When I was pregnant with my first child, I made a birth plan that involved a doula and no epidural. A “natural” childbirth.
I am not sure why I was so hell-bent on having a baby without any pain medication. I had broken my back and had my ACL replaced, twice, all of which involved ample pain medication. I have never hesitated to take Advil when my head hurts or a hangover is on the horizon.
But at the time, I was living in New York City, the capital of competitive parenting. A lot of my friends were having babies, and natural childbirth felt like a badge of toughness, alongside working-16-hour-days and multi-night benders. I had a high pain threshold and was not about to let the medical industrial complex impose unnecessary interventions on me. Natural childbirth would be the ultimate endurance test, and I was gearing up to win it.
Then life got in the way of my plans.
“‘Natural,'” Jessi Klein mused in the New York Times this weekend. “It sounds so … natural. So relaxing. So earth goddess. So feminine. But how often do people really want women to be or do anything ‘natural’? It seems to me the answer is almost never.”
Women shave off unseemly hair, Spanx their love handles, and invest heavily in concealer. And, Klein notes, “No one ever asks a man if he’s having a ‘natural root canal.’ No one ever asks if a man is having a ‘natural vasectomy.'”
I was in labor for 20 hours before I succumbed to an epidural. For at least two hours, I threw up every 10 minutes, and I recall shaking so much I thought I might be having a seizure. My husband eventually konked out after being awake for so long, and I cried, both because of the pain, which was tremendous, but also because my plan wasn’t working out. I had failed my first real motherhood test. I couldn’t even have the baby without drugs, and doctors, and an army of support. Great mom I’d make.
And then here’s what happened: The epidural took the pain away. I watched my contractions on a monitor, and I actually enjoyed the birth. Ella arrived, gorgeous and amazing, and my birth plan became about as important to me as who is running for parliament in Andorra.
Klein had a simple criterion for deciding how to have her baby: What would make her happiest?
People are wired differently. Some hate pain, others are deeply averse to taking drugs. Many have backstories that influence their choices: One friend of mine had multiple C-sections after her sister lost a baby in childbirth. And often, we don’t have much choice.
When it came time to have my second child two years later, I was all about the epidural. I couldn’t wait for the birth because I was going to get to enjoy the journey.
And then here’s what happened: My water broke at 8am. We raced out to Eighth Avenue to get a taxi. It was rush hour, and there were none. My husband started asking strangers to give theirs up. A few refused, and one wondered out loud if I was really pregnant, as I hovered nearby, puking.
A lovely Swedish woman finally gave us her cab, bursting with excitement at the prospect of my imminent labor. (The cab driver, less so.) We sat in traffic, and by the time I got to the hospital, there was no time for an epidural.
My plan was foiled once again. This time, I really didn’t give a damn.