Saturday, September 9, 2006

A Woman’s Memory is Her Own Worst Enemy

A Woman’s Memory is Her Own Worst Enemy
Kristen Chase

The memory of a woman’s birth experience is powerful. I’ve seen grown women who suffered 40 long weeks of morning sickness, heartburn, and constipation, joyfully exclaim that they want another one almost instantly after popping out their tiny baby. And then I’ve seen practically perfect preggos swear off any form of purposeful reproduction based solely on their labor and delivery.

I distinctly recall the first two thoughts after birthing my daughter - I will never do that again, and epidurals and elective c-sections are highly underrated. The joy of meeting my new daughter was overshadowed by the deep sense of wonder and disbelief I felt when imagining any human choosing to give birth again. Call me cynical, but pain and exhaustion do amazing things to the brain.

As a classic overachiever in every other aspect in my life, I kept true to form by preparing months in advance for my labor experience. I delved full force, dragging my reluctant but supportive husband to Hypnobirthing and Bradley classes. We suffered through 12 two hour classes almost every weekend, watching century old videos chock full of natural childbirth propaganda. We slaved over our birth plan and watched it get carefully placed in a random office junk drawer by our trusty nurse. We recruited two doulas-in-training to provide us with labor support and assistance as we strived to achieve the perfect birth. We laughed, in private, at our pregnant friends who didn’t even know the risks of an epidural or complications associated with Pitocin. We were birth elitists – training like Oprah for our marathon of a lifetime.

When my due-date rolled around, and then got left in the dust with no baby in sight, we didn’t worry. Even one week later, we proudly fended off our intervention-happy doctors who offered a variety of induction options. Topping 200 lbs with only one outfit that didn’t cause me to pull my own eyes out, I politely refused, asking instead for an ultrasound non-stress test. I secretly begged my baby to make his/her entrance (or exit, really), and began a regimen of self-inflicted enemas, blue cohosh, and nipple stimulation. If one more person asked me if I had done the funky dance with my husband, I would have probably lost it; no self-loving 10-month pregnant woman has any desire to have any type of sexual relations, no matter how much people say it works.

My labor finally started just shy of two weeks past my due date. My mother was the only person who was excited that I had gone so long because she was able to make the birth. The polite phone calls and emails asking of any news turned into belligerent demands for information. But, after a long walk on a hot July morning, and several drops of blue cohosh, I finally felt belly-tightenings that came at a consistent rate. My excitement quickly turned to confusion as my labor seemed to progress fairly rapidly. I went from splashing like a seal in my warm tub, to groaning in pain like, well, a laboring woman. I lost my sense of humor, I demanded a heating pad on my back at all times, and I felt the need to push.

Unfortunately, the need to push indicated nothing but more labor for me. Later we realized that my daughter was off-center on my cervix, and therefore allowed me to progress at a medically-acceptable pace, but afforded me visits to “transition” every hour for the last four hours of my labor. The medical staff heeded my every wish, our birth plan emblazoned on their chests, unconcerned with my confusing labor pattern. It wasn’t until my doulas realized that perhaps something might be slowing me down, that they called their midwife for assistance. A few contractions in a contortionist-like position did the trick and I was ready to push within minutes. I had made it without asking for pain medication or an epidural. I had proved all the naysayers wrong.

But then I had to push. Pushing feels good, I remember hearing from my trusty Bradley instructors. I envisioned the relief of a much needed shit.That feels good. Pushing, however, does not. In fact, it is the antithesis of good. Good is a nice book, warm tea, or a relaxing day. You are pushing out an eight pound human from your nether regions. Nothing about that says good. You’re exhausted and frustrated, and a doctor who has just walked into the room for the first time is telling you that yelling will not help you push any better. If she had been there for my whole entire labor, then she would have known that the yelling (although I prefer toning) helped me make it through to this point. The stubborn gal that I am, I yell louder, push harder out my ass, and breathe at the command of my doula. Thankfully, my daughter was low and I didn’t push for very long. There’s a split second where I had the distinct feeling that I was about to rip in half and then out she popped. This beautiful baby girl smiled up and me, and for a moment, all was well with the world. And then I remembered everything that had just happened.

In the immediate moments following my birth experience, I felt little pride for my drugless birth and more concern that I would have to endure that experience again if I wanted another one. I wondered why I had been so adamant about allowing my body to remain untouched during such a difficult labor. And I worried if I would ever be able to bring myself to do all that again.

A few people have told me that your memory of your labor fades as time passes. In some ways, it’s true. My painful labor was overshadowed by my lack of sleep, sore breasts, and general overwhelm. My stitches disappeared but were replaced by various levels of nether region discomfort, sometimes at both ends. But, even through what were, at times, harrowing hours and days of confusion and frustration, I still remember my birth. It’s been almost two years, and I can recount almost every moment of my labor in clear imagery. And now that I know what to expect, I enter the possibility of each new baby journey with a little more trepidation. It's not to say that I wouldn’t go drug-less again; I'm a glutton for punishment and an overachiever tried and true. I can't lie - I do bask in the glory of my drugless pain fest every now and then, and I believe I did the best thing for my daughter and myself.

My hard labor and delivery doesn’t overshadow the beauty and joy of my daughter. It does, however, leave some level of doubt as to my ability to repeat the process with as much stamina and determination. Before having my first child, I envisioned a houseful of children, but after my labor experience, I have changed my definition of houseful to fit what I think my body and mind can handle.

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