This week of pregnancy was consumed by the answer to the question in the title of this post.
I did my absolute best to prepare for labor with the Pious One. In fact, I spent so much time learning about how to have a healthy pregnancy, labor, and delivery that I sort of failed to prepare for having a baby. As in, I didn't realize that I didn't know how to change a diaper until after we had selected "rooming in" for our new baby, all the nurses left the room, and my husband was passed out on the couch at 1:00 in the morning. Oops.
Whatever. The point is that I felt good about my preparation, but in hindsight, nothing really could have prepared me for the intensity of labor. It was frightening, painful, and I screamed the primal scream of an Amazon woman when I felt the ring of fire, and then it was over. There were many new and unusual sensations, most of which have only been repeated during subsequent pregnancy and labor. Nothing prepared me for it like doing it. I tried to memorize what it felt like to have a contraction, and still forgot after 3 weeks.
With Braveheart, I kind of remembered what I was up against. After all, it had only been a little over a year. Then, at 34ish weeks, it hit me: I have to do THAT. Again. As in, there is a very large infant inside me. right. now. And there is no pain-free way for that infant to come out. Gulp. In the end, Braveheart's labor felt hard, more like running a marathon, than scary, like someone wringing a baby out of my uterus like water out of a towel, so it was an improvement of sorts. But still, it was a physically demanding experience, and fraught with "I can't do this"'s and "Can I really handle this?"'s.
It's funny that it only occurred to me to face that reality late in the third trimester, but a lot of women I've talked to experience a similar, late-pregnancy epiphany. I guess late in the pregnancy, you can begin to visualize the dimensions of the growing baby inside you. Or say one day the baby is breech and you feel how large the baby's head is. Or you can imagine the child's outstretched leg as it tests the dimensions of the inside of your uterus. Or you see someone else's newborn baby, and you realize that one of those is inside of you, and only getting bigger as the days go by. Or you begin to take seriously those fruit comparisons the books are always making (pushing out a pineapple?!). Or you just remember what it was like last time.
So this week, I wrestled once again with the knowledge that I have to do THAT. Again. There is a large-ish infant inside me right. now. And there is no pain-free way for that infant to come out.
Before I had children, I guess I kept thinking that the more I did this, the easier it would get. But then again, no woman I've talked to with more than 3 children has ever said that it would. "Does it get less frightening?" From the woman with 8 children, smiling politely and shyly but not really wanting to scare the classroom full of doulas-to-be, "Not really." "Does it get easier?" From Simcha Fisher, the blogging mother of 9, "No, and in fact, in some ways, it gets harder." Daaaaang.
After pondering it this week, I think what it boils down to is this, for first-time mothers and women who have given birth more than a dozen times: doesn't it make you fear for your bodily integrity?
There are only two ways for a full-term infant to come out. In one, a very small hole has to stretch to dimensions it has hitherto not seen, or at least only seen a few brief times in its life. In the other, someone slices a hole in your abdomen and pulls the baby out. It's as simple as that. The potential for damage to one's bodily integrity is high, and reasonably gives one cause for apprehension!
I think this may be one reason why I and a lot of other women feel very strongly about avoiding a c-section unless it is truly necessary. Plain and simple, while a vaginal birth carries the possibility of an intact body (absent the all-too-common perineal tearing, that is), it is absolutely impossible for your bodily integrity to be maintained perfectly when you have a c-section. Surgery is sometimes necessary to preserve one's life or the life of one's baby, but it always sacrifices some bodily integrity for the sake of the greater whole. A c-section is a tolerable but undesirable sacrifice. Thanks a lot, Eve...
So when you hear someone say it doesn't matter because, "at the end you have a healthy baby," you can just tell them, "but what about my bodily integrity?" Then, of course, you should be prepared for an extended philosophical discussion related to risk, human nature, and the principle of double effect. Ha.
A vaginal birth, however, carries with it the possibility of maintaining such integrity perfectly. Not that it happens often, but there's at least hope. I think women know this hope, deep down, and cling to it, even when they can't explain why.
In the meantime, I am fearing plenty for my bodily integrity, even though I believe I will probably have a vaginal birth this time, too. Pain is not equal to damage to bodily integrity, but it sure feels like it sometimes. I guess there's just no easy way to get a baby out!