Thursday, June 30, 2005

Our bodies, our selves

Okay, because today I started my first [insert clever euphemism for menstrual cycle here] since April of 2004, I just had to blog about the whole-body experience that is mommyhood. I was thinking esepcially of labor and delivery, since that's what I had so many worries about as a pregnant woman.

So now that I'm five and a half months postpartum, I'm gonna share the secrets with you, 'cause I like you. One of the big initiation rites of joining the Sisterhood of Mothers is that when you meet pregnant women who are wondering what labor feels like, you have to say (usually in a fairly condescending been-there, done-that tone), “Oh, you’ll know. If you have to wonder, you’re not in labor.” Now, I am sure my Chapter Representative will probably refuse to give me my pin or something for saying this, but honestly, I didn’t know for the first few hours. I’d been having odd crampy feelings for so long that I thought it was simply a continuation of the not-comfortable-but-don’t-get-excited theme. I mean, it was hard to tell because everything else was so uncomfortable at that point—the aerobic kicking my son was doing in preparation, apparently, for his first 24 hours of nonstop sleeping, the strange tingly pains under my breasts where my giant stomach was stretching the skin, the “what’s all this, please?” messages from my wobbly pelvis and the general gritchy feeling of being exhausted but not being able to sit still too long lest the house collapse around me like a high-gravity neutron star.

Now, this is not to say that I didn’t eventually figure out that what I was experiencing was labor. I did. Much like the way one realizes that the small dots of light in the distance are, in fact, an oncoming Mack truck. It’s simply to say that Mother Nature, being a clever beastie (and a mother at that), found it best to ease some of us more whiny and wimpy beings into the laboring process so that by the time we certainly did know we were in labor, it was too late to turn back, call for a time-out, or break for coffee.

So yeah, labor. No picnic, that. I will confess to using my “You’re not gonna die from it” mantra quite often during the last few hours and to throwing up from the pain. But to be honest, once it’s over, it’s almost hard to remember, especially when you’re looking at a sweet face that seems unimpressed (or just plain tuckered out) by what you—and he or she—have just been through.

Still, I feel it’s my duty to bust yet another myth of the Sisterhood (I hope the dues are refundable): labor pains are not the worst things Mother Nature has in store for you—at least that was my experience. Not that they are any cake-walk, as I’ve said. Certainly not. It’s just that there were things that I personally thought were worse. There was the fact that for at least 6 weeks I felt vaguely as if I had, I don’t know, say, put my vagina on inside-out. Things just felt very exposed and “hi there!” down in that region. Not worse than labor to some, perhaps, but certainly not a repeat offender in the catalogue of sensations.

There was also the small matter of not being able to decide when I would pee. This just seemed to be a gratuitous power play on Mother Nature’s part. I figure, there are so damn many things that motherhood wrenches from your control, you can’t at least be left with the ability to PEE when you want?? I remember when I was clued in to this interesting phenomenon, which, to my recollection, had not even garnered so much as a sidebar in the endless books about pregnancy I’d read, including What To Expect When You’re Expecting (a book which I unapologetically loathe. But that’s another story). Maybe it had been mentioned but the Technicolor awfulness of it just hadn’t come through? Whatever the case, I did not see it coming.

So I was toddling around on my husband’s arm while Davis was in the nursery to be looked over—something that was evidently necessary every 4 hours or so but which, I was too polite to point out, was grossly at odd with the nurses’ insistence that I sleep as much as possible (which of course, it’s impossible to do when people are coming in and turning the lights on and checking your 8 forms of ID, admonishing you about whatever you were supposed to do or not do with your newborn, and trundling said newborn down to the nursery). I had eased my way across the hall, enjoying my mobility and gloating (very quietly and in, I thought, a non-show-offy way) about my having been able to do natural childbirth and have such an easy labor when suddenly I felt a huge rush of blood on my legs. I actually remember thinking this was some form of karmic payback: “Grasshopper, you must never gloat about your birth experience or you’ll end up bleeding out in the middle of the hallway!”

I grabbed my husband’s arm, told him I was hemorrhaging and looked down to assess the situation.

There was nothing.

Well, on closer inspection, there was what appeared to be water, but that didn’t make sense. My water had broken hours ago. I was honestly puzzled until I realized I hadn’t peed since just after delivery. Once I figured out I was, in fact, now a Depends poster-child, I was mortified. In addition, my socks were wet. While I was impressed with the ability of my Smartwool socks to absorb what would have translated into several gallons of sweat, I can tell you that being embarrassed beyond belief is not made better by standing around in wet, rapidly chilling socks.

I was shocked that I’d seen no mention of this in my prenatal reading, but I finally figured out it was nature’s way of teaching me humility and making sure people didn’t hate me for having such an uncomplicated, harmonious birth. Also, it taught me the importance of kegel exercises and regular potty breaks. But really, the big lesson was humility.

One other thing that I felt should get a little mention is the Great Schism of 2005, which took place along my abdominal wall. Did you know a woman’s stomach muscles can actually split down the middle to accommodate the growing being inside, à la Alien? I sure didn’t. And I don’t much fancy that to this day, my meek little tummy, who lies there so softly and passively, minding her own business, takes on the disturbing appearance of a conehead when I sit up too quickly. It’s a little frightening. Yet another glaring omission of WTEWYE and its ilk.

Finally, the books also miss the reason so many of us actually get pregnant—the miraculous side of it. There’s the crazy feeling when the baby first kicks and you realize that hey, that’s not a jumping muscle, that’s a jumping peanut-sized fetus! Whoa! And the feeling when the baby is actually coming out, like wow, it’s show time; those pangs actually meant business! And then when I actually started to feel milk letting down (which didn’t happen for months); I felt such wonder, like it’s amazing how well-planned all of this is, how synchronous life is, how much order there is in spite of apparent chaos. It's all very Circle of Life.

I guess a book couldn’t really tell you that, though. And I guess the Sisterhood can’t let the uninitiated in on that, either, or heck, nobody would believe us, and if they did, then everybody’d want to join the club.

But it’s enough to make the things I’ve been grousing about in this post worth it a dozen times over.

And that, my friends, is a miracle.