What Nude Modeling Taught Me About Birthing

I loooove being naked. I really don't sleep well any other way. But it isn't a state I'm used to being in anywhere but my own home. I was raised in a small, patriarchal, very Catholic town and household. So I have a deep seeded history of shame around nudity and sexuality that I've been working my way out of over the years. When I was asked to model for the Twin Cities POC/Indigenous artists' figure drawing/painting group in the middle of my second pregnancy last fall, it was a full body, "yes". I just knew it was something I needed to experience. 

The session was held at the intimate space of Electric Machete Studios  which is "a Twin Cities art and music collective, a fine arts gallery and performance space, a print house, and a boutique featuring the work of Latinx and Xicanx artists Indigenous to las Ámericas". And if you visit the space soon, you can see some  more of me and many more drawings by the talented artists of the Twin Cities POC/Indigenous artists' figure drawing/painting group on display.

It was there that I stood in the middle of a semicircle of my peers, dropped my robe, and struck a pose! In life we are always choosing and adjusting our clothes to make ourselves look the way we want others to perceive us. I was fearful that I would be fidgety and wishing to escape without anything hide behind. But standing there with my big pregnant belly and absolutely nothing left to adjust, I didn't avoid eye contact and I didn't shamefully want to hide, I joyfully, exclaimed, "Here I am!" with my whole being. It felt like the only choice I had. And I relaxed into it. Surrounded by gentle, conscious, IPOC folks, I was emboldened, I had fun, and the night passed by much too fast!  

Now, reflecting on my births, the amount of time I spent naked in front of others still surprised me the second time around. But, by my second birth, I wasn't as intimidated and I was a lot less shameful than the first time. A lot happened in the two and a half years between my children's births. But I attribute my newfound confidence to the time I invested in learning more about my own sexual health and practicing my emotional and physical nudity in between. I didn't consciously seek out the opportunities to be naked. I attracted them through the world that pregnancy reviled to me and through my deep longing to heal from my first birth. 

My sexual health knowledge and comfort in my own skin allowed me to stay more grounded and fully present throughout a very painful induction procedure where my concha was on full display, throughout the birth itself, and throughout each of the skin to skin/breastfeeding sessions we had in the ICU. I stayed in my own power while medical professionals poked and prodded and questioned my body, before and after birth. This gave me the agency I needed to reduce my own trauma in a very vulnerable and unpredictable situation. 

Modern day birthing classes teach us a lot of different things. Of course, they teach us about the physiological process of birth, many of the sensations we may experience, the options we may have for pain management, and some classes even teach us how to advocate for ourselves. But none of them teach us how to navigate any of that... naked. 

And no matter where or how you plan to birth, you are going to have to be at least partially naked, at least part of the time. 

By the end of the birthing process most of us don't care about the naked aspect. But as a birth companion/doula, I've seen many people struggle with nudity in the process of their birth. And I believe this can truly hinder the birth process and even leave patients traumatized. The reasons are complicated and layered but here is a brief explanation.

In the United States we are not comfortable with naked bodies or healthy, embodied sexuality. Sure, we consume sexual images in a manner that portrays ownership and degradation of one another's bodies. But we squirm when it comes to the full agency of a naked body, especially a birthing one. We don't honor the magnificence of those bodies in day to day society. 

On top of that, this country has a longstanding  history of violence toward all birthing bodies especially, indigenous folks, people of color (IPOC), and those in the LGBTQ community. And most medical professionals in the birth room tend to be white, heterosexual, and cis-gendered. So walking into such a vulnerable situation as an IPOC and/or queer person giving birth is demanding a lot of emotional capital way before clothing is ever removed. 

Complicating this further, there is a parental power structure between patients and their medical professionals in the U.S. This is usually less true in home birth situations but it is widespread in hospitals. Medical professionals, especially doctors, are often set up as the all knowing entities and you will do as your told if you want to be a good mother/parent. And it is usually in the hospitals where we are required to birth in front of strangers due to the way staff rotations are set up. 

Thinking about all of this, it's easy to see why individuals would feel inhibited to be naked in the birth room. It is a situation most don't enter but a few times in their life but it has the power to transform us on the deepest level. That's why we practice everything else about birth; so why not this? I've concluded need practice in safe spaces being naked and embodied while we prepare for birth. We need to exclaim, "HERE I AM" to rooms full of friendly faces before we do so in front of strangers. We need to find a way to embolden birthing people to release shame and embrace their whole selves while performing one of the most sacred acts on earth. 

Un Mama Sin vergüenza,