Women have been sharing childbirth stories with one other probably since the beginning of time. We tell our stories to console one another and to console ourselves. We tell our stories to encourage. We tell our stories to say, Yes it was hard, but I did it and you can, too. We tell our stories to say, This is what I did out of love.
A woman can hear numerous stories (which all pregnant women do) yet not be able to imagine what childbirth will be like. How could one imagine the unimaginable? She has been told by other women that the traumas of pregnancy and childbirth are many, so why would a woman make the decision to have a baby after hearing those stories? And why, oh why, do some of us choose to go through it again after imagination has given way to experience?
Out of love.
Because we’ll do what it takes, we’ll work as hard as we have to, to bring that person into our lives. And it’s also because once we’ve decided to have a child, we have “Boarded the train there’s no getting off,” which is the last line of a Sylvia Plath poem about pregnancy.
Though I committed to work as hard as I had to, I wanted off that train in about the eighth month of my final pregnancy. I loved the baby as soon as I found out I was pregnant, yet for the first time I dreaded giving birth. The longest of my three previous labors had been three and a half hours. I felt like I’d escaped hell so many times that surely this time, I was going to get walloped. I was going to get punished for giving birth so quickly when other women had been to hell and back– on very slow trains. I’d been dilated to 8 cm for weeks, which was unusual and wonderful (10 is the magic number in labor when a woman can push), but I knew that transition, which is the stage of labor just before the actual birth, is the hardest and most painful part of labor.
The day before my due date, one of the midwives I was seeing talked with me about why my body had been ready so long, but I wasn’t. She asked what I was afraid of. I was afraid of a long labor. I was afraid of the pain. “What else?” she asked. I was afraid of letting go, of yelling, of cursing– things I hadn’t done before. I was afraid that if I screamed out in pain, I’d put myself into even more psychological pain. And I was afraid that my family, who would be there for the birth, would think I wasn’t so tough after all. “Do you really think they’ll lose respect for you, no matter what you do?” she asked. “You’re going to have to give birth to this baby, and she’s already nine pounds. Don’t hold her in. Let her free. Let yourself see that baby girl.” My other three children were boys.
She persuaded me, and I resigned myself in a most powerful way. I made peace with myself and gave myself absolute ownership of my childbirth, an experience where only my baby and I mattered.
The next day, on her due date, my daughter was born. I was in pain for twenty minutes.
How can I say labor is an act of love when I didn’t want to go through it? I can say it because it’s true. I can say it because no matter the pain, once a woman is in labor she puts her whole self into it. And that’s love. Giving your whole self for this purpose, to this person, is perhaps the greatest love of all.