Earlier this month, Joy Buckley gave birth to a 15-pound, 5-ounce baby girl. “It was pretty violent,” she told the New York Post. “She got stuck under my ribcage.” The delivery, a planned C-section, took two doctors: one pushing on Buckley and one pulling on baby Harper. Buckley said of the aftermath: “I felt like I had been hit by two tractor-trailers simultaneously.” The baby, reports the Washington Post, was the weight of an average 5-month-old.
Buckley has gone viral with her labor story. She’s in People. She’s on Good Morning America. And, while it’s believed that Harper might be the largest baby born in the state of New York, there is something else at play in the wide-eyed coverage beyond any kind of potential record breaking. WE FREAKING LOVE A FUCKED-UP BIRTH STORY.
The biological horror show of birth has made for many an alarming headline, viral video, and listicle (“49 Real Life Labor And Delivery Stories...If You Can Handle Them”). There are tales of births in intersections and the checkout line at Walmart. But we seem to be especially compelled by stories that essentially beg us to picture an extremely large baby coming out of a vagina (see: “Mom Gives Birth to 13-Pound Baby: ‘It Was Like I Delivered a Toddler’”). A popular subset of these large-baby stories emphasize that there was no epidural.
These stories, which so blatantly tap into horror and awe around women’s bodies and reproductive powers, have the ultimate effect of terrifying potential parents. In fact, experts have warned that stories like this shared on social media have led to an increase in reports of Tocophobia, phobia of birth. (We might want to redirect our terror away from birth itself and toward the medical system: the U.S. has the worst rate of maternal deaths in the developed world.)
Of course, you might argue that these stories have the positive impact of casting birth-givers as bad-asses, but they tend to valorize only certain kinds of tough labor stories (i.e. the “natural” ones). Only occasionally—as with this insane viral video of a woman giving birth in a car, which I have watched in tears approximately five times—do these stories make birth seem like something that is painful as fuck, but that can also be pretty great.
Before giving birth myself, these kinds of stories always registered as distantly horrifying and highly clickable because what in the actual fuck. While I was pregnant, I was supplied with firsthand war stories from mom friends: It felt like getting hit by a truck. Your body will be destroyed. That what in the actual fuck feeling became less distantly horrifying and more immediately so. And yet my “natural” labor class gave the impression that birth was essential oils and Tibetan singing bowls. Either someone was lying or birth was that unpredictable and highly variable.
It was the latter, of course. Sometimes babies are 5 pounds, sometimes they weigh five times that. And we’ll always be fairly compelled by the occasional horror show of what the body can do, and have done to it.