I didn’t have natural childbirth, though I labored mightily with my first child thirty years ago. My husband and I had done birthing classes – pure Lamaze training with Marie Lorello, a legendary midwife and Lamaze instructor, who was all the rage among educated young women like myself, who were determined to have a different kind of birthing experience than the one foisted upon our mothers by the male medical establishment of the 1950s. We did acquiesce to a Cesarean section class, required by Lankenau Hospital for the prosepctive father who might want to be in the operating room should it become necessary to cut the baby out of me.
For years, I felt cheated by what happened to me when I went to the hospital after feeling the first pangs of labor at 7 in the evening on a Sunday night. My ire was directed at the doctor who ordered the nurse to give me pitocin at 3 PM the following Monday afternoon in an attempt to hurry my labor along. Only later did I understand the timing. The pitocin drip was timed precisely to have my baby be ready for delivery at the end of his office hours so he could be home for dinner.
Unfortunately, it didn’t work that way. My labor stalled, the baby showed signs of distress from the pitocin induced contractions and I was “rushed” to the operating room for an emergency Cesarean section, my months of training and breathing rendered irrelevant.
“If we think about the entire journey, we will be too daunted to take the first step,” Marie had said as she lead us through the different breathing techniques for the progressively difficult stages of labor. Just take one step at a time. Breathe in. Breathe out. Give yourself over to the journey.”
And that’s what I tried to do as the epidural sent cold numbing fluid through my back and the surgeon cut through my skin horizontally and my womb vertically.
Michael Ray Pincus was born at 5:OO PM and I have no doubt that Dr. First made it home in time for dinner. I was left with a curved scar below my navel. To this day, my abdomen looks like a mocking, smiley face.
Dr. First opened up that same smile once again two years later, when my daughter Allison Rachel was born, a planned C-section this time, at 9:18 AM. The doctor liked to start his day at 9.
These memories don’t hurt as much as they used to. I am grateful for my children and the lives we have lived together. Mike is 30 and Ali 27 and they are beautiful, compassionate, healthy and positive adults who are both doing good work in the world. So what if I was numb as they were sliced from my body by an impatient surgeon’s knife?
Giving birth should hurt. Being born must hurt too – you’re all cramped, swollen, unable to move, a fierce pressure holding you in while another violently tries to push you out.
What comes next, I have written about before, and I imagine I will continue to write about it. Until it happens. If it happens.
Once in a playwriting workshop nearly ten years ago, we were asked to draw a self portrait, with our eyes closed. I must have lost my place and started over, because when I opened my eyes to look at what I had drawn, I saw the image of a woman with another identical woman inside of herself.
A woman, giving birth to herself.
I have been haunted by this image since it first appeared to me, reading psychology books about women in post mid-life, memoirs of women on spiritual quests, tales of women leaving their comfortable lives and beginning the painful journey of finally giving birth to themselves.
I am in the throes of it, feeling the twin pains of giving birth and being born.
And this time, there is no time clock on the wall, no surgeon’s dinner waiting for him, no pelvimetry to measure my womb, to fetal monitor to watch the vital signs, no pitocin to hurry things along, no epidural to dull the pain.
Just the deep, deep contractions of a life folding in on itself.
And Marie, her voice echoing through the years, “Breathe in, breathe out. And give yourself over to the journey.”