• Wed, Feb 12 - 11:00 am ET

Childbirth Is Terrifying, But If Courtney Love Could Do It So Could You

Love And DaughterThe panic subsided two days after the test showed positive, and my first thought was “Frances Bean seems nice.” If Courtney could do this, then so could I. And then I hit the Googles and panicked anew.

I had acquired a fetus completely by accident one drunken snow day, and, not having really planned to be in the fetus-to-child business, I hadn’t done a lot of research ahead of time. I knew that labour and delivery would be uncomfortable at best, but the Internet, in its collective one-upmanship and infinite righteousness, well … it put the fear in me. I tried to schedule an elective c-section at 36 weeks based entirely on the existence of episiotomies, but my obstetrician talked me down. “Will there be drugs?” I asked. “Yes, there will be drugs.”

My OB was perfect (for me) in that he was a 70-year-old man and I am, in my heart, a 70-year-old man as well. “Should I do prenatal classes?” I asked. “They cost a lot of money and you’re going to have a baby either way, so you can if you want but I’d save the 80 dollars.” “80 dollars is a lot of money to you?” “No, but it’s a lot of money to learn to push a baby out of your vagina which you’re going to have to do regardless of whether you’ve taken a class or not.” We got along pretty well.

I had a relatively easy, sweaty pregnancy during which I routinely cried about milkshakes, iced tea  and Eminem, and though I spent a great deal of time hate-reading the iVillage and BabyCenter message boards, I didn’t take too much of what the crazies said to heart. The problem was not the crazies, it turned out; a sanctimommy is a fundamentalist and therefore a terrible bore to engage with.

But it’s the other women, the honest, relatable women with their tales of trauma and indignity and injury that got into my head. I worried that the odds of an easy delivery were not in my favour – not in anyone’s favour. Birth can be a serious, potentially devastating thing and more than ever I wanted no part of it. My mother kept reminding me of the stubborn 48 hours it took me to be born (I am a human sloth) plus all the stitches; women on Facebook and Twitter told much darker, more tragic tales. I just sort of resigned myself to the horror of it all; my entire birth plan was basically “all the drugs” and “hopefully come out not still pregnant and in possession of a human baby, ideally my own.”

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  • Kay_Sue

    “I would have an epidural every day of my life if I could. That shit is magic.”

    Amen.

    It really is terrifying to hear so many of the birthing stories that get shared. Why do we only hear the bad ones, man? Give me ones like my first labor, where I fell asleep briefly after the epidural and got some much needed sleep before waking up to push….. ;)

    • gothicgaelicgirl

      My mom’s water broke in work, she was a managing director so was starting maternity leave just ten days before her due date. She sneezed and it broke.

      Chaos ensued with all the women squealing and all the men panicking. One actually asked her should he get a towel and hot water.

      Meanwhile my tiny 5 foot nothing mammy is mopping up all her fluid, muttering about how inconvenient it was that only the crap mop was there, and where was a good mop when you needed it?!

      She sat down then and laughed at everyone freaking out and said- “Guys, it’s baby number 3. It’s gonna be a while before anything happens so calm down, call my husband”

      She then went back to munching on the gigantic box of chocolates they had given her as a maternity present, while everyone kept screaming at her to lie down, and BOIL A DAMN KETTLE!

      Calm as a cucumber lol, and she somehow managed to push out my not so little brother (over 9 pounds) naturally.

    • Kay_Sue

      See, more stories like this are precisely what are needed. I’m not saying don’t talk about the honest truth that it can be difficult and dangerous–but at least give women a chance to latch onto some funny and non-terrifying anecdotes.

      I’ve shared before that my mom was in the delivery room for my oldest because I was a single mom. She spent the time regaling me with her labor with me. My favorite: In early labor, she was playing Frogger on the Atari with my grandfather and she kept killing the frog every time she had a contraction. Another was my grandfather–who never swore–coming as close as she ever heard to swearing while trying to get over a mountain to the hospital and getting stuck behind a little old man in a hat…that they followed all the way to the hospital parking lot… These were the stories that helped keep me calm during the process, when everyone else had me half convinced I was absolutely going to die….

    • Williwaw

      I wish I could have played Frogger during labour! My hospital was lovely (especially that lovely, lovely tank of laughing gas in my birthing suite), but I think they should replace the damn birthing ball with a PlayStation. Laughing gas + racing games would be just awesome.

    • Alfreda Wells Morrissey

      I played world of warcraft through most of the second labour. Put my 2 year old to bed at her uncles because I knew baby 2 would come that night. Played world of warcraft till contractions were 5 min apart. Tried to convince the hospital that I was in labour but they didn’t believe me because I could talk through the contractions. Came back an hour later, oh look you are fully effaced, here is a room, well I guess you can start pushing now. 1/2 later here is baby. It hurt a lot for a short period of time and baby was perfect.

      First baby was a lot of waiting and boredom because I was hospitalized the night before they induced me due to high blood pressure. Then they gave me an epidural.

    • gothicgaelicgirl

      LOL my best friend’s water broke and she texted me.
      I freaked and admittedly, was OMG WTF WHY AREN’T YOU AT THE HOSPITAL (I was 19, she was 18)

      She calmly replied- I’m watching bad anime, and dammit I’m not leaving til this hamster does something magical!

      She’s that level of awesome

    • Kay_Sue

      That’s an epic response.

    • Lilly

      That kind of reminds me of my little sister’s birth. Hippie parents did a home birth for my sister A and J (I was at the hospital cuz’ I was the first) — I say hippie because this was the 80s so it was really rare.
      So my mom’s water broke for J the youngest and my dad started to panic (even though this is baby 3 so he should have known better) and decides to plop A and me in front of the TV for sesame street.
      Well J was born so quickly that there wasn’t time for the mdiwife or my aunt (to babysit) to come to the house. My dad comes downstairs to talk to us about the new baby and A and I are losing it on him because he is blocking the TV.
      My mom comes down wondering what all the fuss is about and basically takes over everything, this is of course minutes after giving birth. There is a great photo my mom has of A & I sitting with baby J with the most annoyed looks on our faces taken at this time — it is classic.

    • ted3553

      My water broke at 6am, I showered, had a granola bar and went to the hospital. They put me on pitocin around 11 and then the contractions came so frequent, I could hardly catch my breath. I suffered through it for a couple hours because epidurals can slow down the labor and then finally got my epidural at which point life became stellar. I snuck half a sandwich, visited with my sister and after an hour of pushing, popped my little guy out. My epidural experience was good and it was already wearing off enough that when they moved me from the delivery room to my room for the night less than 30 minutes later, I could stand by myself.
      It was definitely not terrible and not one of those walked in and 30 minutes later had a baby in my arms but it really wasn’t all that bad.

    • Kay_Sue

      I would have loved to hear this while pregnant with my first. ;)

    • Jessica

      I told my husband my favorite part of the whole thing was my epidural, aside from the baby of course. Before I got it I was disconnecting from the blood pressure cuff & fetal monitor, grabbing my iv stand & waddling into the bathroom because I felt like I had to pee every five minutes. It took about as long to disconnect & reconnect to all that stuff every time too. So when I finally got my epidural it was heaven to lay back & relax & not worry about wetting the bed.

      I do try to share my birth story whenever I have a friend freaking out about labor. 5 1/2 hours start to finish, relatively painless, a couple practice pushes & one real one & I had a baby. Labor is scary enough without everyone & their mom telling you how much you’ll want to kill yourself having a baby.

    • Kay_Sue

      Thank you! It really does help.

      I’m not one for sugarcoating it like I have seen some women do–just…balancing. Balancing it works. ;)

    • Larkin

      You’re like my mom! Her labor with my oldest brother (her first) was only about four hours. And apparently her contractions barely even hurt. She didn’t even think they were contractions till my dad decided to time them “just in case,” and said, “Well, these ‘probably nothings’ are all exactly two minutes apart.”

      Lord, I hope that’s genetic.

    • brebay

      My sancti-(ex)-SIL asked me, as a means of opening an argument; “So, when did you decide you wanted an epidural?” Me: “Mm, probably when I was about 9 years old and first heard the word “epidural” and asked my mom what it was.” Since about then.

    • Kay_Sue

      That response is *priceless*. I would pay money to have seen her face.

    • leeannabelle

      That’s perfect!
      Before I had my epidural, I had no idea that they work so well that I would be able to sleep through part of my labor that was happening in the middle of the night. Who wouldn’t want that???

  • gothicgaelicgirl

    I died at “Human Sloth” lol

  • LadyClodia

    Great article!
    I actually would say that labor with my 2nd son was easy. I had a scheduled induction: went to the hospital in the morning, got induced, things progressed, got an epidural, took a nap, woke up, and pushed out a baby; 4 hours start to finish. Things hadn’t gone as smoothly with my first, but it still wasn’t too bad. Thanks modern medicine!

  • http://workoutfine.com/ Vero

    I feel like I could have probably written this article. Better living through chemistry, folks.

  • Maria Guido

    “High-stakes drama and intrigue” haha – I love this.

  • http://www.twitter.com/ohladyjayne allisonjayne

    I’m grateful for my epidural because it allowed me to get the kid out with forceps and avoid surgery, but truthfully I hated the way it made me feel. I think they must’ve just cranked it up too much because I felt like a floating head for a good few hours after giving birth. I couldn’t feel anything below my shoulders. I have a distinct memory of whining to my wife, “Why am I just a head? I can’t feel my anything”.

    Yes I realize that not feeling anything is kinda the point but I think maybe most people can move their arms and hold their babies?

    • Kay_Sue

      Most people, definitely–I actually regained all sensation very, very quickly. I would not have enjoyed being a floating head for hours either!

    • MaebykittyRN

      It sounds like they put yours in too high. You should’ve been numb from the belly down, not the neck down.

    • http://www.twitter.com/ohladyjayne allisonjayne

      Ugh. Add another point to the “I HATE THAT ANAESTHESIOLOGIST”. He broke the news about the sex of my baby to my mom (and other assembled family members) before I was even in the room. I’m still sooooo angry that he did that. I wanted to be there for that!

    • Alanna Jorgensen

      Awful! And yeah, ideally you should stop feeling pain but still be able to feel enough to push.

  • Véronique Houde

    Yesterday, a coworker of mine was telling me about the concern she had for her husband’s cousin. Her husband’s family is from Algeria, and his cousin arrived here in November and has since split from her abusive husband… My coworker started talking about the fact that she hadn’t taken prenatal classes, and didn’t seem prepared to have the child physically – being in a one bedroom apartment and not having a washer and dryer (hence handwashes her clothes). She’s usually VERY culturally sensitive and aware of differences in ways of doing things, which is why her attitude surprised me a bit. “Either way, that baby is gonna come out” I told her, after having ascertained that prenatal courses aren’t common in Algeria, and perhaps her attitude was more reflective of her cultural attitudes more than denial about the baby coming.

    But it did make me reflect of the fact that we’re so afraid of being parents and giving birth in North America that maybe we overthink things a little bit.

    • R Zhao

      As an American preparing to give birth in China, I completely agree. Things are much simpler here. I don’t think anyone talks of a birth plan and where I live there aren’t prenatal classes. I’m not saying these things can’t be useful, but I do think we’ve gotten to the point where we feel they are necessary for everyone. If you aren’t careful, you can drive yourself crazy over thinking and worrying about things that you have little to no control over.

  • Lauren_Alli

    I’m not going to be “that person” and bring you all down with my not-as-pleasant birth story. That said, I am feeling a little jealous? I guess would be the word. This is what I do. I feel jealous and scornful and then I think to myself. Why? I hate being jealous of other people’s birth experiences. I wish I could stop my brain from going there. Perhaps someday I will have my own “easier” expeirence and then I won’t get jealous anymore.

    • Kay_Sue

      (hug)

    • Lauren_Alli

      Geesh. It looks like I still managed to come across as a real debbie downer, even when I wasn’t trying. My bad! It must be chocolate-thirty.

    • Kay_Sue

      It’s always chocolate-thirty. Always.

    • EX

      You know, positive birth stories make people who have had difficult births (like you) feel bad and may give expectant mothers unrealistic expectations and negative birth stories scare the shit out of expectant mothers. Maybe we should just all stop sharing birth stories.

    • Lauren_Alli

      I do love postiive birth stories because it does give me hope that maybe it can happen for me someday. But sometimes it’s hard not to feel that these types of articles or stories are somehow insinuating that my experience was my fault or I’m “not as good” as someone else because of it. Birth trauma is seriously a really hard thing to shake. I’ve been working at it for a year and a half. I definitely agree that I wish the obsession with birth stories would fade, though, because I think all in all, it shouldn’t matter to anyone but the parents how the baby made its entrance.

    • Lilly

      The thing to remember is that while the positive birth stories are often written as if the mother did some amazing thing that made it happen, it all comes down to dumb luck.

      I had a fairly easy birth, pretty much ‘wham bam thank you ma’am’ kind of thing, but I recognize it wasn’t anything I did, other than maybe a higher than normal pain threshold.

    • Lauren_Alli

      I do know that somewhere in the back of my mind. It’s just having to force the thought to the front that is challenging! I think the intial reaction when things don’t go “right” or “normally” is to feel that it is your fault, even when you KNOW that isn’t true. I’ve come a long way, for sure, but I still can’t talk about it without tearing up and feeling instantly guilty and unequal. It is really the oddest thing I’ve ever experienced. I can live perfectly normally and happy as a clam, but the minute someone starts talking about labor, all of those initial response feelings come bubbling back to the surface. Of course, I know some people react differently than others to things. My reaction is not typical of all people who have more challenging experiences. And some people with “easy” births didn’t exactly enjoy their experience either.

    • ted3553

      As one who shared my story on this page, I don’t think that not sharing them will help. I do think stopping sharing unsolicited stories is a good idea but there’s nothing wrong with talking to others going through it about your experience. I feel terrible for mothers who have horrible birth stories and I have a friend who has one but when we’re having a conversation about birthing, I’m ok hearing her story. Does she wish her situation had gone much easier-of course, and she also understands not everyone is the same. For me, sharing experiences is how we relate and learn.

  • Joy

    Would you look at that! We have the exact same birth plan. No classes, all the drugs, come home with a baby. Boom, done. I’m glad I’m not the only slacker not planning to make placenta art or do aromatherapy or acupuncture or whatever during the birth. My doctor and her nursing staff almost hugged me when they asked if I had a birth plan and I told them this, apparently 99% of their patients have some crunchy granola weirdness planned.

    • Williwaw

      A pregnant friend of mine, when asked if she was taking prenatal classes or reading preggo literature, said, “No, I just want to be surprised.” I thought that was just awesome.

    • Jem

      I had a similar reaction when asked if I had a birth plan and I told them “to have a baby”. I think I made a nurses jaw drop and then they skipped about.

    • MellyG

      One day this will also be my exact plan: Go to hospital, take all drugs that are allowed, hope that me and baby come out of things unscathed and ok

    • Joy

      It’s funny to me that this mindset is unusual. I think people make too big a deal of planning the birth when it’s only one (or two, if you’re unlucky) days. It’s like spending two years of planning and $100k on a wedding at the expense of the marriage. I’m more interested in focusing on how to raise my son to be the kind of man I hope he becomes than how to breath or what music to listen to in the delivery room. If that stuff is important to someone, that’s great for them, but I don’t really care to spend months on end planning the birth.

    • Alanna Jorgensen

      I was actually a little panicky when I saw “birth plan” on the list of things to bring to the hospital. I thought maybe I had missed something important as I always thought the plan was to get the baby out by whatever means necessary. My birth plan was one word: epidural.

  • brebay

    If I showed up at an OB ward in labor and a nurse asked me “What’s the plan?” I would be fucking terrified! If you don’t know by now, we’re both in a shit-heap of trouble!

    • http://www.apartmentbaby.com Mama in the City

      Truthfully nurses dislike birth PLANS. However, we are game for birth wish lists. Plans always go wonky and having a strict plan (some are like 5+ pages!!) leads to disappointment.

    • Jessica

      My nurse kind of glance sideways & asked if I brought my birth plan. I laughed & told her I planned to have a baby. She was visibly relieved :) My internship in college was with teen moms & moms-to-be working towards a HS diploma or GED. I had heard enough birth stories going totally different from what was expected that I didn’t try to control mine too much.

    • Pappy

      I remember seeing “overly detailed birth plan” on a tongue-in-cheek list of “risk factors for a c-section.”

      I don’t know myself, but it makes sense that having a strict “no intervention” plan could make you more likely to have a CS, since it means you’d refuse the interventions that could help you along to a vaginal birth.

  • Robotic Arms Dealer

    Also remember ladies, if Courtney Love can drive her man to suicide… so can you!

    • Kay_Sue

      I try, but I keep failing. *sighs*

  • MellyG

    I’m totally on board with your birth plan. Also, my best friend since 7th grade is an anesthesiologist, actually head of something or other (i don’t get the hierarchy of medicine) and has promised me i won’t feel a thing so long as she’s in the room. I adore her. Good friend to have

  • SmrtGrl86

    Hahaha I wrote the exact same thing on the “special requests” area of my preregistration form “I want all the drugs”. I also professed my undying love to the tiny fellow that gave me my epidural. Good times, good times…

    • brebay

      Nothing sexier than an anesthesiologist in an OB ward! He can give you what no other man can!

  • http://www.apartmentbaby.com Mama in the City

    As a labour and delivery RN this story gave me a great chuckle!

    The thing about prenatal classes is that it really not just for you, it’s as much for your partner. It makes dealing with flustered dads (or whomever your support person is) in the delivery so much better when they know what to expect during transition or that ‘yes you have to be 10 cm dilated before she can push’. It’s also not just about breathing and pushing, prenatal classes are so much more! How to prep for success with breastfeeding, how to recognize signs of early labour so you don’t need to come into triage 5 times for us to say you are not really in labour. yada yada

    I also have to be the bad guy and say that epidurals, while a great tool at dealing labour pains, are not benign. They come with their own risk factors and often 1 intervention can lead to subsequent interventions. As long as you have done your research before agreeing to one, something that can be learned on line or at a prenatal class, than you are golden.

    Anyways, off of my soap box. I had an epidural with my 1st for a very looooooong induction of labour and purposefully chose not to get one with my second. I’m happy with both of my choices.

    The best choice is always an informed well educated choice. Whether that is for an epidural or a drug free labour.

    • http://www.twitter.com/ohladyjayne allisonjayne

      Seconding this. I know a few women who were legit surprised when their planned C-section ended up hurting afterwards because they thought it was the most painless way to go and they liked being able to plan the exact date.
      Informed choice is awesome for basically everything medical.

      Yeah, our ancestors didn’t need books and classes to push out babies, but that was also at a time when most births happened at home and all the women-folk would pitch in to help – most women had seen at least a few actual births before getting pregnant themselves.

      That said, I absolutely agree with the article in that worrying and overthinking endlessly isn’t going to accomplish a damn thing!

    • http://www.apartmentbaby.com Mama in the City

      I totally agree with what you said.

    • iamtheshoshie

      Word. I labored at home for 4 days because I really wanted an out-of-hospital birth. But when I realized, half delirious from exhaustion, that I really needed some sleep and drugs were a way to make that happen, I joyfully transferred to a hospital. In the end, I did end up with an epidural and a c-section, but I made my choices with knowledge and intention. I don’t regret waiting so long to transfer, I don’t regret asking for drugs, and I don’t regret agreeing to a c-section when baby wasn’t responding well to strong contractions.

  • MeLuRe

    Yes. This! I told them: Give me the drugs…and drugs they gave. Then it was over (1st one took waaay longer than the 2nd). Kids came out and then the real work started.

  • meteor_echo

    Oh no no no no. Courtney Love could have a dozen babies, but I still wouldn’t give birth to even one. Sorry, but the idea of pushing something the size of a melon through my vagina is horrifying to me and will be left to those who want kids. I’m not even talking about sacrificing 9 months worth of physical and mental comfort and then raising the said melon for 20-something years. Nopenopenope.

  • Karin

    Sometimes the epidural doesn’t work.

    I found this out the hard way.

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