In an attempt to demystify the labor and delivery process, a friend of mine messaged me a link to a show called Newborn Russia (free full episodes on Youtube here), which features 20-minute episodes documenting two women going through the labor and delivery process. It is a fast, nitty gritty and realistic way to get accustomed to what that final push looks like and offers a peek into different pushing techniques used. I was prepared for the biology of it all, but the most surprising takeaway is the no-nonsense approach that the delivery doctors have with the mothers. At first, I was taken aback by some of the comments from the delivery doctors, including moments where one tells a mother “now is not the time to feel sorry for yourself” (Ep.1) and an exchange: “I’m going to give birth, okay?”; Doctor: “Well, it definitely won’t be me” (Ep2). I know where my initial gut response came from (What bedside manner! Couldn’t they speak just a little more kindly towards the mom?) but after some reflection, I realized that I might actually need that kind of brutal honesty.
There is no denying that labor and delivery pain is some of the most intense pain a woman will feel in her adult life. And, considering the amount of physical “toughness” required of the body, I couldn’t imagine entering into such an acute situation without preparing a “tough” mentally as well. On my path to mentally preparing for this moment, I turn to some of my favorite philosophy, Stoicism.
What is Stoicism?
In context, Stoicism began in ancient Rome and evolved from the writings of famous stoics such as Epictetus, Emperor Marcus Aurelius and Seneca. Stoicism, at its heart, aspires to create inner peace through reflection of and brutal honesty with oneself, practicing self-control and disallowing negative emotions to dominate thought processes. Stoicism encourages a macro approach to the significance of events within our relatively short lifespans and provides space between events and often-automatic meaning we ascribe to each event. For example: Internalized feelings of failure when the birth plan had to be changed from one choice to another due to complications vs realizing that personal value is derived from character, not a circumstance out of one’s control. Specifically, Stoicism was thought to be an important philosophy for future emperors and, in more modern times, is reviving, making appearances in content relating to CEOs, politicians and healthy mindsets (see here, here and here). How is entering motherhood, governing all aspects of a growing being within my own body and deciding how to teach them about the world around them, not relevant in the context of this philosophy?
In my experience, Stoicism has utilized much of what I learned via mindful awareness, but offers a step even further. In the private writings of Marcus Aurelius, he is brutally honest with himself and highly critical, yet allows the removal of any emotional tags that one might ordinarily attach to the traits that he has identified within himself. For example: The idea of having failed in an instance (and this being a neutral thing as it is concrete), but disallowing my mind to extrapolate that instance as meaning that I am an ongoing failure. Mindful awareness teaches us to observe our thoughts as they enter and exit our mind. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy teaches us to challenge our negative thoughts that stem from a core negative belief. Stoicism, as a philosophy, falls in line with both of these modern practices, in my opinion.
How It Relates
In the wise words of both my mother and grandmother, “Pregnancy, labor and delivery are all about attitude”. Neither deny pregnancy as being painful, uncomfortable, worrisome or any other negative emotion that can be associated with the physical goings-on of the process. However, both provide the context that pregnancy is not a disease. A chosen pregnancy is not meant to be a miserable doomsday event that victimizes a woman. Pregnancy, labor and delivery are, instead, necessary steps that lead a mother to her newborn child. And there is no place where this catalyzes more than in the moments of labor and delivery.
“Pregnancy, labor and delivery are necessary steps that lead a mother to her newborn child.”
When I imagine pregnancy, labor and delivery and even motherhood beyond the first 9 months, in a sober-minded way, I think, this is an executive role. There are many decisions to make, consequences to weigh, realities to process and confidences to be ensured. It is important to be able to hold everything in its appropriate harmony, measured at the right consistency and intensity of presence. And in many cases, my extreme-but-temporary pain and discomfort are necessary, but placed in the background, appropriately, of the greater event here: the creation of a little life that I chose to create. When 30-minutes and multiple, intense contractions are the only thing that stand between my infant and me, I don’t want to be thinking of how badly I feel due to my bodily pain. The pain will be there, like a companion, all around me, but I will not make myself into a victim because of its presence. I want to be thinking of finishing the last push and finally seeing the little life that has been growing inside of me of the past 9 months. In that moment, my mindset is to champion my baby into the world. And, when it is all over, I would welcome the doctor to look at me and capture the essence of the same blunt and honest sentiment that I’d heard in the video, “I didn’t birth this baby; You did.”
Want to know more about my personal adaptation of Stoicism and decision-making? Read on to A Stoic Mindset for a “Clean” Mental Workspace.
Want to skip right to the inspiration? Read on to My Top 10 List of Stoic Quotes for Mental Clarity.