I revisited BabyCenter’s natural unmedicated birth group a couple times around Rebecca’s birthday. Like usual, people are asking how to prepare for a natural birth. Which methods? What are you doing? Like usual, the responses give sensible and encouraging advice, but in retrospect I can’t get past how narrowly practical their focus is, as if birth were such a specialized activity that getting ready for it nowhere intersects with the rest of your life.
If you want to prepare for a natural birth, you may drive across the country all by your pregnant self, except for your stuffed animals and your household gods. But only if you haven’t done much driving before. Don’t take any of your friends up on their offers to come with you, or you won’t remember who you are by yourself. You won’t remember that you don’t need to depend on anyone to figure out where to go and how to get there, or that you can get out of most messes just fine on your own.
If you want to prepare for a natural birth, you may really listen to yourself talk about aches and pains–especially how your ribs hurt in front, just below the bra line, like something’s cutting into them–and worry about what your reaction now might bode for your reaction then. You’ll start wondering if there’s a less boring way to talk about what you’re feeling, like maybe to describe it in colors instead of clichés? So you drop into your pain and you see your bread-white ribs washed with blood like wine, a vision of your own body celebrating the Eucharist. Then you’ll pray to God to open up the space around your heart to make room for you and the baby both. And then the pain will just feel like stretching and it’ll hardly bother you a bit.
If you want to prepare for a natural birth, you may masturbate a lot. Because a month before your due date, suddenly a sub-genre of porn that was never interesting before (and soon won’t be again) is the hottest thing since toast: women forced to come until they beg for it to stop, until they’re out of their minds and deep in subspace. Oh man. And you’ll realize the next morning, the reason that particular scenario is smokin’ now? It’s because, what if you lose control in labor? And every time you jerk it, somewhere far back in your head, you’re secretly reimagining losing control as less scary.
When I’d asked our midwives, midway through pregnancy, about learning pain management techniques, Anna said I could if I wanted to, but that people usually react to labor the same way they do to any other tough situation in their lives. I take the point that how you act during birth is inextricable from how you approach the rest of your life, but her way of phrasing it didn’t sound quite right to me. After all, you can see I react to difficulties in all sorts of ways, and things like hunger or social context send me in yet other directions. The question is, which versions of yourself do you bring into labor?
When the midwives started the second birth circle class by asking about the physically hardest thing you’ve ever done and how you dealt with it, everyone else (not literally) told stories about rock climbing. Then it was my turn and you know I’m a dweeb: My greatest test of physical stamina to date had been grading papers through the wee hours of the morning. I mean, it can be really ugly, desperate work when you’re exhausted and struggling to stay fair to everyone. Later, after I got over feeling like a nebbish, it occurred to me that the midwives’ question had been clever, because answering it gives you a chance to define yourself as strong and makes that into a part of your social persona at the birth circle. That’s useful, because who other people expect you to be has an almost gravitational pull on most people. So if you establish yourself as a person who struggles but ultimately makes it, then maybe it gets easier to be that person when you go into labor.
This is also the sort of thing that medical doctors don’t do. Interacting with my doctor’s office positioned me as someone under suspicion of being weak and untrustworthy, and as someone who was dependent on medical professionals to know my own body. It wasn’t a persona I wanted to answer to, and that was part of why I switched to midwives.
If you’re preparing for a natural birth, you may spend the last week before your due date reviewing other changing points in your life, when your experience took you to the limits of endurance and you came out different. Then, with luck, labor will be anticlimactic, but you’ll still find yourself transformed into a mother. And maybe the ways you prepared for labor will help with that transition, too.
For those of you who’ve planned an unmedicated birth or similar venture: What would a guide to preparing for it look like if it were based on your experiences? Did you find yourself gearing up for it in any ways people don’t usually talk about?