We took the first half of our birthing class this past weekend. The midwives recommended three types of class, and after looking at information on all three, Ben and I decided to go with Birthing From Within. It’s got a lot more “get in touch with your feelings” hippie granola than we usually go for, but there’s a lot about it that appealed to us from the website, and from the quick description we got from an instructor who was at one of our community care visits. Besides, we figured if it was too laughably kumbaya, we’d at least have some inside jokes to share, and I’ve heard that laughter is good for helping labor progress.
We were really looking forward to the class: one of our first big, concrete steps towards “holy crap, there’s going to be a baby in our house” (the first came the day before, when Dad helped us move the guest bed into storage, giving us an actual baby room). Instead of a six-week course, we’re taking a two-day “intensive” (none of the full courses were available for good timing with our due date, either much to early or probably too late), with two other couples in the class.
When we arrived and had all introduced ourselves, our instructor asked us to write down a list of “True things about labor, birth, and parenting”. You know, something simple to warm up with. (Right.) Ben took the easy route with most of his list (“Labor has stages.” “Parenting is about teaching.” “Megan will have a baby.”), although towards the end he did dive in a little more philosophically. As I was getting kicked the entire time I worked on my list, I had more of a sense of…urgency about the whole thing, that it’s actually a real thing we’re going to do. I wrote:
- This is going to be one of the hardest things I do in my life, and I’m going to do it.
- My body won’t give me more than I can handle.
- This one moment will forever change the rest of our lives — how we interact, how we schedule & plan, how we view ourselves, each other, and our relationship.
- We are as ready as we can be for something that really can’t be prepared for.
She talked about the stages of labor, which Ben and I have been reading about, and about the physical process that’s happening. She talked about positions we can be in to encourage the baby to move into a low, head-down position. When I tried them, our little Sprout, who never really rose up in the second trimester like everybody tells you they will and decided to “drop” at about five months, took these encouragements as a sign to venture into my rib cage for the first time ever.
And then we started talking about coping strategies and pain management. I wish I had been counting the number of times she said the word “pain”. It was a lot, as if she was drilling it into our heads, preparing us for how much agony we will be experiencing. She asked us to rate on a scale of 1 to 100, with 100 being “the worst pain you can possibly imagine”, what we thought labor would look like. When one of the couples said 100 and 200 (hers and his respectively), our instructor didn’t say anything reassuring, nodding in a way I’m sure she thought was non-judgmental but came across as approving. Telling this poor woman that yes, labor will be the worst pain she can possibly imagine. The man from the other couple, explaining his rating of 75, pointed out that he’d known people to pass out from extreme pain but had never heard of women passing out from the pain of childbirth.
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t expect this to be a walk in the park (I rated it a 70). But this is something that my body is designed to do. More than anything else I do, honestly. My body is not designed to drive a car or sit at a computer, yet I manage that quite handily. But my body is designed to birth a child. That is, after all, why I have a uterus in the first place. I know there are a lot of things about the human body that are less than ideally designed. But I find it difficult to imagine that this one task, arguably the most important biological function, would be so poorly designed as to cause such unbelievable agony that we need technology to cope with it.
She had us walk through an exercise involving an ice cube to simulate pain so we could practice various coping techniques. The first time, I got fed up with feeling unnecessary discomfort, so I put the ice cube down before time was up (whatever that unexplained time limit was supposed to be). Little did I know that moment was to become my benchmark for the rest of the day. She’d have us try a new technique, then ask how it went. When I’d say I didn’t know how it worked for me or what I tried, she’d say “But you managed to hold it the whole time!” Well, yes. Peer pressure will do that, you know. But it was really hard to escape the feeling that the first round had been marked as “failure”, and now I had to prove that I was strong enough, tough enough to actually go through an unmedicated labor.
It’s also very difficult to use visualization of contractions as a wave, to “dive into the wave”, when the pain you’re trying to deal with is… an ice cube. Cold is a very linear type of pain: the longer you touch the cold object, the more intense it gets. And when you put it down, you instantly start to feel better. From everything I’ve heard, contractions don’t work that way; they build in a wave, and then ebb again, on their own time. And, more than that, they have a purpose and are actually accomplishing something.
After our midday lunch break, she had us work on an art project: creating a labyrinth (or Labor-inth, according to the website). We started by sketching the walls in marker according to the diagram she showed us. And then she dumped a basket of pastels on the floor and told us to “color it in”.
I hadn’t touched pastels since high school, despite the fact that I own a very nice set of them. It took a while to get my hand back in, but it wasn’t long before I found myself completely and utterly absorbed, back into that art trance I used to spend so much time in. I’ve always found that when I let myself fall into that, the part of my brain that processes words just shuts down. So when we’d finished with the pastels and she asked us to write down… I don’t remember what the exact directions were, to be honest. I was still working when she explained it, which meant the words were almost meaningless to me. I stared at the page for a long while trying to find words again. I had such distinct, coherent feelings. I knew exactly what I meant when I made the choices I made. But to write it down? To put words there?
I colored the path along the spectrum, starting at the beginning and ending at the center, because each step builds on the one before it. One flows into another, and you can’t just skip ahead. I blended the colors because the path is seamless. Maybe not smooth or consistently paced, but you do have to take each step to get where you’re going. It reminded me of a project we did in college, where we had to sand a block of wood, starting with 40 grit and working our way down, one step at a time, to 200 grit, then paper towels, then eventually toilet paper. The project was about process, and how you can’t rush a process or skip steps without hampering the final outcome.
More than that, though, I learned that the easiest way for me to access that monkey brain, that primitive part of me that needs to be in control for my body to do what it needs to, is to go back to art. This week, for the first time in a long time, I picked up a pencil and began drawing again. I’m pretty pleased with how it turned out.
The rest of the afternoon was spent discussing positions in labor and various other things that didn’t involve ice or, really, much in the way of new information. I’m still sorting out a lot of my feelings about the class. I walked in feeling so strong and confident, and when I walked out, for the first time I actually felt afraid of birth. Afraid that it’s going to be too much for me, that it’s more than I can handle. Afraid that I’m going to fail yet again, and need someone to bail me out of the mess I’ve gotten myself into. Most of all, terrified that we’ve got another eight-hour session coming up this weekend.