Great Laborious Expectations
Last weekend, Squeezable Companion and I went to our first natural birthing class, natural meaning giving birth with no drug or surgical intervention. It was offered through Isis, a baby/family targeted company with several locations in Massachusetts that offers baby gear and prenatal and parenting classes.
I want to make clear that my decision to avoid drugs during labor has little to do with any piety to mother nature or organic anything or embracing my womanhood and the miracle that is giving birth. And to be honest, early in my pregnancy, I took the epidural as part of my baby’s delivery for granted. I like drugs, I have no issue taking drugs when necessary or not, I have nothing against women who take all the drugs available to them during labor if they so choose. My decision has mostly to do with fear.
From my lay research, I’ve discovered that the hormone called oxytocin not only induces labor, but is the key hormone in mother-baby bonding. You make this stuff when you fall in love and feel affection for anybody, but the oxytocin levels in a mother just after giving birth is the highest it’ll ever be. The theory is that this hormonal phenomenon is responsible for the mother instantly falling in love with her kid, falling in love like she’s never fallen in love before according to some.
I’ve heard the stories by mothers describing a love for their child that outstrips any notion of love they’ve ever known or experience of love they thought possible. If someone had told them love this intense was possible, they say with this blissful smile on their face, they would never have have believe it.
Far from motivating me and making me feel lucky to be next in line to experience such a phenomenon, stories like these fill me with terror. Who the hell, against all will and instinct for self preservation, wants to love something to the extend it resembles madness–an emotional bondage to someone without reason, without hope of escape, without choice? It sounds like being hypnotized and the hypnotist forgetting to snap you out of it.
Maybe I’ll love it. Maybe once MBB (mother baby bonding) kicks in it’ll feel so good, I won’t want to wake up from the dream. Recall Inception. Maybe all love is like this–a little unreal, a little mad, a little self eroding. The point is, more than the fear of falling in love with the baby, I fear not falling in love with the baby. What if I won’t bond with the baby? What if my oxytocin levels don’t achieve the concentration in my blood necessary for the free fall into motherhood? How will I endure the sleepless nights, the breastfeeding, the burping, vomiting, pooping, crying if I’m not in love?
I’ve learned that abstaining from drugs will help boost the oxytocin level in my body. It’s probably paranoid and over cautious, but considering I’ve abstained from caffeine and alcohol and have been uncharacteristically responsible about taking my prenatal vitamins and omega-3 for 9 months, I don’t think a drug free labor lasting about a day or so is any more extreme.
Fear. That’s what it boils down to. I’m not ashamed of this motivation; I’ve done a lot of things out of fear: fear of being alone, fear of punishment, fear of failure, fear of ridicule, fear of depression, fear of sobriety, fear of regret, fear of fat, fear of wrinkles, fear of peeing in my pants, fear of love, fear of falling out of love, fear of sex, fear of celibacy, etc. Think of something to fear and I’ve surely used it as a motive. It’s fearfully effective.
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So back to the class. SC and I attended the first of two sessions of this class for 6 hours last Sunday. We learned the mechanics of labor and the various ways the partner can help sooth the mom during the lulls between contractions.
But there were two thing in particular that stuck to my memory: one, a video featuring a couple going through labor, and two, the meditation time at the end of class.
If pregnancy itself wasn’t humiliating enough–with the expanding everything, the farting, the frightening mood things, the nausea, the wearing of the same old maternity clothes for months on end, the lax shaving habits arising from the difficulty of reaching certain places, the giving up of running, the depressing and frustrating drop in sex drive, the sudden dependence and having to accept that you are dependent on mommy groups and counselors, the teetotalerism, the forgetfulness and general stupidity that manifests itself as the diminishing faculty of being interesting and early onset of dementia that makes remembering words and where you left the scissors really hard —-labor takes that humiliation up a notch.
In one of the videos, an enormous and by all standards obese woman and her equally obese husband were having a baby. In states of half to almost no dress, this whale of a woman went through the stages of labor and we watched as the baby squeezed out from between her legs. Blood covered her dilated vulva just visible from between her thunderous thighs while she was encouraged at one point to reach down touch the baby’s head crowning at the entrance of her vagina. She swung between meditative states brought on by the lulls in contractions, and crying; at one point she whined that she couldn’t do it while a midwife told her that she had to, that she didn’t have a choice. I wanted to smack this midwife and her candor. Driven to a wall of endurance and blubbering like a baby, too exhausted to care about humiliating herself by seeming weak and defeated, I was embarrassed to be a witness. It was like walking into a bathroom where someone is having diarrhea. They’re in pain and moaning with this glazed look on their faces between bursts of shit that acid burns their sphincter. Gross? Hell yes. Natural? Hell yes? Do I or anyone other than the doctor and nurse and midwife need to see this? Hell no.
Frankly I’ve decided that watching a woman go through labor is something I should never have to witness or force anyone else to have to witness. No woman’s vagina, whether it belongs to a fat or skinny woman is pleasant to look at in this state. And no woman is beyond humiliation when she’s enduring pain the likes of which I’m told I can’t even imagine. The fatigue and discomfort, the seeming endlessness of the ordeal would be enough to crush anyone’s self-consciousness and sense of decorum. Even the moaning was embarrassing to hear.
A girlfriend of mine said to me after giving birth to her first child that there was nothing spiritual or gloriously epiphanic about labor. What a load of crap, is I think how she put it. She also said something very much like, “You shit all over the place, there’s blood and goop everywhere, it hurts like a bitch, there are doctors and nurses and medical students sticking their fingers up your cooch all day. It’s just plain disgusting.”
There will be nothing uplifting and lovely about my labor. I just know it. My less than wonderful pregnancy experience will wrap up with an even less wonderful ending involving hours and hours of dealing with labor pains and probably looking at pathetic and gross as that woman on the video. The only consolation, or the consolation, will be falling in love with baby. You can imagine why this would be so important. Can you imagine the fall out if you don’t? Holy shit. That’s what will fall out: holy shit.
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At the end of class, the instructor had us sit on an exercise ball (these natural birthing classes love their exercise ball; I picked one up right after class) or chair or on the carpet with our partners and get comfortable. Then she talked us through a visualization exercise. Whenever I’m in one of these situations where a group of adults are instructed to close their eyes and listen, I feel like I’m back in kindergarten. I always feel a little silly.
Anyway, midway into the relaxation exercise, she told us to touch our belly and imagine the baby in our bellies. And then to imagine this baby in the car coming home with us from the hospital. “Imagine walking into your house with the baby, you’re walking through the house, showing the baby his or her room, you point out the family photos, and then you go lie down with the baby between the two of you on the bed.”
She think she meant for this to be a relaxing and oxytocin inducing. Panic is what I felt. Once that baby was in the my car all I could do was glance repeatedly at the rear-view mirror and think, ‘Holy shit. That’s a baby.’ And once I walked into the house with it, the only thought in my head was, ‘What the hell does it know from frame photographs to his crib? He can’t see beyond nine inches from his face.’ And when I lay down on the bed with the baby, SC wasn’t even there, so absorbed was I in my panic to picture him into my day dream, until the instructor said, “Between the two of you.” And still, even with SC there, all I could think was, ‘HOLY SHIT. MY LIFE IS OVER.’
“Take a deep breath,” she said.
I took a couple. All the breathing in the world wasn’t going to change the fact that this baby was going to come out of me and it was going to be the end of my life as I knew it.
On the way home, I remembered the same friend who told me labor was disgusting, also telling me that motherhood is the toughest and most rewarding role of her life. I also wondered about the other couples in the room. They all looked so zen. Maybe they were and maybe they have good poker faces.
I told SC that the meditation at the end freaked me out rather than reassure me with future happiness. He said he’d felt the same way. He’d wanted to punch the instructor. This made me feel a lot better because I was having a child with this man and at least we were in it together. And really that is the only certainty for this expecting parent. Whatever else is just a whole lot of projection, circumspection, and laborious expectation.