You know how in all the Hollywood comedies, the young, pregnant couple gets freaked out watching the “birth video” during their prenatal class?
For once, the movies have it right.
Brett and I attended Prenatal Class #2 this past Tuesday. We knew in advance we’d be watching one of three birthing videos. We just didn’t know exactly how traumatizing it would be.
We got to class early and settled in as the other couples started arriving. We are all still strangers to one another, even though we’ve been breathing rhythmically in each other’s laps for practically over four class hours now.
Our uncanny Dr. Cuddy look-a-like teacher went over the first stages of labor using a chart showing the “points” in labor. Before she could even start explaining, we (the women) were all gaping at the “transition labor” graphic. While the other stages showed a clean, simple arc, or soft curving slopes, the transition labor graphic was elevated above the others and had sharp, pointy spikes at the top.
One of our teen moms said, “I think I’ll skip that one.” We all nodded, as if that were an option.
Dr. Cuddy tried to reassure us that transition labor, while the most painful, is the shortest stage of labor. This did not reassure many of us, however, and soon Dr. Cuddy was distracting us with humor.
She told us stories of women who didn’t make it to the hospital in time. She told us about one father who’d had to pull his car over in the middle of winter, in 20 degrees below, crank up the heaters, strap his three year old in the front seat, and deliver his son in the backseat.
Another woman was on her way to Rush Hospital in Chicago. She was crossing the giant glass skywalk over the Interstate when she went into labor. She delivered her baby on the skywalk, her feet pressed up against the glass, giving her child a very unique birth story, and drivers below something to talk about in therapy.
When Dr. Cuddy had us all back in good spirits, she dropped another bombshell. She talked about the babies’ heads and how big they could get. The skeletal plates in the babies’ heads shift to accommodate their entrance out of such a small opening, but the head, she told us, is the hardest part to birth.
She talked about how head size is related directly to simple genetics. Mouth agape, I turned to stare my husband.
Have you ever really looked at Brett’s head? It’s gigantic. It’s like looking at Mr. Potato Head, with a whole other body attached. Not to mention his Neanderthal-like brow bone. He could break concrete using just that bone.
Dr. Cuddy’s sudden laughter brought me back out of my trance.
“I wish you could all see yourselves right now,” she squealed. “Every class does this!”
I looked around and saw all the other women glaring at their husbands. “Every woman thinks, ‘Why did I marry such a big-headed man?’” Dr. Cuddy teased smiles back out of us, as the men in the room tried not to look insulted.
Finally, the moment of truth arrived. Dr. Cuddy set up the video equipment, lamenting that we had a different room than she normally uses. “Usually, I’m able to put the video on the big screen,” she told us. “But, we’ll have to settle for watching it on a TV today.”
Thank God for small favors.
She told us the video for this class was of an “un-medicated” birth. The lights were turned down, and soon we were watching “Works of Wonder.”
The couple’s names were Chris and Paula.
I have to hand it to them. Even though their little Douglas in no doubt finishing his final year at Harvard Law (perhaps the video fund helped him get there), it takes serious chutzpah to let someone film your labor and delivery.
I have to say that I rejoiced, and I mean, REJOICED to see that mom-to-be Paula was…overweight! She looked just like me (and just like me pregnant and naked, although I didn’t know we were going to be seeing quite that much of Paula).
Acting as the narrator for the video, Chris seemed very much like my own gentle giant, although he was shaped more like Santa Claus and sported a Grizzly Adams beard. His pride, joy, and love for his wife was clearly and sweetly evident throughout the whole process.
Before stuff started to get gross (and I mean, gross) there were a few things that made me laugh.
The midwife’s name was Biddy. Seriously. Biddy! I don’t know how I could have resisted in the throes of labor not to scream out, “Shut up, you old biddy!”
The potential goldmine for comedy with a name like Biddy is highly irresistible. Especially for a sarcastic so-and-so like yours truly.
The second laugh came when Chris was being oh-so-pleasant with the nurse, telling her a story. Paula, who was in a LOT of pain at this time, yelled, “Shut up, Chris. I don’t want to hear your stupid stories when I’m in labor.”
I had to stifle a laugh, since I know what that means. All women everywhere know what that means.
It means that Paula barely tolerates Chris’ stories when she’s NOT in labor. Every wife has been THERE. Must have been nice for her to speak her mind for once.
Points in Chris’ favor, as he simply stopped talking and went back to rubbing her back and feeding her ice chips. I was really starting to like Chris.
As the labor process wore on, Paula was obviously in increasing pain. The only relief was when she was in the shower. She sat in there for a good portion of the video, with Chris joking (smartly out of Paula’s hearing) that they would “never” get her out of there.
Eventually, Paula got out of the shower. She began to change positions and after Biddy (Biddy!) said it was time to push, she started to push.
At first the pushing was normal to watch, I caught myself thinking, “Well, this isn’t so bad.”
Everything was covered, and at this point, Paula was still in her gown.
But then everything changed. Paula’s pain went WAY up (making those transition labor spikes look sissy in comparison). Off came the gown and all the coverings. I was staring at a person’s most private parts and watching what was happening was way worse than any horror movie I’d ever seen.
I managed to tear my gaze away from the grim spectacle on the screen to look around the room. Most everyone was mesmerized by the video. Almost all had the alarmed and surprised look corpses acquire in rigor mortis.
However, the mom-to-be across from me was staring straight at me.
At first, I thought she was doing what I was doing, gauging reactions to the blood fest spewing forth from the screen. I gave her a smile and a friendly head nod.
She gave no sign of having seen me, and just kept staring.
It took me a moment to realize she wasn’t seeking sisterhood or friendly smiles. She was doing everything in her power NOT to watch the video. At all.
I sympathized immediately. But, then Brett nudged me with his elbow, and I was forced to turn back to the Texas Birth Bloodbath on the screen.
By this point, both Biddy and Chris were encouraging Paula to reach down and “touch the head.” It was apparent that Paul did not want to do this. She wanted to keep pushing, but she bowed to pressure, and did as she was told.
Just when I thought Paula was never going to make it, faithful old Biddy reached right in “there,” and pulled. A little round head and a body slipped out as though it had just been waiting for the right time.
Tears sprung to my eyes as Biddy cleaned off the squalling infant and handed him gently to Paula. Biddy, Chris, Paula, and I were all bawling by this point. It was so amazingly beautiful. A miracle in every sense of the word.
I had thought myself prepared to watch the video. After all, hadn’t I been there for Brielle’s birth?
I stayed safely above the sheet with Candice, fanning her, and handing out encouraging comments. I had no idea what was going on anywhere else. And now that I do, I can’t believe women do this more than once.
Dr. Cuddy turned the lights back on, and I wasn’t surprised to see tearful faces reflected back at me. Maybe these women could blame their emotions on pregnancy, but I had cried at Brielle’s entrance, so I know I’m just a sucker for watching babies be born.
I can think of worse things.
Dr. Cuddy assured us that the next two videos in the series – epidural and narcotic-assisted births – are much less graphic.
Well, they’d have to be, wouldn’t they? I mean, I can’t believe the FCC didn’t slap an NC-17 rating on this one.
As we emerged from the hospital, back into the fresh, non-bloodied air, I asked Brett what he had learned from the video. What fascinating tidbit he plans to take into the delivery room.
He said, “Well, I sure as heck won’t be telling any stories.” And restored my faith in that big-headed, Neanderthal-browed man I married.
I told him not to forget the ice chips, either.
In conclusion, I’d like to again tip my hat to Chris, Paula, and little (or maybe not so little anymore) Douglas for sharing their story – their humor, their pain, and ultimately their bliss.
Maybe someday the nightmares will stop.