Wendy Plump, mother of two, wrote an essay for Salon yesterday in which she compares childbirth to extreme adventure sports like climbing Mount Everest. Admittedly, I’m a little confused about her point, but I think it’s that men garner more respect from doing things like climbing Mount Everest than women do from giving birth. If you are now thinking, “Why are these two completely unrelated things being compared?” – I have no idea.
I am beyond the age of childbearing, so let’s assume that my authority on that subject is finally complete. I know what I know. My sons were born 18 and 15 years ago, so I stand on the outer edge of motherhood, quite sure of what all that delivery-room endurance was about. For reasons of simplicity, I think we should just refer to it as extreme adventure.
Actually, “for reasons of simplicity” we should really just call it “childbirth,” since I had to re-read your last few sentences a few times to figure out what you were talking about.
I haven’t summited Everest, chased down the South Pole, or sailed on the Vendée Globe… But I have given birth. And that is a trip into the void, too. To willingly take on a challenge violent enough to shake your bones apart qualifies for some heavy commendation, or at least a level perch with the adventurers of the planet.
Here’s the thing: childbirth is amazing. It is pretty incredible that a woman’s body can grow something upwards of seven pounds, morph to accommodate it – and then release it into the world. But it’s not climbing Mount Everest. Climbing Mount Everest is climbing Mount Everest.
Saying that a woman who fulfills a biological imperative is the same thing as a man who makes a decision to train for years to scale the world’s highest mountain is ultimately ridiculous. I guess a woman who climbs Everest wins the pot. Unless she’s never given birth, right? Because obviously that is way harder.
I don’t want to run down the achievements of explorers, in which the whole human planet finds joy. I just want to see labor considered among those ranks since it takes us to the same place that climbing the West Rib of Denali takes adventurers. Birth may be natural, but only in the way that Denali is natural. If you want to succeed you approach them both with the same mettle, or failure awaits. Mountaineering or labor, in the end it’s still just you pacing off the absolute limits of your body and will. And if you mess up badly enough, someone could die. Is there another definition of extreme adventure?
To quote every pregnant lady giving me advice at the end of each of my long pregnancies – “The baby always comes out eventually, honey.” Can the same type of statement be made of climbing the West Rib of Denali? That no matter what – one outcome will prevail? Don’t even get me started on the “failure awaits” line. Women don’t “fail” in labor if they don’t approach it with the resolve of someone chasing down the South Pole.
There is no logic here. Just a chant of anything you can do I can do better! Is that really necessary? Birth is no less difficult and amazing if we refrain from comparing it to a set of the greatest physical accomplishments known to man (and woman).