the colors of the art, lights and laughter surrounding him. When he reached my arms, holding the sweet 5-month-old was a treat after having spent days talking about happy, healthy moms and babies. When mom came to check on her son, I asked if this was her first. She proudly nodded yes. She also mentioned that this was the first baby she had ever held.
That’s the moment when my thoughts bumped.
I wondered how old I was when I held my first newborn. I recalled I was in my late 20s, after a dear friend had given birth to her first son. I was graciously invited to the hospital to meet him, and as soon as I got there, she put him in my arms. I remember that he felt heavier than I’d expected a newborn to feel and that was surprising to me at the time.
After I left the gallery, I questioned how common it was for women in our society to have only held a few, or even no newborns before they had their own children. In societies where caretakers live closer together and depend more on each other, babies are passed around like the baby at the gallery. Young women (and men) become accustomed to being babysitters. They learn how to change a baby, entertain a baby, and provide support for mom early on.
I asked myself if experience like this was something that was missing from our modern world. For example, does not spending time with nursing mothers and not getting peed on when changing a baby (until we have our own) affect us psychologically or emotionally?
I began to ask around. I asked friends with kids, I asked friends without kids and I asked older women about their first time seeing, holding and interacting with a newborn.
So many women responded in the same way that I had. If they had older siblings or cousins, they had babies to play with. But many women did not hold a newborn until their late 20s or older. And mostly, it was their firstborn child.
I felt like I had missed out on opportunities as a young girl to better understand what it means to be a mama and create a bond with the miracles that surround pregnancy. All of the women I had interviewed had felt this way too. One woman said that not having had any experience with babies gave her parenting anxiety when she found out she was pregnant. Later, after she delivered a healthy baby girl, she felt relieved when she began to trust her instincts as a new mother.
Am I suggesting we as women just go up to strangers in the street and ask them to hold their babies? Well, that probably wouldn’t fly in NYC. Yet, there may be things we can do. Perhaps, if we open up our circle of sisters, we can consider this a a slow, but helpful thought bump for ourselves and any young women around us, like a neighbor or distant family member. We can help plant seeds of experience and confidence, seeds that say ‘holding a baby is a beautiful, empowering moment.’
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Laura Vladimirova is a DONA-trained doula currently working towards becoming a certified nurse midwife. She aims to provide emotional, physical and spiritual support during pregnancy, labor, delivery and postpartum. She’s passionate about her role as a member of the birthing team and focuses on giving families space to make empowered choices, be it clinical or holistic. In between helping families achieve powerful and fulfilling birth experiences, she’s a maternity photographer and communications specialist