I was one of “those” pregnant women. I laugh at myself now in hindsight at my naiveté, and how much I had yet to learn. About birth. About my body. About pain. Real. Excruciating. Bleeping. Pain. About healthy boundaries. About how it’s OK to put yourself first still, even though so many forums on motherhood suggest doing so makes you selfish. At 8 months pregnant, I had been to months of birthing classes, I did days worth of research, I attended prenatal yoga every weekend since my first trimester, I knew my breathing exercises. I knew it all. There was nothing anyone could do to change my mind: I was going to have a “natural birth.”
First of all, let’s think about that term for one second. What in the hell does a “natural birth” even mean, anyway? Is it suggesting that those of us who don’t enjoy masochism give birth any less naturally? Is it insinuating that because we decide that the pain of contractions is too much to handle that we are any less “naturally” squeezing a watermelon out of a kiwi? Does accepting an epidural somehow make us weaker than Real Women? Absofreakinglutely not.
For years, I have prided myself in my hippie approach in modern day life. I live for yoga, I take long walks three to four days a week. I eat organic. I steer clear of processed foods and red meats. I recycle. I love trees, and sometimes I hug them. I don’t call my doctor the second I feel a tingle in my throat because an amalgam of ginger tea, cayenne pepper and turmeric rocks as a cure-all to many ailments. So, of course, when I discovered I was pregnant with our first baby, I went homeo-psycho-pathic. Immediately, I began researching the best doctors, the best hospitals, writing up the perfect birth plan, attending classes, Googling the heck out of pregnancy, preparing my mind, body and soul for the beautiful, spiritual experience I was about to have. Obviously, I would be bringing this child into the world sans epidural.
My pregnancy from day one was a breeze. I never once got morning sickness. I didn’t have an aversion to scents or foods. I walked up and down the stairs in my four-story office building during lunch breaks every day, my giant belly protruding. I walked three miles the day I went into labor. I’ve received five tattoos, all the while casually reading magazines and texting. In my teen years, I had my body pierced in six different places (one of which I did on my own with a safety pin and some ice while gossiping on the phone in my rattan chair). I’d rarely even experienced a menstrual cramp, so, clearly, my pain tolerance had always been unusually high. Even when our son was still comfortably hanging out in utero five days after his due date, I never once felt the discomfort everyone seemed to assume I did.
And then, labor happened. It was just before 10 p.m. on July 19th, my husband and I were watching bad reality TV, and the first contractions hit. They felt just as I had been told to expect: period cramps that gradually get worse. It was a little uncomfortable, but this was my plan so far: an early labor at home, shower, apply a little make-up to prep for those delivery room photos, and go back to watching Chopped. Then, at about 3:30 a.m., active labor began. That’s when we needed backup, and to the hospital we went.
After initially being administered a series of “cocktail” medications, which worked for an hour or so at a time, they became weaker before they simply stopped producing. As the nurse pointed out, using those to relieve the contractions I was about to have was like using a Band-Aid to treat a flesh wound. I was six centimeters dilated on my own, without Pitosin, but still refused the epidural. I was warned that at some point, it would be too late for reprieve, and I had maybe another centimeter or two to go if I was to change my mind.
And then, I dilated another half a centimeter, and my life flashed before my eyes. The pain was like nothing I could have imagined in my worst nightmares. I thought my body would surely give out on me and my heart would stop. “This isn’t normal!” I kept screaming, exhausted between contractions. “There is nothing beautiful about this!” At one point, I even asked my husband to call a friend of mine at the time who was on the fence about starting a family, and told him he needed to warn her not to have children. (I was totally serious, by the way). The pain just wasn’t worth it, and I thought it my duty as a woman to let every other female in the world know! I felt ripped in two from one hole to the other. The ghastly sounds ricocheting off of the delivery room walls rivaled the Saw series. I transformed into a writhing, terrifying, tortured shell of a woman. Then, I just couldn’t take it anymore, and I begged for that epidural like my life depended on it – and it probably did.
Then…there was peace. Heaven. A warm cloud. Deep, peaceful slumber. Giddy laughter. Texting, even! After 24 hours of labor and 20 minutes of pushing, our healthy, gorgeous, perfect son came into our arms. Because I was so relaxed (and heavily medicated), I was able to process each second and finally enjoy the experience of childbirth so much more than if I were a heaping mass of agony. But, I was more proud of knowing that I listened to my body and respected its boundaries. It had gotten me that far on its own “naturally,” and I was grateful and proud. It was my turn to give it a break, and assist it the rest of the way.
That would be my first humbling lesson in parenting: realizing that asking for help is crucial to your sanity – and that lesson, for me, began (just as naturally, thank you very much) in that delivery room.