It’s mid-January, and suitcases from our holiday travels slouch, still packed, in each of our bedrooms. We also have not finished packing up Christmas decor, nor have we finished the komodo dragon project that my oldest child is presenting in school this Wednesday. So, why I ever thought I had time to read a book for pleasure, I’m not sure. But as fellow bibliophiles understand, once you get into a book, it’s kind of hard to stop sometimes.
However, as I closed the cover of Brave New World, there was one thing in particular that gnawed at me: the state of motherhood. There was only one main character in the classic novel who was a mother (Linda), and only one main character (John) who had a mother (Linda). Instead of being born and having a family, the other characters were decanted from their laboratory bottles and reared by their government. At the death of Linda, these other characters marveled at John’s grief. It was not even touching to them; in fact, he was drugged by the police until his emotions were subdued. In the weeks following his loss, he tried to make a new life for himself as an independent hermit, but, spied upon by a cameraman who later made a “feely” (similar to a movie, but with additional sensory elements) based on John’s life, he was then pounced upon and mocked by the public for his emotional outbursts shown on film.
The dystopia imagined by author Aldous Huxley in the early 1930’s is so far from the world we currently live in that it seems unfair to compare the two, even though it is possible and tempting (and definitely not too far, in some ways). The better reaction, I believe, is to take stories like his and look inward. Whether or not I wield much influence over the godlessness of my country or the abuse of government remains to be seen, but I do, for sure, have a position of authority in my family — I’m a mother.
I’m not qualified to criticize my fellow mothers for dropping their children off in daycare or other institutions run by other people (if you could compare daycare to the government-run rearing of children in Brave New World). Why, my own children are dropped off each school day to be cared for by other adults! However, I still pause and wonder: am I present and mother enough to my kids? Will they feel immense grief at my inevitable passing? I wonder, too, if my children will have the desire and resilience to feel all their feelings, rather than drug themselves to a numb or artificially happy state. It is my hope that they will prefer to experience their emotions fully. I wonder and hope these things not just for my family, but for my fellow mothers and all of my children’s peers, too.
The experience of Linda birthing John is not detailed in Brave New World, although I wouldn’t expect Huxley, a male non-doctor in the early 20th century, to have any clue what laboring is like. It is interesting to consider, however, that Twilight sleep was the increasingly popular method for delivering a pregnant woman in that time. An anesthetic cocktail designed to reduce pain and ensure a woman forgot her birth experience, Twilight seems to resemble the drugs of Brave New World.
It has never been easy for me, as a birth worker, a liberty lover, and a generally straight-edge person, to hear stories of women being coerced into drugs by their provider or care team. The disgusting comment, “You don’t have to be a hero,” is one I’ve heard too many times (you can just see the nurse’s eyes roll as the mom refuses the medications). And that is only one of many examples. It seems clear that numbness is the only feeling comfortable to some people.
Pain, though, is the stage upon which love is born, and oh! What love it is! The love parents learn about at birth is unbeknownst until they have surrendered themselves to labor.
Pain and suffering are noble, too, along with endurance and hard work. Huxley portrayed this idea through John and a couple other characters, and it is something that still is valued today, if you can find the right people.
Fortunately, when an expecting mom recruits a doula to attend her birth, she doesn’t have to worry about having at least one person on her team who is comfortable with all the feelings. A doula will fight with her all the way through the trial of labor, will mourn and grieve losses, and will celebrate with joy the newfound love that is so deep and real.
I may not read another fun book for a few months, now that my spring semester of post baccalaureate pre-med studies has begun, and now that I have a renewed zeal for being a present and loving mother to my children. However, Brave New World was really enjoyable to ponder, and so I may (God-willing I find the time) type up some of my thoughts in response to my other sort-of recent fun read — Baby Catcher by Peggy Vincent. This one is more directly linked to birth (if you can’t tell by it’s title). So, be on the lookout for that. And in the meantime, if I’m a little slower responding to some emails and calls, well, I think I’m willing to make that sacrifice in order to touch base with those to whom I matter the most — the people who call me mother.