I have thought a lot about what I will tell my daughter about labor and childbirth.
In my first pregnancy, I was grateful to the women in my life; my mom, my step-mom, and my aunts. From them, I had heard nothing about labor or childbirth that left me scared of it. My mom and step-mom essentially agreed that migraine headaches or a toothache, like an infected dry socket after Wisdom teeth pulling, were far worse than labor and childbirth. I appreciated this view, as I told my midwife when she asked if I was scared of giving birth, because I didn’t have any fears about giving birth. I had had both migraine headaches and an infected dry socket after my Wisdom teeth were pulled. And because of this, I felt like I had passed some sort of pain threshold test that was supposed to predict how I would handle labor. Add in the fact that I spent my first pregnancy going to a daily yoga class and walking my dogs an hour a day, and I also felt like I was in strong physical shape and had enough stamina for labor. I didn't think labor would be that bad.
Then I gave birth to my son. My labor followed the pattern of my mother’s in that my son was born six hours after the first contraction.
And I discovered my mother had lied to me. Labor, it turns out, hurts. It hurts a lot. I felt betrayed. I had had migraine headaches that had made me want to drill a hole in my head to relieve the pressure. And even if the time I spent in labor was actually shorter than most migraine headaches, I can’t say it was easier to deal with.
Labor and childbirth were the hardest things I had ever done. I will say that part of the euphoria of holding my newborn in my arms also came from the knowledge that I had done something so unbelievably difficult – and I had done it at home, in a tub of water, with no drugs to relieve the pain (though honestly, my labor was too fast that even if I had wanted drugs, there would have been no time) and suddenly I had a confidence in myself I didn’t know was possible. I felt like if I could deliver a child, well, I could do anything.
I still told my mother she had lied to me. Her response? She said, “Oh honey, I didn’t do it like you. I had a local before delivering you.”
I called her a name I can’t repeat on the Internet. Since when did having a local count as natural childbirth?
So I started thinking about what I would tell my daughter about labor and childbirth. I didn’t want her to be scared. I wanted her to feel empowered, but I also didn’t want her to get in the middle of it and suddenly feel betrayed or blind sighted. I decided I would tell her that labor and childbirth did hurt, but the pain was manageable, and she wouldn’t get a labor that she wasn’t capable of handling.
Yet even knowing this for myself, I found myself in my second pregnancy, nervous and a little scared of labor and childbirth. I knew, again, my labor would follow the pattern of my mother’s, that her second labor was somewhere between an hour and a half and two hours. My cousin had just had an hour labor; she said it felt like a train. My mother had never said a word about the pain.
I thought about how much my six-hour labor hurt and tried to imagine what a train barreling through my pelvis would feel like. During my next midwife appointment, I was embarrassed to admit that now I was scared to death to give birth. My midwife told me I was not alone, that many women are more scared the second time around – exactly because we have an idea of what to expect and how much it can hurt. She told me about her own labor that was three hours long. She said that just when you think you can’t do it any longer – it’s over.
She was exactly right.
My second labor again followed my mother’s, with the exception that my water didn’t break before hand. But my first contraction was one that slammed me and thirty minutes later when my midwife walked in the door, she confirmed that I was at 9 centimeters.
Not even an hour later, I told her, “I don’t think I can do this much longer.” She said, “You’re not going to have to.” Within ten minutes, my daughter was born and placed on my chest. I have never been so glad to see someone in my life.
And indeed, this will be what I will tell my daughter about second labors, that just when you say, you can’t do it any longer, it’s over. I will also add in that just because you’ve been through it before, you have no idea what it’s going to be like the second time around – even if other people try to tell you. For my cousin, her hour labor felt like a train. My labor and the process of pushing my daughter through my pelvis felt like birthing a tornado – not a seven-pound baby girl. I might even tell her that other people tell you you forget the pain, but that I haven’t – or maybe you do and they just don’t tell you when you forget the pain.
But I will tell her, that while I am eternally grateful that I never have to give birth again, giving birth the two times I did were the most profound and amazing experiences of my life – and that it was honor to give birth to both my children. Though this part she might not understand until she goes through it. Until she does, it might just sound like I’m being an overly sentimental mom.