Childbirth, Contrary to Biblical and Popular Presentation
A couple of years ago a man asked me my “pet peeves.” I don’t know. I was stumped. I asked my daughter who illuminated for me that I have “so many” and rattled off a few instantly, including “the burden of choice.” I love that phraseology, but that may be another post entirely. One pet peeve that has crystallized for me recently is the much-made over the pain of childbirth. On Mother’s Day weekend it seems apropos to wax on that a little. Again, it’s not a poetry post, accept that it’s all poetry, so fair game.
I’ve been in the Maternity Ward twice and although I profoundly hate being in hospitals, I didn’t need to suffer the noise of anyone carrying on with screams, howls, and curses of pain. Actually, it was rather quiet. Nina Simone singing out beautifully from my portable tape player, some conversations, distracting bustling of hospital staff, but no agonizing, dramatic outbursts the sort one sees in movies. I wonder if any woman who has given birth collaborates on any movie or TV scenes of childbirth. It’s hard for me to believe they do.
It’s a serious matter, making life, giving birth — somewhat frightening for being dependent on so many strangers as much as for the labor itself. I grant there’s a great deal of variability in the experience and I’m sure it can be incredibly difficult. But again I say, I never heard a woman cursing at her mate or howling in agony, nor have any of my friends led with that in descriptions of their experience.
From my experience, not to get too personal, but sure there was pain, but that was wholly eclipsed by such a grand accomplishment. I felt like a Superhero! So jazzed, I couldn’t sleep. I walked down the hall to watch both of my children in the nursery, impatient to be reunited, shortly after giving birth. The parts of the process most physically disturbing for me were incidental to birthing. The stupid IV needle in my hand — so irritating! And the stitches I told them not to do, but they rushed into, ignoring me. I won’t say birthing was easy but far from the horrific scenes described and portrayed in poetry, literature, shows.
I know I was lucky. I’m sure some women have suffered more. But having given birth to two children, each very different experiences, I think I have some right to push back against the notion that children are born of pain, a curse women must bear. I’ve done much harder things with much less (or no) payoff. Children are born of some effort, endurance, and magic. I feel the need to set the record straight, not on behalf of all women, but in support of all those young women scared by all the drama. It just may be a beautiful experience of which pain is not the primary nor even secondary factor.
I guess I would feel remiss in posting this without a nod to women who have wanted and cannot have children, and those who have lost children. I never don’t think about that in the context of any parental hardship. Even if remembering my blessings doesn’t always make me happy, still I’m always grateful. I know it can be serious, even dangerous — the risks of childbirth, the complications. I wish to minimize none of that nor any suffering any woman experienced in bringing or trying to bring a baby into this world. But I think it’s likely that for many of us, it is not the pain that defined childbirth, so minor compared to the outcome. It seemed to me a quiet, stoic experience marked primarily by gratitude and joy. I want the tenor of that experience to also be represented.