What is the point exactly? That’s what I want to know.
It’s the question I ask, silently, every time I hear a mother chronicling every last detail of her agonizing labor and delivery story to a wide-eyed woman with a swollen belly; or every time I hear a father dispatching play-by-play of baby’s arrival on a par with that infamous alien eruption scene in the movie of the same name.
Because it just isn’t done, I do not interrupt and ask the question aloud. But still, it lingers inside me. I’d truly like to know.
What is the point?
In recently published research it was revealed that women who fear childbirth endure a labor that is, on average, an hour-and-a-half longer than those who aren’t afraid. It has to do with stress and hormones and how the body responds during intense situations, of course. But the cruel reality seems to be this: Fear the worst and that might be what you get. And why are women so afraid of childbirth anyway? More afraid than ever it feels like to me. The sad fact is, in a culture that feeds on sensationalism, not only is no one interested in happy endings, but you just might be judged harshly for trying to share them.
I remember the first time I was pregnant. Sitting at a table across from a friend who had just returned from maternity leave, I opened my big fat mouth. Tell me all about it. Not the precious baby part. Not what it felt like to come back to work. Or how she was adjusting to life with a newborn. I wanted to know about labor and delivery. As I shifted in my seat, trying to keep my belly out of the spill-zone while achieving some level of dining comfort, I was keenly aware of my own date with destiny.
So I listened to Rachel’s story, replete with ominous details: post-term induction, monster contractions, the 27-hour labor, exhaustion, forceps, the episiotomy, the stitches. And despite enduring what sounded like an excruciating ordeal, she added, “It’s an absolutely remarkable process – an amazing adventure. Something that only we can experience,” she grasped my hand for effect. “You should embrace every minute of it.”
By the time the lunch check arrived, I had already tabled the specifics of her birth day story in favor of one of my sister’s much more colorful, albeit abstract, assessments of childbirth: It’s like blowing a bowling ball out your nose! But that second part from my friend Rachel – the awesome process, amazing adventure stuff – these words inspired me.
Over the next month or so, I would listen to a variety of nightmare-inducing accounts from a variety of sources. The office elevator was a particularly good forum for sharing. It amazed me how quickly a co-worker could rattle off her unique horror story and still have time to call out “Oh, but I’m sure you’ll be different!” As the doors closed behind her.
And you know what? I was different. But nonetheless, it’s difficult for me to talk about any of my labors. Although I’ve run that race three times, I don’t tell my story very often. When I do, I make sure I’m one-on-one with the mom-to-be. It’s always best to steer clear of the veteran mom who will look at me with disdain, as if to chastise me for misleading the poor dear, before launching into her own grim tale of the epidural that never kicked in, or the back labor that resulted in a broken tailbone, or the – well, you get the idea. In fact, the last time I shared the details of my first L&D experience in a group, it was at a baby shower. And someone threw a cookie at me.
So here it is: four hours from start to finish; no drugs; no stitches. And a baby girl is born!
Admittedly, my story is a short one, and not sensational by any standards, but I should tell it. If yours was a positive childbirth experience, you should share it too – as often as you can, with no trepidation, and especially with the first-timers you know. These are the people who might never imagine labor and delivery as anything but miserable and something to fear. Truly, women everywhere need to hear that childbirth – whether it lasts four hours or forty – is an awesome process, something to be embraced, and perhaps most importantly, an amazing adventure with no equal.
And that, for the record, is my point.