Why Giving Birth Is Actually Awesome
People want to know if I pooped on the table. They ask if my husband stood near my vagina. They’re curious if sex feels different now … for him. And, by the way, they ask: How long did it take to lose the baby weight?
Yes, I did. It’s not such a big deal.
Yes, he did, and he left each birth thinking I was even hotter than before.
I don’t know. He seems fine.
And not as long as you might think. I just took good care of myself and didn’t put pressure on myself to bounce immediately back to my pre-pregnancy size.
I don’t mind these questions exactly. I’ve given birth three times so I do have answers, but I also think they miss the point. Birth gets a bad rap when we focus only on the negative, or potentially negative, aspects of delivery. It becomes frightening because women are regaled with horror stories. From other women. From the media. From men.
I didn’t know what the right birth question was, however, until I heard it from my friend Barb, a woman who’s never had kids but just seemed to get it. A few months after my first child was born, she plopped down on my couch and asked me squarely, “Wasn’t birth the most empowering thing you’ve ever done?” My eyes filled with tears. I was blown away because I felt seen and celebrated and understood. She went on: “I think men are afraid of women because we have this awesome power to make life.” Wow. Yes.
I loved giving birth. I loved it all three times. And sometimes I worry that the totally awesome part of this experience — you know, the part where I gave birth — gets lost in discussions of how scary, messy, painful, and embarrassing it can be.
Let me take you back to my first birth. I had few expectations other than the certainty that it would hurt. But an idea struck me early on in my first pregnancy: Every single person I pass on the street was born (and I live in New York, so I pass a lot of people every day). I found this obvious reality to be soothing. How bad can birth be if every single person on the planet had to be born to get here?
Well, the truth is, it did hurt, despite the fact that I had an epidural all three times. Pain like I’d never felt before. But what I wasn’t expecting was how incredible an experience it would be. In the months leading up to that day, no one had ever told me. And perhaps I had never known to ask.
I am an avid lover of community and people coming together to create a common good. Birth is just another example of this. In the hospital, the room was warm with the spirit of a team. I felt supported and celebrated by my husband, the nurses, my doctor, the doula I had during my first birth. I felt motivated by the internist who held one leg and told me to “finish strong” after every contraction, a phrase that has become my husband’s and my favorite rallying cry in challenging times. Everyone in the room was focused on encouraging me to do this beautiful, painful, courageous, everyday difficult act.
People often feel the greatest sense of accomplishment for the things that took time, effort, blood, sweat, and tears. Childbirth is that times a thousand. For all three births, my water broke before I went into active labor, and after all three births, I needed stitches because I tore. For my first child, I spent about 20 hours in labor and had to be induced. (Thankfully, the third child pretty much flew out.) But at the end of each delivery, after accomplishing this tremendous athletic feat, after feeling both strong and vulnerable, I met the love of my life. I thought I knew what love was, but I had never loved the way I love my children
As an expectant mother, it’s so easy to get consumed by whether, when the time comes, you’ll do it right. As if there’s such a thing. As a culture, we talk about birth plans and natural births and C-sections and VBACs, and debate the merits of each. Birth-shaming is a real problem when we suggest that a healthy mother and child aren’t quite enough — you have to achieve that outcome in a certain way that of course no one can agree on. It’s another reason the whole birth experience can be so fraught. But one thing I loved about giving birth is that it was ultimately out of my hands. As tempting as it is to try to map out the experience, it’s just not possible. Your body tells you what it needs, and you have no choice but to listen. Having a doctor, midwife, or doula you trust helps too.
Being a parent has been the most humbling, trying, fantastic experience of my life. And yet I, like so many women, focused on the birth rather than the lifetime of parenting ahead. It was like stressing over the wedding instead of thinking about the marriage. As it turned out, the day of birth and the weeks after it were my favorite parts of being a new mother. Mom guilt, balancing work and family, never feeling like I’ve quite given enough in any realm — those would set in soon enough. But in the beginning, it was just pure love.
I vowed after that first birth to tell women about the side of the birth experience they don’t always hear. Yes, giving birth was the most painful thing I’ve ever gone through, and yes, it was frightening at times, but those three days were unequivocally the best days of my life.
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