Pregnancy brought out my latent Northern California hippie tendencies. I have spent my adult life attempting to free myself from a childhood that was awash in pot smoke, unshaven women and drumming circles, but it turns out that you can take the girl out of Berkeley, but never quite take Berkeley out of the girl – despite bi-monthly waxing appointments. For the past 15 years or so I’ve prided myself on how well I’ve managed to leave my counter-culture upbringing in the past, but then I got pregnant. I could no longer slather myself with chemical-laden lotions, creams and makeup without being worried that I would end up the parent of a child with some sort of Kiehl’s-induced birth defect. Going to the salon to have my “naturally blonde” hair dyed felt like a visit to Chernobyl. In the span of the three minutes it took my discount brand pregnancy test to tell me, “yes, indeed, you did forget to use your diaphragm two weeks ago and now you are knocked up”, I morphed into Hippie Momma extraordinaire.
The first several weeks after finding out I was with child I spent all the time that I wasn’t throwing up from all day sickness throwing out anything even remotely toxic that had taken up residence in my home. All of my usual, non-hippie grooming habits went right out the window, which ultimately led to quite a few hours spent shopping at Whole Foods attempting to embrace my new make-up free, prematurely grey-haired identity. During one of these shopping trips, while lunching on some sort of vegan, gluten-free, flavor-free sandwich from the deli case, I wandered into the book section and discovered that while I was certainly on the right path with my non-toxic pregnancy, I was completely unprepared to give my child a trauma-free birth experience. Here I was, blissfully unaware of all the dangers that could befall my offspring simply by being born in a hospital! Did I not realize that getting an epidural often leads to emergency c-section? How about the drugs that are used for induction of labor that can cause uterine rupture and death of the Mother? There I was, barely out of my first trimester and sobbing over a fake meat sandwich in the aisles of Whole Foods. I had failed my child already by not preparing myself to have a natural birth. I was, as I feared, a terrible Mother.
Thus began my journey into the world of natural childbirth. I read books, I watched The Business of Being Born, I met with Doulas, I watched More Business of Being Born, and I picked the brain of every single friend I knew who had successfully given birth without any pain medication. I knew that expecting myself to simply “white knuckle it” or try to breathe through the pain was the fastest route to me screaming, “give me an epidural”. So at the urging of my Doula and several friends, I signed myself up for a HypnoBirthing class. The idea behind Hypnobirthing is that you manage the pain through self-hypnosis, or “hypnoanesthesia”. Considering I’ve spent most of my life searching out chemically induced ways to deal with any type of pain, the whole Hypnobirthing thing sounded like a great middle ground between my hippie tendencies and my druggy past. So, once a week I dragged my husband to this class where they used terms like “pressure waves” (for contractions), “birthing time” (for labor), and “caregiver” (instead of Doctor). This HypnoBirthing stuff is no joke. We’re talking about making a major commitment to natural childbirth; daily exercises, hypnosis practice multiple times a week, and three-hour classes in which we learn all about how horrible it is to not have a natural birth. But of course, I wanted to do what was best for my baby (at least until he came out, and then it was just downhill from there), and I’m a complete and utter control freak, so I was determined to succeed at pushing this kid out without anything except my natural “hypnoanaesthesia”.
So I found myself spending at least an hour each night hypnotizing myself and practicing exercises designed to open up my birthing muscles (I know, totally gross). In addition to the classes and the hypnosis practice, I also had to listen to a “Joyful Pregnancy Affirmations” CD every day. If you can, dear reader, picture me driving around Los Angeles fighting my inherent road rage while listening to a calming female voice tell me that “I love my pregnant body. My pregnant body is beautiful and perfect.” or “Babies come on their birth days, not when Doctors decide.” It was truly a sight to behold when I was sobbing at my joyful pregnancy affirmations while at the same time giving the jerk in the Prius who just cut me off the finger.
I am proud to say that all the hard work was worth it; I had a natural, un-medicated birth … and it hurt. A lot. I’m not going to beat around the bush here, people. Childbirth is painful. In fact, it’s way more painful than you can possibly imagine. I personally can think of a lot of horrible things that sound more enjoyable than being in labor for 27 hours, but that’s just my opinion.
I don’t want to bore all of you with the gory details, so I’ll just give you a quick synopsis. I was in labor for 15 hours; when I got to the hospital I was 6.5cm dilated; I pushed for 45 minutes, and I have quite a few stitches in my lady parts to show for it. So, yes, overall, I had a quick and easy labor, though using the term “easy” in the context of pushing a human being out of one’s vagina doesn’t really seem appropriate. Yes, I screamed. In fact, I screamed pretty loudly. I also yelled at my husband and at the doctor for not paying attention to me, so I am officially a childbirth cliché. I did not, however, cry when I finally got to see my newborn son. I was so freaking exhausted and in shock that I just stared down at this tiny little stranger and told him that the only reason I kept pushing so hard was because the alternative, of staying pregnant forever, seemed so much worse.
What I really wasn’t prepared for was how much pain I was in after it was all over. I assumed that because I had a natural birth I would be able to simply hop off the table, walk it off, and resume my normal life. Oh, boy was I delusional! No one told me that my entire body would hurt from pushing, that my nether regions would be so swollen I thought I’d somehow turned myself into a man, and that going to the bathroom would be akin to dragging my private parts through a bed of hot coals. Oh, and the disposable underwear and adult diapers you get to wear for six weeks afterwards are really the tops. I find it amazing that just 15 minutes of pleasure (or three, if you happen to be dating one of my exes) can lead to so much pain.
The thing is, it was all worth it. Sure I’m sore, exhausted, and my baby likes to cry extremely loudly when I’m trying to watch the newest episode of Nashville, but when he looks up at me and smiles, my heart melts. I honestly had no idea that I was capable of loving someone as much as I love the Little Man. The truth is that the memory of the pain does start to fade after a couple of weeks. I’ve read that it has something to do with the body releasing endorphins after one gives birth.
That may very well be the case, or it might just be my nightly combination of Percocet and a very dry martini.
Anna Lane is a writer and comedienne whose formerly career-focused life has been turned upside down by the wonderful world of Motherhood. You can find more of her humorous musings on life as a Mommy at ww.MisadventuresinMotherhood.net