Your mother has been repeating the story of your natural birth to you for years. The most important details: she kept perming her hair after her water broke because she didn’t want to disturb the doc’s 4th of July. You were a n-a-t-u-r-a-l birth, because holding you > pain. And she couldn’t be bothered with all that hollering during labor like women she’d encountered while working rotations in the hospital as a student. Maybe you entered the world via a mechanical, silent birth. You can’t imagine your mother wincing in pain, as even that acknowledgement would be too emotional. The act of opening her legs for your exit—forget about it.
Your head, to your heart:
Continue to make love to your husband. But he will pull out, of course, every time, because you must enjoy at least a couple years together as a married couple without kids. Some time together equals luxe travel to Caribbean islands and European bistros, displayed on Instagram with witty captions.
Your heart, to your head:
I mean, but they dated for four and a half years before they got married. Do they really need two whole years of travel before starting a family? Because I suggested she stop her birth control and I doubt she’s gonna make it that long.
Head to heart:
You got baby money?
Heart to head:
Shit, you got travel money?
You tell your husband you would one day like a home birth. You have seen ethereal photographs of mothers meeting their babies by candlelight, in tubs filled with rose petals. You have seen dads sitting across from moms, catching slippery babies in their hands. You have seen the tears of joy, the relief and the disbelief as babies dripping blood and afterbirth are placed atop mothers’ chests. You imagine sitting in a tub, with Jacuzzi jets pushing warm water around you. The room crackles with adrenaline-fueled energy. You’re being dried off by invisible hands and floating to the plushness of a perfect Pinterest white bed, collapsing into 20 pillows and falling down, down, down--
“I would want to be at a hospital,” your husband says. “What if there’s an issue?”
You are pregnant enough now that you receive unsolicited advice every time you breathe. While at a family dinner, a cousin’s wife mercifully asks you questions that make you think, instead of reveling in your assumed misery just to assure you it will all be worth it. She asks you: medicated or unmedicated? You recall your mother’s balking at medicine, even though you find out later she had a Pitocin drip. You’ve read epidurals can have terrible side effects. Cousin’s wife is an actual nurse, though. “I’ve had two epidurals, and they were fine,” she says. “Why would you go through all that pain if you didn’t have to?”
Your husband has to stop by his mother’s. Climbing stairs leaves you breathless, so you stay in the car, assured the trip will be brief. It must, you assert, because you are already on the verge of hunger, which means you should have eaten 15 minutes ago. Thirty minutes go by. Your stomach is creeping into your throat. You text your husband. No reply. Fifteen more minutes go by. The acid fist of delayed hunger is punching through every curve of your intestines. Your husband’s younger brother runs down a bag of chips to you, which is like throwing a cup of water on a grease fire. You lose track of time as you simmer and stew, casually dying under the fading light of day. You still aren’t pregnant enough to appear more than occasionally bloated, which means it’s easy for people to forget you are pregnant. Even your husband.
You are in the doctor’s office for a third trimester visit. Your midwife asks what you’ve been feeling. You tell her about the absence of pelvic pains and the lack of pressure on your bladder, but that you’ve felt the baby ramming his head into your ribcage while trying to kick his way out of your vagina. She assures you that she should be able to feel his head by now. She presses down on your stomach hard and says she thinks she is feeling the baby’s head under her hand. You aren’t a doctor, but it doesn’t seem like pressing down that hard on his suspected head is a good thing. She rams her hand way up into your vagina, only to then say she doesn’t know if she can feel his head after all.
You are back in the doctor’s office for an ultrasound. After the last visit, you cramped and bled a bit (normal, you were instructed), but the baby’s head still did not seem any closer to down. The technician drops ice-cold ultrasound goop on your stomach. The air in the room is stale, and the 60 extra pounds you carry makes lying on the table feel like lying on top of a brick. You feel like throwing up. The technician rubs the wand back and forth, back and forth, back and forth, silently studying the screen.
“This baby is breeeeeech,” the technician says. “You know what that means.”
Goodbye, perfect Pinterest white bedding and perfect home birth photos and warm Jacuzzi jets and natural birth options. Hello, epidurals and slice-and-dice.
Your baby still has some weeks left to cook, and he’s already seven pounds. You have done some reading about C-sections, only because so many women end up with one, the consolation prize of an attempted “natural” birth.
“How do you feel?” Your husband asks to your plastic smile.
“A little bummed,” you reply, averting your eyes from his gaze. “Now I feel like I’ll be robbed of the full experience of childbirth.”
It is a September morning in your 39th week when you feel like shit. You list your ailments, which includes, “aching pelvis, aching rib, bellybutton feels like it could split open,” and a personal favorite, “feel blah and just want to be left alone in the dark.” You think about how cats go into dark, warm spaces to give birth. It is a week before your due date, and while some small part of you thinks you could be in labor, you’ve grown so accustomed to everyone else’s voice that you ignore it. If Dr. Google says first time moms usually go into labor after their due date, then you aren’t in labor.
At your appointment that afternoon, your actual doctor tells you two things: 1. Your cramping is because you are three centimeters dilated, and 2. You are having a baby, today. Still in shock, you breathe through another cramp.
“And these are supposed to get worse?” You ask your husband. “How would I have dealt with these?”
During your week in the hospital, doctors and nurses prod and examine your body, the body that was sliced open in front of a room of strangers. They now know parts of you you’ll never see. Much attention is given to your incision, the spot where your old body becomes your new body. They sweep over your new-old body with their eyes and barely-there fingertips and say things like, “Oh, it looks great!” and, “Oh, it looks so good, they did such a good job!” You still look approximately seven months pregnant and have to pull your stomach toward your breasts to see a glimpse of the white tape hugging your incision. Your husband tells you the scar is barely noticeable. Still, you keep the tape in place until it turns off-white, then slightly brown, afraid that pulling it loose will unravel you.
Your husband convinces you to peel the tape. Beneath it: a thin, slightly curved line where they pulled your nine-pound baby out of you. You’re still too scared to touch, so you stare at yourself in the mirror, a mixture of magic and science.
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