Imagine my surprise last weekend when, as I was pulling up to the Starbucks drive-thru to collect my Americano on my way to day two of doula training, I became acutely aware of the song coming at me through the radio and realized something unexpected.
Katy Perry has written an amazing labor anthem.
No, I don’t mean labor like unions and collective bargaining; I mean labor like contractions and pushing and gritting teeth and making rather novel sounds while escorting a small new human out of one’s body.
The song, if you haven’t yet guessed it, is “Roar.”
Humor me for a moment while I walk us both through this. Maybe it was just the mood I was in, but I think this thing’s got legs, and, honestly, I haven’t been able to stop listening to it.
Don’t judge me. I’m considering it research.
Katy starts off with rather insightful commentary that could be directly speaking to how most mothers (and fathers, for that matter) enter in to the experience of birthing their children with very little knowledge about exactly how many choices, and how much say, they actually have in the matter.
I used to bite my tongue and hold my breath
Scared to rock the boat and make a mess
So I sat quietly, agreed politely
I guess that I forgot I had a choice
I let you push me past the breaking point
I stood for nothing, so I fell for everything
The sentiment behind these lyrics is especially applicable to hospital birth situations, where almost all births in the United States still take place. Here, the authority (whether real or perceived) of medical staff can, if misapplied for the sake of convenience or procedure, and in the absence of a clear and present medical imperative, lead to many Moms unnecessarily relinquishing some or all of the control over the birth experience they wanted for themselves.
The last two lines of that first verse are a little strong, and would be unfair to the great majority of medical staff if taken literally. Doctors and nurses are not the natural enemy of good birth memories, but many Moms do have regrets about part or all of their birth experiences. They may have bit their tongues, held their breaths. They may have been scared to rock the boat. They forgot that, in many cases, they had choices. Or maybe, more likely, they didn’t even know.
The second verse isn’t so applicable, so I won’t try to extract any significant metaphorical meaning from it here, other than the beginning hints of empowerment that some women are beginning to find in their births (“You hear my voice, you hear that sound / Like thunder gonna shake the ground”).
It’s in the chorus where my girl Katy has done some great work. If I had a magic wand (or magic dust, as we discussed in my recent doula training), this chorus contains the confidence and emotion and raw badassery I would sprinkle liberally, and with great affection, over every laboring Mama, look her in her eyes and say, “Look at what you are capable of.” If you listen to it, even the phrasing sounds like the efforts of a woman who has taken her child’s birth into her own very capable hands, guided by hundreds of thousands of years of instinct.
I got the eye of the tiger, a fighter, dancing through the fire
Cause I am a champion and you’re gonna hear me roar
Louder, louder than a lion
Cause I am a champion and you’re gonna hear me roar
I’m one of the lucky ones. This is actually how I feel about my labor now, in hindsight. I honestly can’t tell you if I felt this way during my entire labor. I know I did at times. I remember feeling like a primal force and running my fingers over the ridges of my own badassery. And then I got to the point where it really hurt and I didn’t know what to do with the intensity and I wanted to run away. It happens.
But even now, I don’t cringe from the prospect of my next labor, I welcome it. I feel like I know how to handle it. I have proved to myself I can do it. Once again, I would choose to give birth without the assistance of any drugs. Once again, I would require my husband and my doula by my side, giving me continuous, loving support and defending my right to labor on that damn toilet as long as I wanted to. Once again, I would welcome the presence of my mother, a reminder of the strong women that came before me.
Now I’m floating like a butterfly
Stinging like a bee, I earned my stripes
I went from zero, to my own hero
For me, there’s no denying it: the opportunity I had to give birth my way, largely on my own terms, made me feel like my own hero. I didn’t consider myself a zero beforehand, not by a long shot, but birth definitely raised my self-esteem in ways that probably very few other experiences could have. I’m sure there are a ton of birth purists who could find plenty to point out about my birth that made it less than ideal: I had to have IV antibiotics due to a positive Group B strep test, I had to move off the toilet to the bed, because the hospital staff was no longer comfortable with me staying in there when I got to be fully dilated. But I loved my first birth experience, and here’s why: a great majority of the time, I felt like I was calling the shots. I felt like everyone there believed in me. I know a lot of this is luck; I know it could just as easily have gone a different way. But the fact remains that I gave birth in a fairly forward-thinking hospital, with the support of a doula and family who believed in my ability to do the work I was there to do. And you’d have a very difficult time convincing me that those factors didn’t make a big difference in me having a very positive hospital birth. Every woman deserves what I got. Every woman should be given every opportunity to have that.
Now, I don’t want it to sound like I am diminishing the efforts of women whose births ended differently than maybe they had anticipated, with medical, physical or surgical interventions like Pitocin, vacuum or forceps delivery, or Cesarean. I would never do so. Nor would I ever look down on Mamas who turn to pain relief from narcotics or an epidural. What I have learned both from my own birth experience, and from doula training, is that birth is a sacred and fiercely individual experience. Whether it turns out as expected or not, it is ultimately your own, and the only appropriate response is unconditional support.
That said, what I do feel strongly about is planting the seed in my fellow Mamas to ask questions and stand your ground a little bit. You have every right to do that. A doula or informed birth partner can help you. And you taking that initiative might just be the difference in you having the birth you really, really hoped for.
Right before the last chorus of “Roar,” which is my favorite part, there’s a short break. I can’t help but think of this as analogous to the purported “Rest and be thankful stage,” which I don’t remember having myself, but it apparently exists. From there, the music starts building, and Katy launches into the final chorus. It is assertive, triumphant, confident. It is joyful. It is powerful. This could be the anthem of a Mama pushing her baby earthside. It should be the way every woman feels doing so.
So, there you go: my analysis of “Roar” as an unintended labor anthem. And here I’m sure Ms. Perry just thought she wrote a marketable pop song. Inspiration comes unbidden, from unexpected sources. Let them hear you, Mamas. Let them hear you roar.