We are All Covering Ourselves to Hide Our Shame

Thu, 02/12/2015 - 07:58
Submitted by Natasha

"The roots of the word shame are thought to derive from a word meaning “to cover”; as such, covering oneself, literally or figuratively, is a natural expression of shame.”

When I became pregnant with my first child I envisioned a birth that was all natural, where I felt empowered and present in the beauty of bringing a child into the world. I wanted to feel the pain fully and saw it as an initiation into the strength I would need as a mother. I imagined a hard but moving birth and that my baby would be placed on my naked chest to drink as soon as he or she came out. Reality, however, didn’t work that way. Eight months into the pregnancy my doctor warned me that she suspected I would end up having a cesarean because my baby’s head was too big. This was devastating news to me. I had always wanted to be a mother. It was the only thing that I was certain I wanted in my life, and hearing this felt like my body wasn’t going to cooperate with the way I envisioned this dream.

On July 13th 2000 I went into labor naturally but nearly two weeks overdue. My labor stalled and, completely exhausted and not feeling at all empowered, I agreed to be induced. From that point on we encountered one problem after another as, after several hours of back labor, she became stuck face up with her heart rate dropping. When my doctor told me that I had to have a cesarean I completely broke down. I couldn’t understand how this could be happening or why my body was failing me at the one thing I truly wanted. I was fortunate to be awake for her birth but didn’t see her for several minutes after she came out. They wiped her off, bundled her up, and brought her to my face so I could see. The sheet covering me from my neck down and my arms attached to machines on either side of my body didn’t allow for me to hold her. Acacia, as we named her, was bruised from being stuck but still absolutely perfect and I immediately fell in love.

My doctor congratulated us and then went to call my parents. I burst into tears ashamed that they would hear this and know that my body had failed. When my mom and dad arrived I saw a look of compassion on my dad’s face as he noticed my eyes swollen from crying. I knew then that they still loved me. Days went by and, while my body slowly healed, I struggled with learning to breast feed. I loathed my scar and saw it as a visible reminder of what I hadn’t been able to do – yet wanted the most.

I gave birth three more times after that and each birth was by cesarean. Every time I was asked about my childrens’ birth stories I felt a wall go up around me as I tried to justify why I couldn’t give birth normally when I didn’t really understand it myself. I looked at the women, who had experienced the birthing story that I longed for, with envy and admiration and hoped somehow that the effort I put into parenting my children made up for what I lacked in birthing them.

Thirteen years after my first child was born I attended my first Bodysex workshop in New York, with the intent of training to become a facilitator. I knocked on the door of Betty Dodson’s apartment and was greeted by two naked women who showed me the row of hooks where I could hang my clothes. I had been expecting this and knew that I was going to spend the next two days in the nude but it was a whole other thing to actually do it. Once I was naked I took my place in the circle of towels on the floor of Betty’s living room. There were women from all over the world attending this workshop and we were all there because we struggled with body and sexual shame.

When it came my turn to share my feelings about my body I opened up about my stomach and how I didn’t like the stretch marks that I got from my pregnancies and about how, until recently, I had never worn shorts because I hated my legs. I didn’t, however, speak up about the shame I felt in not being able to birth a baby normally. It was as if I believed it more acceptable to admit to shame about the stuff that made me less physically attractive and that I couldn’t hide from, but not the shame that compromised my view of my inner self. That cut too deep and meant being more vulnerable than I was ready for. It also meant admitting to myself how much I felt like my body had let me down.

Over the next two days the women in that circle opened up and we revealed vulnerable layers that we had been kept hidden for years. As one spoke the rest of us would look at her and nod silently in empathy and understanding. Even if the shame was not exactly the same we all understood the place it came from. Witnessing other women bravely peel back invisible layers of their pain was healing for all of us in the circle. I felt normal in my shame and loved and accepted as I sat in physical and emotional nakedness. We discussed our bodies, orgasms or lack of, our relationships, feelings regarding sexuality and our desires for more. We laughed until our stomachs ached, cried, and then let go through orgasm – still with our same place in the circle – alone but together.

Near the end of the second day Betty informed us that we were going to do something together that has been done by women since the beginning of time. A sacred touching ritual where the hands of five women are placed on your body and you experience ten minutes of the most amazing loving touch you can imagine. At the beginning of the workshop I would have been scared to do this but after all that had been shared I felt open to accepting their love and I enjoyed the feel of each different hand as they travelled over my body. Laying there receiving this touch I heard Betty say “Look at this little body that has given birth to all those beautiful babies.”

She said it with such motherly tenderness and love that I felt myself fill with warmth. Their hands continued to slide over me gently touching my ears, arms, fingers, legs, toes, and stomach. I could feel the love and attention that they gave to my cesarean scar and I, without thinking, shared my feelings of shame at not being able to give birth naturally. The women continued to love me with their hands and the shame was gently replaced by acceptance and love. I was a mama. I hadn’t given birth naturally. But I was still a mama. I think the feeling of love I felt in that moment, was the same as my babies’ would have felt as they lay, skin to skin, drinking from my breast at night.

Women have come to me saying that they are afraid of attending my workshop because they have too much body shame, they are afraid to discuss it, or they think It’s easier for me because I’m “skinny.” I understand those fears and the desire to keep them inside. I also understand thinking that no one else has as much shame as we do ourselves. This process wasn’t easy for me then and it’s not easy for me now.

Body shame comes in many forms and whatever your story is, it is just as valid and as painful as anyone else’s. We are all covering our selves to hide our shame – literally and figuratively. Only when we uncover these parts can there be space to let the acceptance of ourselves – from ourselves, and from others – in.

Bodysex Saskatoon, CA

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Thu, 02/12/2015 - 08:48

There is no such thing as an unnatural birth, neither success nor failure, just a woman and a baby. You survived a traumatic delivery and went on to have more beautiful babies. Well done.

Congratulations on your beautiful children. My second daughter was born just a month or so before your first and our birth experiences sound diammetrically opposed yet between us we probably have so much in common: shared motherhood of beautiful girls, the challenge of encouraging teenage girls to explore and live their lives in what can be quite a hostile world, learning to let go in the hope they'll choose to make us part of their future as well as their past. Parenthood is a marathon race not a sprint.

At each stage, we find the process of conception, pregnancy, labour and birth so stressful, so all-consuming. We seem to find it so very hard to be kind to ourselves. I'm glad that you found healing in the circle. Wishing you well.


Thu, 02/12/2015 - 09:57

PS In Dutch the word for pubic hair is schaamstreek ie. shame region or streak, ironic since the Dutch women I know are amongst the most well-adjusted and confident.
Sometimes the bodyshaming of women around the world is just so all-consuming it takes my breath away.

Body shaming continues in the

Fri, 02/13/2015 - 08:17
Jeffrey65802 (not verified)

Body shaming continues in the US. Some git in Montana just this week passed a local ordinance forbidding certain attire in public, men or women going around topfree, guys can't wear Speedos, women can't wear yoga pants (whatever those are, presumedly it's a anti-cameltoe thing) and has been likened to the Montana Taliban.

Great documentary from the 70s entitled "Sexual Freedom in Denmark" made the case that if we, human beings, are a divine creation, what's so wrong or bad about seeing and even admiring what God created?

The readiness with which some try and cover and deny the human body is alarming to me. While I wasn't raised to feel any shame at all about my naked body, I had and still have some from I assume media and our own cultures. Feel mildly self-conscious swimming our in our apt pool every Summer because my right-nipple's in a seemingly permanent state of erection. Been like this for as long as I can remember and I think it's just that since I masturbate with my left, my right's always been free to fiddle with it :) My left's normal sized and I've tried to fiddle it to get it like the other one so at least they're symmetrical. :) No luck though, dunno why. But when I have lovers, they all enjoy sucking on it and I've thus discovered why women enjoy it so much. :)