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Dear Alicia Keys: Thank You for Helping Moms-to-Be Stay Brave!

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Although celebrity moms sometimes set up unrealistic expectations for ‘regular’ moms (you know, those of us without six nannies, a chef and a personal trainer) about what post-baby life will be like, a few stars have used their fame for far-reaching good over the past year, making life just a little bit easier for all moms, famous or not.  Beyoncé breastfed her baby, Blue Ivy, publically, showing fans that nursing is not only normal, but also just not a big deal. Pink also breastfed in a restaurant, and, when a male passerby expressed his disgust, she affirmed her husband’s suspicions that she’d be willing to fight for her right to discreetly feed her baby over dinner. In doing so (by which I mean saying so… she didn’t actually fight), she broke the prototypical breastfeeding mom mold. Mayim Bialik wrote a book on Attachment Parenting. Kimberly Van Der Beek delivered a breech baby vaginally, at home. And now, Alicia Keys has espoused the power of positive thinking during childbirth, and the importance of the words we choose in talking about childbirth’s pain.

Keys, who gave birth to her son in 2010, acknowledges – but refuses to wax on about – the fact that delivering a baby is painful. In fact, in acknowledging the obvious (that having babies hurts), she focuses on what worked for her in reducing the pain; she employed a meditative technique in which she rephrased the words used to describe the experience to make them overtly positive. (“Contraction,” for example, became “surge.”) “I think words like that are pretty powerful,” Keys recently told the British newspaper The Sun. "So it hurt, but I think I received it a little better and I can say I really enjoyed it. It's not like anything I've ever done… As everyone says, it was worth it. It was bliss and a real miracle to be part of.” Explaining her deliberate focus on the positive, Keys says "I like to speak about it very positively because I don't like to scare people.”

Keys is not alone in looking back on her childbirth experience as positive (“Bliss!”) after employing a natural pain management technique; in fact, moms who opt for natural pain relief over an epidural report better satisfaction with their birth experiences overall. But Keys strikes me as unusually wise in recognizing the weight of the words we use around childbirth, especially for pregnant women. Some women are so afraid of childbirth that they opt to deliver via c-section in order to avoid vaginal delivery altogether. (FYI, when I interviewed some women about C-sections for another piece recently, many of them said that the surgery is far worse than a vaginal delivery.) For these women, taking part in therapy in which they associate positive images with childbirth has been shown to reduce their fears and result, again, in positive birth experiences.

Even for women without ‘extreme’ apprehensions, however, trying to imagine how something the size of a watermelon is going to make its way out of our bodies can be pretty intimidating. And I don’t know about you, but when I was pregnant, I was keenly aware of the number of moms who preferred to share their childbirth battle stories -- babies with cords around their necks! Emergency c-sections! Hours upon hours of pushing, Oh My! -- over positive, affirming, reassuring messages. A few moms told me, expecially as D-Day drew near, “Women do this every day, and you can do it, too,” and I took their words to heart. Once I’d given birth myself, what everyone wanted to know was, “Did it hurt?” By then, I’d forgotten the pain, to some extent, except to the extent that it made me realize what a badass I really am! And that’s the message I like to pass on to expecting moms: you can do this. You are going to rock it. You’ll probably even enjoy it. Like, brace yourself for the best day of your life.

Childbirth is a pretty extreme experience – epidural or not, at home or in a hospital – and our collective fascination with the pain involved is understandable. But I don’t think it’s helpful, or really all that relevant, to mothers and moms-to-be, beyond the push – no pun intended -- for education about pain relief methods that will be offered, and others that are available. (Do most OB’s present options like positive thinking alongside info about the epidural? No, not yet… education counts, y’all!) The fact is that women giving birth have a whole lot of crazy hormones swirling around in their bodies, too. And the whole thing is kind of a trip. I know giving birth hurt, but seeing me in pain was seriously worse for my husband than actually experiencing that pain was for me; when I answer that question, “Did it hurt?”, I say yeah, sure, it hurt. But it was also wild, and awesome, and really, I enjoyed it! This confuses my husband (“Um, but you were screaming…”), but it’s the truth. It’s a truth more expecting moms should know about, and expect for themselves. I’m excited Alicia Keys is saying it out loud. I have no doubt she’ll help many moms go into childbirth with more confidence, more tools, and less fear, which will help them to have better birth experiences themselves.

What do you think? Did giving birth hurt? (Duh?) Was it also blissful, or some other kind of positive experience? What kind of pain relief did you utilize? What do you tell expecting mothers when they ask what childbirth is really like? What do you wish you’d been told?

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