I have sat down to write this post so many times and abandoned the effort because I didn’t know if I was going to be able to summon the words to describe what a sacred and spiritual experience labor was for me this time around. Yes. Sacred and spiritual. Words you never thought you’d hear from someone who can talk about breakfast cereal and hemorrhoids in the same sentence with the hemorrhoids being the part that didn’t make you throw up.
Up until about the 30th week of my pregnancy I hadn’t given labor much thought, only that I was going to ask for the epidural two days before contractions started. I’m not kidding, that was the extent of my birth plan. There was no need to experience any of the pain, I thought, especially since I had been through this before and I remember thinking that the pain was so awful that it was going to kill me. Give me the epidural and any other pain relief, maybe throw in a couple dozen shots of bourbon, oh and how about you just put me under general anesthesia and wake me up two days later. I’m not good with pain. I tend to complain and holler and call people regrettable things. It’s like the Hulk, only he’s on his period.
I was also under the impression, having never really researched the subject whatsoever, that any woman who would opt for a homebirth was not only COMPLETELY OUT OF HER MIND but also not interested in the safety of her unborn child. I mean, there’s a reason that infant and maternal mortality rates are so much better than a hundred years ago, right? HOSPITALS. And MEDICINE. And smart people we call DOCTORS. Yes, women routinely used to go out into the field by themselves and give birth without any assistance, and many of them routinely did not return BECAUSE THEY DIED.
But then out of no where the publishers of Ricki Lake and Abby Epstein’s book Your Best Birth sent me a copy, just like the publishers of many books send me copies of other books all the time. Internet, I have rooms full of books that publishers have sent me. ROOMS FULL. And I was just about to toss this onto the mountainous pile of ones I’d eventually drop off at Goodwill when, I don’t know, I flipped through a few pages and gave a full minute to one or two paragraphs. And those two paragraphs happened to be ones that really pissed me off. So much so that I read them aloud to Jon and said something like GOD, THOSE HIPPIES! or I BET THEY SMELL LIKE PATCHOULI!
You know, something totally open-minded.
Those paragraphs pissed me off so badly, in fact, that the one part of me that resembles my father the most — no, not the pointy chin or the metabolism or the absolute inability to watch a movie where everything goes wrong and the protagonist just keeps getting pummeled by life and I’m all MAKE IT STOP and then I have get up and actually leave the theater, no, none of those things — my righteous indignation, it flared up so magnificently that I sat down to read the whole book, just so that I could be angry at it. WHO DOES SHIT LIKE THIS? Me and Michael Hamilton, that’s who. Both he and I will go to our graves filled with an inordinate amount of unproductive anger, but a smile will mark our faces because we will feel so justified. So RIGHT.
And then, oh God, the worst thing happened. And I didn’t even see it coming, but I’m sitting there reading that book, gritting my teeth, shaking my head when all of a sudden it started to make sense. I started to see just how medicalized labor and birth have become in America AND THERE GOES MY WORLD VIEW.
I’m not going to get into the specifics and the really convincing and at times jaw-dropping statistics of it here, there are so many other places and people who can write about it better than I can, but I will say this: if you are pregnant or are planning to become pregnant, GO READ THAT BOOK. From now on when someone asks me what is the one piece of advice I would give to a pregnant woman, it will be: GO BUY A COPY OF THAT BOOK. Listen, I am not affiliated with that book in any way, I do not know Ricki Lake, she and I do not vacation in St. Tropez together (although if she’d like to come ride four-wheelers at my Mom’s cabin in Duchesne, Utah, THE OFFER STANDS), I do not owe that publisher any favors. But IT CHANGED MY LIFE. I’m not even kidding, I’ll say it again: IT CHANGED MY LIFE.
So then I watched the documentary Ricki Lake made, The Business of Being Born and that sealed it for me, I got my hands on everything I could read about natural childbirth. I read websites, forums, several other books including the excellent Birthing from Within, and then I talked to everyone I could find who had experienced birth without drugs. It just made a lot of sense to me, and after working through the specifics of what I went through when I was in labor with Leta — what I would call a classic example of a medicalized American labor and delivery minus the c-section — I decided that I wanted to have a natural childbirth this time. A very personal decision that made Jon go, HUH?????
And then he choked on those questions marks and fell over.
First, there were several obstacles to overcome. One, I had to convince Jon that I wasn’t crazy. I had done so much reading and research that I had gone from thinking homebirthing was NUTSO to wanting to push the baby out in the tiny tub we have in the bathroom next to the garage with no one in the room but Jon and a midwife. Oooh, and lots of candles!
But I knew Jon would never be okay with a homebirth, and since I was going to need his help getting through the pain of a drug-free labor even in a hospital setting, having him on board was critical. Two, what was my OBGYN going to do when suddenly the woman who was all EPIDURAL ON THE ROCKS, PLEASE! suddenly starting asking about the c-section rate at the hospital, and what was her policy on episiotomies? And this? And that? And, what do you know, she started fidgeting nervously, biting her lower lip, subtly shaking her head, and that was the quickest check-up I’d had the whole pregnancy!
Now, I really like my OBGYN. She’s the complete opposite of me, very cheery and all smiles, and I bet she was popular in high school, as in, when she thinks back on those four years she doesn’t SHIT HER PANTS like I do. And instead of writing her off as someone who would purposefully stand in the way of a natural childbirth and seeking out another doctor or midwife at such a late date, I decided to give her the benefit of the doubt.
And I’m glad I did, because she did nothing but encourage my plans throughout the subsequent check-ups.
And hoo-boy, there was planning. Because if I was remembering correctly there was a point in my labor with Leta when the pain had become so unbearable that I think I may have actually died, gone to Hell, and when Satan saw that it was me he was all, no, no, no, not that woman, I am not about to spend eternity with someone so crass that they would casually talk about duck farts while I’m eating small children for breakfast. Send her back!
I was going to need to prepare myself for the pain, mentally, physically, and emotionally, and surround myself with a team of people who could help me through it. So I hired a doula, and then I gathered the people who were going to be with me during labor and we worked through what I wanted and how to make that happen. Mind you, I went into this knowing fully that what I wanted to happen could be completely derailed by any sort of crisis concerning me or the baby. Making it out alive with a healthy baby was my top priority, of course, but if there was no need for pitocin or an epidural or intravenous drugs or a vacuum or forceps or an oxygen mask or an emergency c-section, then that’s what I wanted.
And really, that’s not a lot to ask.
Jon just walked in with Marlo and my milk came in so hard that it exploded all over the keyboard. Imagery! And I just realized how long this post is already, and I haven’t even gotten to the part where I asked our server at Outback Steakhouse if she’d be willing to cut the umbilical cord. Part two coming soon!