Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
Sex seems to be the only part of the pregnancy and birth process that all mothers endorse.* Sure, there are some glowing ladies in muumuus who seem to breeze through pregnancy, while others swell and vomit and grow full lady-beards, and others who claim the whole endeavor was “like, so natural, I just had to let it happen,” but for the most part, the process of giving birth is, as a friend and new mother recently told me, “no fucking joke.”
I have to imagine she is correct. In the best case scenario, childbirth is about a full day of sweating, dilating, pushing, shitting, and leaking fluids. BEST CASE. Sure, you end up with a baby you love and plan to raise into the first woman president to invent an eco-friendly cure for cancer, and your body really jacks itself up on cozy love hormones to help you forget what just happened, but there’s no way around it: Giving birth is hard.
By the way, have you called your mother yet today?
I'm going to leave that passive-aggressively hanging in the air, true mom-style, and plunge right into a full description of how all of us ungrateful little turds came to be.
First things first: Childbirth is beautiful and amazing. Of course it is. It’s also messy, gooey, farty, bloody, incredibly painful, and literally shitty. I’m not trying to knock the beauty of childbirth here. My friend gave birth to her daughter who was, she said, “literally covered in both her own shit and mine,” and my friend and her husband agreed that it was the most beautiful thing either of them had ever seen. I believe them. I also believe that pushing that hard would let out a world of sounds, gases, fluids, and solids that would make the whole process a straight up nightmare. A beautiful one, I guess.
If you’ve never been present at a birth, there is a truly unbelievable number of videos on YouTube of women squatting in paddling pools and lying in hospital beds, shitting and pushing and birthing for all the world to see. It’s fascinating, inspiring, and vaguely horrifying.
Early labor lasts between eight and 12 hours (!), and involves 30 to 45 second contractions that are roughly five to 30 minutes apart. These start slow, but get progressively more intense—think period cramps on steroids. At some point mom’s water breaks. While this sometimes happens as a massive Hollywood-style gush, many moms describe a “pop” (okay), followed by a “gush” (uh-huh), and then a “bunch of leaking” (oh no). Again, we're talking about the best case scenario. If it doesn’t break on its own, here’s what happens according to the Mayo Clinic (emphasis and profanity mine):
If your health care provider believes the amniotic sac should be opened during active labor—when your cervix is at least partially dilated and the baby's head is deep in your pelvis—he or she might use a technique known as an amniotomy to rupture the membranes. During the amniotomy, a thin plastic hook [fuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuck] is used to make a small opening in the amniotic sac. The procedure might cause some discomfort.
I’d imagine it might.
After the water has broken and contractions are coming harder, better, faster, and stronger, it’s time to go to wherever it is mom is planning on giving birth. Whether this is a hospital, birthing center, pool in your living room, or a nest dad made out of cushions and sheets, mom needs to get there. Advice on birth and caring for someone who is giving birth involves a LOT of parenthetical caveats, like “Focus on something other than the pain (this may be hard to do),” “Try to distract her from the contractions with a simple card game or massage (don’t think there is something wrong if she is not responding to you),” and “Don’t tell her that something is wrong if she seems to be angry (it’s a normal part of transition).”
At this point a lot of strangers’ hands have been inside mom’s vagina. The strangers are professional doctors, nurses, doulas, and/or midwives, but I’m sure the situation is still uncomfortable. They are prodding up in there with their cold, gloved fingers, like mom’s a Thanksgiving turkey, checking to see how dilated her cervix is. (The cervix is normally a tiny slit, barely open at all. By the time your giant infant head is ready to burst out of there and into the world, it will be about ten centimeters, which is, as one website helpfully notes, about the circumference of a large bagel.)
Now we move to the second stage. (Information brought to you by the UK’s National Institute for Health and Care Excellence, whose acronym, NICE, has never been more ironic than during this description of the pushing stage.) This is the one you see on TV shows that includes breathing, screaming, and legs in stirrups. It is not always like that (see: this clip of Kourtney Kardashian calmly yanking her baby out of herself), but it does not sound fun. During this phase, according to Americanpregnancy.org, mom is likely experiencing strong urges to push, intense pressure at the rectum, burning, stinging, and a likely bowel or urination accident. According to one mother, “No one cares [if you poop during the second stage]. You don’t care. They don’t care. You shit and keep going.”
Eventually you start crowning, a process which, for mom’s vag, involves something Americanpregnancy.org calls “the ring of fire”—an intense burning and stinging from the stretching of the vaginal walls by your big stupid head. But don’t worry! This feeling of burning is closely followed by a feeling of numbness, which “comes from the baby’s head stretching the vaginal tissue so thin that the vaginal nerves are blocked,” and remember, “There is no set time frame for how long this step of delivery will last.” But wait, there’s more: There’s an entire NICE subsection regarding this phase of Perineal Trauma. The description led me to wince, cross my legs, and scream, “Oh no!” to myself.
More pushing, more tearing, possibly more shitting, and then you’re born. Congrats, you did nothing. You fed off your mom’s food and bodily fluids for nine months and then you got into the appropriate position to rip her bottom half open so you could enter the world. And you don’t even look great, so she can’t instagram you. Newborn babies have cone-shaped heads, puffy eyes, a fine coating of lanugo (downy hair), and vernix (which Americanpregnancy.org calls a “cheesy substance that coats the fetus in the uterus”), plus enlarged genitals for some reason. Gross.
And even after you’re safely out of there, all gooey and hairy and loud, there are still a ton of horrible things happening to your mom’s long-suffering nether regions. There’s an entire “third birth stage” that doesn’t even START until you’re born. This third stage involves the passing of the placenta, also known as “afterbirth.” I don’t know how to break this to you, but at this point things are so wrecked down there, it takes another round of contractions and a few pushes for the placenta to gush out of the vagina like a bloody, amniotic waterfall.
After all of that is finally over and everyone is cleaned up, stitched up, and dried off, your mom has to hang around having her underbutt area monitored for excessive bleeding. Birth is some Paul Thomas Anderson shit: There Will Be Blood.
This tale is, again, an ideal birth scenario. It does not include complications like the baby being in breach or umbilical cords wrapped around places they shouldn’t be, let alone any toilet labor scenarios as seen on I Didn’t Know I Was Pregnant. It truly is no fucking joke.
So let me ask you this: When you say you love someone, do you mean, “I would risk perineal trauma for you?” Do you mean, “I would let someone turn the area between my butt and vagina into some kind of kitchen and solarium extension project for you?” Do you mean, “I would have sex with your dad, your gross old dad, to give you, specifically, a chance to try it out in this big, crazy world?”
I didn’t think so.
I know there are lots of ways to express love, and that the physical trauma and emotional slog of childbirth don’t guarantee that you’ll feel loved by your mother, or even that she'll continue to demonstrate or feel love for you. But holy hell, it’s a pretty big ordeal to go through together right off the bat. She doesn’t even know you yet! You can grow up to be vegan, get a Chinese symbol tattoo, or like Mumford and Sons. Maybe you will! And sure, the two of you might not jive, but that doesn’t take away what happens the day you are born, when her body gets all messed up and she pushes and screams and shits in front of people so you can be alive. I’m saying motherhood is complicated.
If you can, hug your mom today. Or call her! Call her and say, “I love you, mom. Sorry about your perineum.”
*If you are one of those people who gets grossed out by the idea of your mom having sex, you need to shut up. The woman who MADE YOU VIA SEX isn’t allowed a healthy, active sex life? She did it that one time so you could be here, and you’re allowed to bang whoever you want, but the woman whose cells formed the first inklings of your penis or vagina should be cloistered? Nope. Nu-uh. You don’t have to want to be there. You don’t have to want to hear about it. But you do have to hope your mom is getting it hard** and on the regular.
**Assuming hard is how she likes it. I don’t know your mom.
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