I pondered long and hard to decide what I should write my first post for Women Make Waves about. And of all the topics I came up with whilst scrubbing the loo, emptying the dishwasher, tapping away at the keyboard at work and catching the rabbits in the yard, I decided why not start with the most obvious? The one thing all women get hung-up on at some stage; body image.
I was a naive teenager who didn’t really grow up at the same rate as my peers. I was mature in my thinking about everything else but completely oblivious to relationships, sex and appearance. Basically, I was much more interested in achieving great grades and spending my days at the stables mucking out, riding and grooming horses to be interested in anything else. I always joke that getting your daughter interested in horses as a teen has to be one of the best forms of contraception! Especially as there seem to be very few men populating our yards in the UK (Spain’s another matter but that’s another story for another time…).
As a naive teenager, I missed out on that time which kids usually have with their peers where they get all the embarrassing questions and confusion out of the way as soon as possible. Instead, I started university still pretty oblivious. That was the first shock to the system when I started living in Halls! Untidy communal areas and being kept up late by my flatmates’ drunken antics I was expecting; discussing pubic hair and the taste of certain male bodily fluids whilst cooking dinner wasn’t!
I always knew from a young age that I’d never lose my virginity to just ‘anyone’. I’m also really shy so meeting ‘just anyone’ was pretty slim! So, when I started university again on a different course several years later aged 21, I was still pretty insecure about my body. Well, I’d never had anyone else see it to say I was ‘normal’, had I?! Looking back now, I realise how much I obsessed over this and how crazy that was!
Starting work as a student midwife was daunting for many reasons. The idea of knowing I would be put into positions where I would be expected to know what I was talking about and know what I was doing when it came to things I’d never even experienced myself was pretty frightening. And, yes, it’s very odd to walk into a room, tell someone your name, ask them a few questions you never would dream of asking a stranger in any other social situation and then tell them to ‘just pop your lower garments off’ so you can examine them. The only thing that got me through those first few years of doing this was knowing the patient was feeling ten times more self-conscious than I was, and it was my responsibility to make them feel comfortable!
I learnt so much as a student midwife. I learnt all the clinical expertise I possibly could, I soaked up as much theoretical knowledge as I could, I used every possible experience as a learning opportunity and I read everything I could get my hands on. But nothing affected me as much as what I learnt about myself and the skills I have at my disposable purely as a human being. And the body image boost I have taken away from the experience is priceless.
Seriously, no matter what shape your boobs are, how wide or narrow your hips are, whether you have a peachy bum or a flat one, you are normal. I’ve seen women of all shapes and sizes and, unsurprisingly, their ability to birth a baby and then nourish their little one doesn’t differ because they don’t have a model body.
I used to think my breasts were a bit odd but no wonder! The only breasts we ever see uncovered in the media are those which have either been surgically enhanced or digitally so. And call me naive, but I only watched porn for the first time a few weeks ago and thank God I didn’t watch it as a teenager! What the hell is one to think if they only ever see perfectly smooth, tanned, embellished vulvas and compare this to their own?
Okay, you may want to stop reading now if you’re a little squeamish. Being a midwife means being able to suture (stitch up) wounds. And, of course, we all know where on the anatomy we’re taking about suturing… Clearly, there isn’t one size that fits all so trying to put all the layers back in the right place can be a bit of a challenge. I must admit, it was a challenge I quite relished and developed quite a skill for. And what it so vividly highlighted is how different and yet how similar we all are ‘down below’. During pregnancy and birth, our bodies can go through these amazing contortions and challenges and yet the body can also heal itself (with a little help) and be ready to do it all over again if needs be.
I guess what I’m trying to get at is how being privy to so many births over the years has meant I’ve seen more naked female bodies than a lot of people in other professions will have. And it has helped me let go of any bodily insecurities I had because I know we’re all just variations on a very common theme. So, if you have one breast that’s always been larger than the other, don’t worry! If your labia minora (inner lips of the vulva) hang down lower than the labia majora, don’t worry! If one nipple points left and the other straight, don’t worry! You don’t need plastic surgery because you already are normal!