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Running Skirts and Giving Birth

I shared my excitement about ordering some new running skirts for my birthday with a colleague at work. She’s a runner, and her less than enthusiastic response was, “I’ve never understood why people like those.” As I reflected on her response, and the less than enthusiastic responses many women receive when they share their desire for a natural birth, I noticed some parallels.

The first thing to point out is that my friend wasn’t judging me even though she was responding negatively. She really was perplexed – in her experience running skirts were about vanity. She’s only 26, naturally thin and been a runner since high school. Her “uniform” for running has always been shorts. There was no need for something to make you “look” better when you run – and really, can anything make you look better when you are running? In the same way, most people who react shocked when they find out you are planning a natural birth are not judging you, they are just surprised.

The second point is that her experience was limited to … her experience. The idea that someone would really want a running skirt was outside her experience – I was the first woman she met to share my desire even though she’d seen them in stores and on runners. So she had never had the opportunity to learn about the reasons women want them, and was left to determine the only reason must be vanity. The same holds true with birth. If a person has never known a woman who gave birth naturally, that person is limited to what they show in TV and movies – or the horror stories people share. The fact that natural childbirth is misunderstood by people who have no experience with it shouldn’t surprise us.

The third point is that she was open to hearing why I wanted them. I shared about the realities of a rounder body – and 39 year old legs – and feeling exposed when I only where spandex tight running shorts or tights. I shared about the bunching that shorts do when you have fleshy inner thighs, and how a skirt provides a bit of modesty without adding the uncomfortable bunching. This also holds true with sharing goals for birth. Sharing the things that are priorities to you, and how they shaped your decision lets the other person see what you see, and if someone asked a question you can feel pretty confident that a thoughtful and polite answer is welcome.

The forth point is that she realized there was a good reason to like running skirts. Her actual comment was, “That makes a lot of sense, no wonder they are so popular.” Our conversation about skirts ended there. She didn’t try to talk me into wearing shorts, and I didn’t give her information about where to get the best deals on running skirts. Neither of us tried to “convert” the other to our line of thinking. Wouldn’t it be lovely if conversations about natural birth were able to end this way?

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Jennifer Vanderlaan CNM MPH is the author of the BirthingNaturally.net website. She has been working with expectant families since 2000, training doulas, childbirth educators, and midwives. She has worked with midwives in Central America and Sub-Saharan Africa. Her interest in public health grew in 2010, and she is now a PhD student learning to become a producer of knowledge.

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