Planning your particular labor experience is a lot like communicating what kind of haircut you want to your stylist. You start out with this really great image of something fantastic and awesome (i.e., not "the Rachel"), and then you end up with something that, in the end, seems very much in the spirit of said awesomeness, but, you know, on your particular type of human head.
For instance, I have been known to take my stylist a picture of Uma Thurman in Pulp Fiction, and say, "Give me the poor man's THIS." This is my way of communicating that I understand I am not Uma Thurman — not that I'm supposed to be, or even want to be — but, rather, that I am not expecting a magical fairy-tale style transformation wherein I look like her, have her hair texture or even her existential wellbeing. I just want the closest possible version of her hair in that film that I can get without causing too much of a ruckus.
You might find this depressing — why not lower the standards from the get-go, you ask — but I contend that this way of thinking is eminently reasonable. Ye olde shoot for the moon and hit the roof. Aim high and scale that shit back somewhere to reality. Because at least you can say you damn well know a standard when you see one. Amirite?
The best advice I ever received about birthing was to take all my ideas for how it should go, and what I wanted it to be like, and how much I needed it to be like X or Y so that I could have the perfect ultimate baby-having experience, and just hold it in the palm of my hand my like a little grain of baby sand, and look at it, and think about it, and take it in, and then — poof — blow it away. Let it go. And that's not the epidural talking. (In other words: you might hope it will go like this, and maybe it will, honest…with the right camera lens.)
I'm not ashamed to say it: I wanted a natural childbirth. I really did. I wanted to experience the drug-free contractions, I wanted to mentally and physically work through them, I wanted to stand up and walk around and experience labor stopping and starting, and have a baby in a hydrotherapy tub. I wanted to feel the pain and see what it was like the same way I wanted to feel what smoking weed was like. I wanted to succumb to the waves — there's all this talk about riding contractions like waves in some birthing classes, and it's super true — and I wanted to just feel the thing about the thing. I wanted to be the most biological form of biology I could be.
Maybe it was because I wasn't the athletic type and this was the most noble form of physical endurance I expected I'd be challenged to accept. Maybe it was because I didn't think I'd have any more kids, and so I wasn't just going to twilight birth that shit out like it was the antidote to a bad case of insomnia.
Or maybe it was just because everybody is so spectacularly insistent that they Will. Not. Feel. Pain. that it had only served to make me more curious about what everyone was so afraid of. How bad could it actually be? Isn't everyone at least a little curious? In other words, for someone who loves getting fucked up, the best way to make them not want to get fucked up is to talk about how awesome and cool getting fucked up is.
And, of course, I had this baby that I didn't wanna drug up before she even left the gate. I didn't want to meet her drunk in the airport bar. I wanted to meet her and experience all the bonding and hormone rushes without scrambling the signal. Don't make me quote Ina May Gaskin on this shit.
Then, naturally, I made one big, fat rookie move after gathering all this data. I made the mistake of telling some other women — some mothers, some not — about my plans when asked.
"I think I'm going to try to do it naturally," I said casually. "Just to see if I can."
The responses I got ranged from annoyance, to shock, to pity. Many women seemed to think that this was the equivalent of volunteering to have your leg sawed off without anesthesia. Others clearly thought I was being some kind of superior bitch. Like I was merely out to prove something, or somehow insulting their choice not to go natural.
I couldn't give less of a series of fucks about what other women do, want to do, wish they could do. I just know that I was ambling down a path that could go very traditionally or very granola, and I wanted the porridge that Goldilocks chose. I wanted to be able to give birth naturally if that worked with me and my baby and both our bodies. And if it didn't, I wanted access to high-tech medical intervention, drugs, robots, forceps, spatulas, the works — faster than you can say you're getting a Foley bulb.
I wasn't looking for a gold medal, or even just a smug sense of superiority, which I already manufactured in spades before I ever decided to procreate. I was just trying to watch the director's cut of the film, dig?
And yet, people treated me as if I were campaigning for prohibition. My first OB-GYN even acted like I was a weirdo - "Just don't have a home birth," he pleaded. So I switched to a midwife.
Luckily, where I lived at the time had a lovely hybrid option — a midwifery program within the middle of a well-regarded university hospital. And so I got my low-tech options and my hydrotherapy tub and my gentleness. I also had a team of gleaming, stainless-steel-wielding overachievers at the ready should I need them.
And, interestingly, what I also got was a hybrid birth experience that, bit by bit, veered away from my original plan even as it incorporated elements of my lo-fi wishes.
I didn't want to be induced, but rather hoped I'd labor naturally from the beginning. I'd read enough to know that every physical intervention into the process of letting a woman labor as she would naturally only increases the odds of a C-section. But I was induced when my waters had broken a week past my due date and labor still hadn't started on its own — a common delay in first-time mothers. I thought this meant I couldn't labor naturally, but I did contract for nearly 12 hours drug-free — if by drug-free you mean on an ever-increasing volume of Pitocin.
I rocked on a ball and was able to move around a bit, but thanks to the IV, fetal monitor and other assortment of tech-y supervision, the hydrotherapy tub in the corner wouldn't see a drop of water during my stay. But I wasn't dilating at anywhere near a significant pace.
Still, I took those artificially induced contractions like a champ. It was, so far, the greatest mental and physical test of my life, and I got into the zone and cut out the chatter and just focused on the goal, plus a whole host of other sports-type analogies about getting in there and playing some defense or whatever. I am still amazed at how someone who doesn't have the patience to look for a parking space for more than 30 seconds was able to summon that tolerant energy.
Well, until the baby turned. I believe they call it "sunny side up," but that little darling baby who up until then had been playing Laverne to my Shirley during this wacky experience, decided to up and rotate.
And what had been regular old contractions — you know, intense little bitches of a period cramp, but totally completely manageable — became pelvis-shattering blows. I went from doin' it like someone had paid me to do it, to sobbing uncontrollably while squeezing my husband's hand, hoping to high heaven that the epidural wasn't too late.
It wasn't. A couple of Russian anesthesiologists wheeled in, inserted a needle into my back that my husband still can't really talk about without shuddering, I felt a zap of electricity as the needle brushed passed a nerve, and then, like slowly sinking into the softest bed of bunny rabbits, I was in la-la-land.
I rested. I contorted my body to get the baby to turn. My husband snuck me bites from a cafeteria turkey sandwich. I finally slept. And when I awoke, I pushed for 45 minutes - still feeling all the sensations of the contractions, only muted - until a small person arrived on the scene, neither of us seemingly any worse for the wear, in spite of the drugs. In some ways, I got the best of both worlds. And I'd say my awareness level was a lot like walking outside into the very cold crisp air after two pretty righteous bong hits.
But that's beside the point. I think the lesson here is that you, too, can have Uma Thurman's hair in Pulp Fiction, but the trick is first realizing that you can never have her hair. It's like a Zen thing? According to my stylist, she's wearing a wig in that movie anyway.
Tracy Moore is a writer living in Los Angeles. The first thing she ate after giving birth was a delicious hamburger.
Image via one AND only/Shutterstock.