Madeline Holler thought watching their brother's birth would be a great learning opportunity for her two daughters. It was more like an opportunity for sobbing.
Holler, who tells her story on Salon, had given birth at home before and planned to do so with her son. But she was kind of sick of talking about home birthing, with all its attendant politics — except when it came to her daughters. She writes,
Them, I wanted to know everything. And they did.
I told and retold their birth stories, I read them other people's birth stories. We looked at books, talked mechanics. I described the pain, the emotions, the little things (like Beatrice's hangnail at her birth) and the big things (like crapping on the floor during Frances').
So it was with education in mind — education with a whiff of indoctrination — that I wanted them to see a woman give birth. Sort of a health class video meant to supplement the textbook and lectures. After all their excitement and knowledge, I was sure they'd enjoy being a part of it.
Yeah, not so much. Both girls vehemently requested not to be present for the birth, but they were three anyway — and seven-year-old Beatrice pretty much freaked out. She refused to look at her mom, then retreated to her room where she cried every time she heard Holler moan in pain. Holler at one point made her husband photograph her smiling, to show she was fine — and this brought Beatrice out of her room but not out of tears. Both girls ended up being present for the birth itself, but when Holler asked, "Aren't you glad you were here," they both said no.
You could argue that the advent of hospital births has artificially divorced families from the birthing process, and I remember being barred from even visiting my mom in the hospital after my brother was born (something about five-year-olds having germs). But any jealousy I felt for the Holler girls pretty much evaporated when I thought about how I immediately break down if I see my mom cry, even as an adult. I don't know how I would've held up at five — or seven for that matter — watching my mom go through all the pain of labor. My guess is I would have fainted.
Holler says of her kids, "maybe they'll thank me later" — and maybe they will. They certainly know some things about childbirth now that no book could ever teach them. But it's probably too early to tell if they'll remember any concrete lessons — or just their mom moaning in agony.
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