My 93-year-old Appalachian Mountain "Mama" gave birth to her first child in 1934, at the age of 14. She almost died, with no maternal care during her pregnancy, from complications of a home delivery. Her own daughter, 18 years later, went to a small mountain hospital to have the birth of her first child attended by a physician. When the physician was unable to be located in time, the nurse tied the legs of the laboring mother together to prevent the baby's birth. The resulting child had to be fed, carried, and was unable to speak until he died at the age of 20. These stories illustrate that even in a twentieth century, industrialized country, pregnancy and childbirth are still dangerous to mother and baby. The daughter of another 90-year-old mother in New Orleans died while pregnant for her sixth child because her uterus had become so weak that it ruptured. This was in the 1970s.
I bore my first child at the age of 20, and had no complications. The pregnancy and birth did, however, change my body in ways that made it displeasing to my husband. The pelvis widens in childbirth and never goes back to the pre-birth position. In the birth of my second, much larger child, my physician was busy handling another birth and denied that my labor was as far progressed as it actually was. There was no time to prepare my birth canal for the birth without considerable damage to my pelvis and rectum, as well as my pelvic structure.
I have had two rectal surgeries and two vaginal surgeries since my son's birth in a 1974 United States of America hospital. I have, for many years, had pelvic distortion problems that have affected my ability to continue in the physically demanding field of food service. My children have given me much joy, but all children come at a huge physical price to the mother.
As long as young women are led to believe that their greatest value, and the way to become women in their own right, is through becoming mothers, they will continue to deny the dangers. Young boys are led to believe that girls, except their own mothers, are for their sexual pleasure and that they are not equally responsible for the rearing of children and caring for the mother of their children while she is in her vulnerable state before, during, and after childbirth. We must teach these facts and the honoring of them to girls and boys. Only then can we make educated choices about whether or not to choose offer up our bodies, and possibly our last breaths, to bring another baby into the world.