For as long as I can basically remember, I’ve had a health problem that caused stress or pain. As a child, I was in and out of doctor’s offices and hospitals due to life-threatening asthma. And by the time I hit puberty around age 10, I was dealing with the very real and clear pain of endometriosis. I’ve had pain akin to early labor for days each menstrual cycle of my life, basically. I got a kidney stone from a treatment that saved my life from complex migraines (the type that make it seem like you’re having a stroke). I rode probably 100 miles on my roadbike in a week’s time before the stone was detected in my ureter. My mom, in contrast, had one still in her kidney and it was so painful she is not sure how I was walking let alone riding and working. I once broke and severely dislocated a finger and went around for 2 days before I was persuaded to see a doctor.
So, when it comes to labor, I’m pretty sure I can take the pain. I know it will suck but I also know it will end. The thing is, if I don’t have to have pain, I don’t need it. I know labor pain is thoroughly unique but a this point, I’m fairly sure my body is equipped for it. I worry more about coming out the other side so tired, hungry, and dehydrated I have to recover over weeks not days from it. So I will be opting for pain management. I know I can “trust birth” because I am damned determined to get this thing out alive so I can hold it over my head and sing songs from the Lion King but trusting that my body can handle and suffering unnecessarily (to me) are two different things.
I know plenty of moms who see me as a failure. A good friend yesterday said, “Of course you’re doing natural birth, right?” as if that was a thing you just opted into. She had a unicorn pregnancy – no morning sickness or reflux, no pain – and a unicorn birth – totally unmedicated, no tearing, and it was over in less than 12 hours from the start of early labor to finish. Another friend who is pregnant reminded her “I plan to try but my baby may have other ideas. We are playing it by ear.” I flat out responded with, “I intend to take the drugs. It’s a marathon not a sprint and I want to be as comfortable as possible.” The question-asker looked completely perturbed.
It the got worse. She rattled on about how she would give me a sits bath because she was SURE I was going to tear horribly as that’s what everyone with an epidural experiences. I know “natural” birth is what everyone wants these days and what everyone my mom’s age probably got unless they were high risk. I think it’s great if a woman wants to experience the hell of childbirth in full, high-def color because it’s her choice. However, that’s not how I see it.
I experienced vomiting 3-5 times a day in full surround sound with smell-o-vision for the first 4+ months of this pregnancy. It’s still going on. Today I puked in an IHOP because my husband ordered a dish that smelled of rotting flesh to my pregnant nose. My body has ran a marathon daily for weeks. When this started, I was an endurance athlete. Now, I’m a soft, weak, shell who is down 20 lbs and hasn’t gotten on her bike in months. I was never a waif, so it’s not as though I am skin and bones but I still don’t have a noticeable bump and am nearing 20 weeks. My friend who is 6 weeks ahead began to show much earlier. I used to love eating out and cooking but I’m now not myself. Even before this, I suffered a gruesome miscarriage and still have a stain on my bedroom carpet as a reminder of waking up bleeding out. Motherhood, so far, has been hard, awful and thankless. Which is what motherhood is for a lot of women.
To top it all off, I did all this while working full time, finishing a dissertation, and dealing with the drama inherent to building a blended family. Hell, I got a promotion in the middle of this. I have been kicking ass DESPITE hypermesis.
What I so badly wanted to say yesterday was, “Lady, if it was a competition, natural birth or no, I’ve already done three Ironmans and won.” But I didn’t because it’s not a competition. Each of us have different births and different bodies and different pregnancies. One of the things I’ve LOVED about reading birth stories has been that no matter what, most of the time, it ends up okay and mom and baby come out fine. Moms do what they need to to survive. Babies come out somehow. No matter what your playlist is or your aromatherapy choices were, you will get through it.
The competition thing, yeah, I refuse to play into it. Some say God only gives you what you can handle. Others say you are stronger than you ever imagine once you become a mother. I believe both are probably true. But I’m sure given the cards I’ve been dealt would all suffer through it. Maybe birth is the hardest part of many pregnancies and that’s okay! But maybe it’s not.
But devolving into “well you think that’s bad? I can do you one better!” rhetoric just divides us.
I do think we should be careful talking about birth, though. I have met amazing moms who did everything they could to avoid the thing they so dreaded – a c section – but ended up needing one because their baby was in deep distress. They don’t actually feel bad about their birth because they brought their baby into the world one way or another but I’ve seen others chide them for not trying castor oil or hypnobirth or whatever snake oil supposedly worked for someone else.
Perhaps rather than being presumptive and saying something like:
“So you’re having a natural birth, right?” or
“You’re gonna ask for the drugs, right?”
We could instead say something like,
“So I know you’ve probably thought about what your birth would ideally look like but if you want some feedback about something I did, x worked for me…”
Because a woman isn’t an idiot and I don’t know one pregnant lady who hasn’t read a ton of birth stories by month 4 and isn’t sure what she wants, she will already have some really solid ideas of what will be her ideal birth.
Opening dialogue doesn’t have to be rife with judgement.
It’s a marathon not a sprint and we all have different pre-race strategies. One is not better than the other. Many will need to change mid-race because we need to be flexible and adaptive as mothers. As people experience the wonders of school-age kids (whichh really is the best, I think) or the stress of parenting kids in puberty, or toddlers who refuse to wear shoes, these skills will build.