Sunday, August 24, 2008

The Pain of Labor

We’re coming up on River’s nine-month birthday soon. He’s almost been out of the womb longer than he’s been in it. And as time passes, truly, the memories of how intense the pain of labor was fades.

Yes, it was really, really, really painful. In fact, it was traumatically painful. I believe that if anyone had gone through my same experience in any situation other than childbirth, they would be in long-term therapy. I still haven’t looked at the video shot moments after giving birth. It’s scary to me, freaky, surreal.

But the intensity does diminish with time. It also seems more worth it as the baby develops and brings more joy into our life. And as my friends give birth, they don’t post pictures of blood or recordings of screams. They post smiling photos with babies, making it seem easy, blotting out what it took to get there, almost allowing me to think that it must not have been that hard.

Shortly after I gave birth I spoke with a friend who had a baby about two weeks after me.

“No one tells you what it’s really like, do they?” I asked her, hearing the shock and trauma still in her voice.

“No, they don’t at all,” she said.

One reason no one might have told us is that it’s pretty hard to describe. I wonder if that is part of the biological wonder that keeps people reproducing. I expected that to happen, so I tried to take notes, as many as possible. I knew I’d forget and I wanted the confirmation of what had occurred.

I figured it was natural for the memories to fade for me. But I was very surprised the other day when Mark commented, “Wow, that so was so long ago that River was born. Eight months already. It seems like forever.”

I liked this passage in I Feel Bad About My Neck by Nora Ephron, how she acknowledges that the pain can’t be described, but that doesn’t diminish it’s reality, even over time.

"Speaking of the pain of labor, which I seem to be, I would like to interject a short,
irrelevant note: Why do people always say you forget the pain of labor? I haven't forgotten
the pain of labor. Labor hurt. It hurt a lot. The fact that I am not currently in pain and
cannot simulate the pain of labor doesn’t mean I don't remember it. I am currently not
eating a wonderful piece of grilled chicken I once had in Asolo, Italy, in 1982, but I
remember it well. It was delicious. I can tell you exactly what it tasted like, and except for
the time when I returned to the restaurant six years later and ordered it again (and it
turned out, amazingly, to be exactly as wonderful as I remembered), I have never tasted
chicken that was crisper, tastier, or juicier. The song has ended, but the melody lingers on,
and that goes for the pain of labor--but not in a good way." (pg. 44)

At the same time, some of my friends have reacted so positively after labor that it makes me feel like I must have done something wrong. One, whose father recently passed away, beautifully compared the hospice care to her midwives that assisted with her at-home birth: “We have found many parallels between the care that we have received from the hospice nurses for the past 10 days, and the care that [we] received from the midwives who attended [our daughter’s] birth at home…All of these wonderful caregivers ushered us from one life stage to another, and showed us that both birth and death can happen in a setting of comfort, privacy and quiet peace, in the presence of grace and the absence of fear.”

Even though I can’t imagine having gone through that experience at home, reading that made me wish I could. I wondered whether any situation could have erased my fear. Another friend, who wanted to avoid an epidural, but who used an IV, stadol and electronic fetal monitoring, who had blood spray everywhere when her placenta ruptured, said she felt so powerful and so proud of herself for pushing the baby out. Within weeks she was already ready for another. I feel weak for my reaction of holy crap, and owwwwie.

Given that I felt EVERYTHING as soon as the baby started to descend, I feel like I know what the end part of natural birth is like. I just had a good six or so hours rest beforehand with the epidural. It’s hard for me to imagine getting through it without that rest. And I didn’t feel proud of myself or strong. I thought – holy s**t that was horrible. I felt deceived in thinking that the worst was over once I received the epidural. I lay on the table for over two hours while they sewed me up (I hear that is an incredibly long time, perhaps my doctor was especially slow and inexperienced). I was upset that I had no pain control at all at the worst moment. I thought if I ever did this again, I’d try to arrange a meeting with the anesthesiologist and ask what could be done differently.

It’s only as River grows and develops and makes me smile again and again that I come to think it was worth it. One day of pain was worth the many days of joy and wonder and being able to look at the world again in a fresh light. Nevertheless, I agree with Ephron. I think I will always remember the intensity of the pain, even if I can’t accurately describe it, in the same way I remember some of my best dining experiences.

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