So, my new friend — we’ll call her Brooklyn — was telling me about her fourth-degree anal tear. “…and the doctor’s down there for what seems like ever, making these sewing motions. I’m like, Hey, whatcha doing down there? And he says, Oh nothing …. But when the anesthetic wore off, like Oh … my … God! I didn’t think I’d ever want to get pregnant again.”
Did I mention that she was telling me this while hugely pregnant … with her third?!? Hey, guys tell war stories. Women tell birthing stories. It’s how we bond with other new moms. Park a stroller in a food court, at the playground, under a shady tree with your newborn and if there’s another new mom within 50 yards, she’ll parallel park her Bugaboo and after a few pleasantries — How old’s your baby? Is she sleeping through the night yet? – will launch into My labor was hor-ri-ble. Let me tell you … And she’s off to recount the kind of extremely graphic details that you’d only be privy to if you were, say, a regular watcher of those reality birthing shows on Discovery Health. Within minutes you’ll know more about your new pal’s vagina than if you’d hooked up with her at Dinah Shore. Some moms even have pictures! Ask my sister. She loves an opportunity to whip out the photos — snapped in the delivery room — of her youngest wearing her uterus “like a turtleneck” during her C-section. My husband told me about it. I couldn’t look.
But even allowing for a lower TMI threshold for family members, mostly I know this because when I was a newbie mom, first going to Mommy & Me, a total stranger plopped down next to me with her infant, introduced herself, then by way of making conversation told me about her entire tortuous birthing experience as our babies sat between us drooling like Saint Bernards. It’s enough to make you wish that they held Mommy & Me at a bar … during happy hour … with two-for-one shots. But I was so desperate to meet other moms with kids my son’s age, I sat and listened. (Still, I gotta say, even that was better than baby sign language class where one mom waxed on about the frugal virtues of rinsing out and — gack! — reusing swim diapers. Seriously, if you’re pinching so many pennies that you reuse disposable diapers, perhaps classes in baby sign language aren’t the best use of your income.)
Anyway, moms swap “war stories” with their comrades in cribs because, short of … I don’t know … the Iron Man or maybe the Iditarod, labor and delivery is the penultimate endurance challenge, a necessary rite of passage that women experience before they’re let into the club, taught the secret handshake and awarded the extra set of eyes that all Moms have in the backs of their heads.
I don’t mind sharing, exactly. I’ve listened with rapt attention to my girlfriend Amanda’s story about how the first, and then the second and even the third epidurals didn’t take so she had to be knocked out cold to deliver her baby. My cousin Rachel shared with me how the delivery nurses practically jumped on her belly after her son was delivered to get the afterbirth out, which apparently, by law, has to come out within 30 minutes or it turns into a pumpkin … or something. “Another minute and she said she’d have to stick her whole arm up there to get it.”
All right, then.
The fact that I’m often speechless hearing these things has nothing to do with the gross-out factor. I’m a fan of the late Bob Flanagan. And if I can watch a grown man drive a nail through his penis and then bleed all over the video camera documenting this “performance art” then a little placenta isn’t going to put me off.
No, I’m often speechless because I usually have nothing to add. Hard to believe, I know. After all, I did have my own baby. But my own story is so lame, I feel like I skipped a crucial part of pregnancy and missed out on being tested on this essential proving ground. I didn’t come through labor battle bruised, but triumphant, with kid in hand. So when other women tell their tales — with some degree of pride now that they’ve gone through childbirth and survived — I can’t really relate. It’s like I trained for the marathon, suited up on race day, and then glided across the finish line in a chauffer-driven Town Car.
But oh was I prepared to go the distance! I was eagle-scout prepared! I showed up to the hospital on D-day with a steamer trunk full of props meant to get me to the point where I could then get an epidural. Yes, I am a total wuss when it comes to pain. I’ll pop a Darvon at the first glimmer of a headache. My girlfriend Stephanie stiff-upper-lipped-it through two natural deliveries because she didn’t trust anyone putting a needle into her spine. While I do understand the fear of a crippling spinal injury, I’m also the one who needs to be sedated to have my teeth cleaned, so there was no way I was getting to 10 centimeters without some high-octane pain killers. I also brought a stack of rock CDs, a birthing ball, back massager, energy bars, juice and one of Stewart’s socks filled with rice that could be warmed up in a microwave and applied to any body part that hurt.
I used exactly none of it.
I never once felt a contraction; never got to push. My water never even broke. In fact, the most painful part of the whole experience was when the nurse (who had to have done her training with Dr. Mengele) took four passes to get the IV into my arm. One reason I’d have never made it as a heroin junkie — I hate needles.
But I digress … So why was I even at the hospital with a steamer trunk full of crap and a frickin’ IV in my black-and-blue arm? Well, they say the camera adds 10 pounds. I guess ultrasound makes you look fat too because Fletcher was reading about 8 pounds when my OB took a peek at 40 weeks. “He’s only going to get bigger if we wait another week,” my OB warned. “That’s just going to make things more … uh, fun for you.”
Some days I have trouble expelling tampons. And not even the super-size ones. I couldn’t imagine pushing an eight-pound anything out of my … well, you know where the standard baby exit is. I agreed to be induced. Which is how I ended up in the maternity wing at Celebration Hospital with an IV in my arm, fetal monitor strapped ‘round my belly. Apparently, I contracted like crazy all night long. But I never felt a thing. And never dilated. Not one single centimeter. Zero. Zippo. Zilch. Fletcher obviously inherited the lateness gene. Poor kid … he gets it from both his parents. I’m perpetually 20 minutes late for everything. And Stewart … well, friends from college affectionately refer to the zone he lives in as “Stew time,” which is to say, somewhere behind the international date line.
The next morning my OB offered me a choice: Go home and come back in a week. Or have the baby in an hour by C-section. An operating room was open. We had 15 minutes to decide.
Whoa!!!!! I can’t even tell you how mind-blowing that is. Now, it seems like a no-brainer. But then, it was Morpheus offering Neo the red pill or the blue pill in The Matrix. There was my extreme aversion to having my body cut open to consider. I get queasy if a paper cut bleeds. And the terrifying thought that our lives were really about to change big-time. Even driving to the hospital the night before, it still all seemed unreal. We’d been parents-in-training for what seemed like … ever.. Now, in a few minutes, we could be parents … for real. Were we ready? (A question that maybe we should have asked about 10 months ago.) Are you ever?
We chose the C section. Forty-five minutes later, they laid Fletcher on my chest.
Maybe if I’d left the hospital and come back later, I’d have a more dramatic birthing tale. (Or ended up on our local news: Woman gives birth on I-4. Leather seats ruined. Film at 11.) They say it’s not the destination, it’s the journey. With childbirth I suppose it doesn’t matter how you get there, so long as you go home with your baby. Still, I have a theory that being able to conjure your labor/delivery experience is a good hedge against the other barbs of motherhood, a potent reminder that since you’ve already survived the crucible of childbirth, whatever curve balls Life throws your kid later, you’re likely to survive those too. Hopefully just paper cuts. Unlikely though.