Saturday, May 13, 2006

Everyone's an Expert (or, The Real Poop on Giving Birth)

The thing about giving birth is that it is not an experience that can be explained easily. The sensations are really not like any other sensations, but we nevertheless try to compare them to other experiences, whether real ("like really bad menstrual cramps") or imagined ("like having a truck smash into you").

But we also have a sort of collective ignorance about childbirth in the U.S. We're entirely divorced from the event unless it's happening to us. I mean, really, how many of us have had the chance to be present at a birth when we're not the one giving birth? We don't have the opportunity to share in the experience, so we have no first-hand knowledge to draw from. And so we rely for our information on other people, and on other people's horror stories, and we act as if, having a little information, we know all of the answers.

This is one of those situations in which a little information can be a dangerous thing., a blog I usually enjoy, recounted a discussion about birth by three twenty-somethings, one of whom, "T," was "a brand new med school graduate." What shocked me about this is that T - straight out of med school, people - made this comment:
“I’ve assisted with at least a dozen deliveries, and watched a lot of different types of surgery; childbirth is the worst. The pain is so horrible and incredible that you, uh, well there’s no way to say this nicely. You lose control of your bowels, to put it clinically. And not in a pleasant way.”

This is going to sound snarky - but it struck me as a typical (childless) twenty-something thing to say. It's the kind of thing that you say to your friends when you have a little bit of knowledge that they don't, and it makes you sound very important and like you know what you're talking about. Especially if you're just out of med school.

But T was wrong.

Do women sometimes poop in the process? Let's be honest: of course. I did. So did many of my friends. But not from PAIN, T, you numbskull! And it was hardly a case of loss of control. I mean, think about it. You're pushing this large object out of your body. Bearing down and straining. Sound like any other activity? Of COURSE you're going to defecate at some point!

Further, T added:
"Two rules for when you’re pregnant. One: schedule an elective C-section for the delivery. It’s a small scar, not a big procedure, you get more time off from work because you had surgery, and you don’t have to deal with stuff like enemas and vaginal stitches. Two: if you do end up giving birth the regular way, don’t let your husband stand at your feet. No way should he ever see something come out of you like that. He’ll never look at you the same way again afterwards. I’m sorry but it’s true."

This is exactly the reason why so many in the "natural birth movement" are so freaked out by the medical establishment. It is yet another case of the medical establishment scaring the crap (pun intended) out of women who haven't yet given birth - but scaring them right into unnecessary surgery?! Don't have that nasty vaginal delivery, ladies - have major surgery instead. You won't be able to walk for a while, you are more likely to have trouble breastfeeding, you are at risk for a spinal headache (which is reportedly worse than labor) - but you won't have to "deal with" enemas.

Look, don't get me wrong: I'm grateful that we have drugs and surgery available for cases that require it. A couple of my friends had to have Caesarian births, and I'm glad and relieved for them that this was an option. But geez - it's one thing to have a Caesarian because you NEED it. It's another to have one because you're scared and you don't want your childbirth experience to be embarrassing or messy. (Or painful - just for a contrasting opinion, I didn't have the easiest labor, and I remember thinking, "this is like my qualifying exams - I just have to do it, and it's over." And frankly, I'd rather go through another labor than another qualifying exam.)

And about this "no way should he ever see something come out of you like that...I'm sorry but it's true" business. Another line from the mouths of babes. Ask someone who has been married for a while about marriage and how married people view their spouses. Better still - ask your grandparents this question. Just speculating, here, but...if you're married to a man who thinks watching his child be born is gross - when, let's remember, YOU'RE the one doing the work - shouldn't you maybe be married to someone else? Because one of these days, this is the person you hope will be willing to empty your bed pan (which is what my partner did for me when I hurt my back and literally couldn't move for a week). This is the person who you hope will clean the bathroom when a stomach virus hits and the toilet backs up (I've done that job). If I recall correctly, those vows say something about "for better or for worse, in sickness and in health," not "until one of fails to maintain our Brazilian waxes."

I'm not saying that everyone has to be comfortable with blood and gore and feces. I'm just saying that if the process of birth doesn't make you love your wife a little more, or if it makes you think she's less hot, then maybe you don't deserve to be a father OR a husband. And she certainly deserves better.

Real life is not the stuff of Harlequin Romances or even Sex and The City. It is not clean, folks. It ain't pretty. It is very often embarrassing. But it's real.

I'm sorry, but it's true.


Sally Pepper said...

"T" from the blog is a complete moron. As a young med school graduate and a woman, she is giving the medical establishment a bad name. I am not a member of the "natural birth movement" and always preferred to be in a strictly medical environment with an M.D. attending to me when I had my children. I must point out that I never, ever felt pressured to have a c-section, and I never heard any horror stories or strange anecdotes from my doctor or nurses. In fact, the physicians who delivered my children both preferred not to intervene medically if they could avoid it.

As a mother who has had two c-sections (not elective), I would never recommend that someone choose an elective c-section. That's ridiculous -- nature has given us the ways and means to give birth, and if we're able to do it that way, we should. Although my c-sections were relatively pain-free (I would describe them more as uncomfortable, as in extreme stiffness of the abdominal muscles afterwards), I would certainly have avoided major surgery (twice!) if I could've.

You are exactly right about the "in sickness and in health" aspect of one's partner seeing one in not-so-pretty situations. My husband didn't even think twice when I needed help in the bathroom or with my incision or with breastfeeding, and I didn't think twice about him seeing me in any of those situations. It just didn't matter.

As I have often said, pregnancy and childbirth aren't for wimps, and people like T aren't helping by adding incorrect information and horror stories to the mix.

Anonymous said...

T is not such a moron... I am a woman, married, and I still have to poo in front of my husband and he in front of me. sorry, but our intimacy lies somewhere :(
As for the bedpan, there are nurses for that. If I was lying as you describe, the last person I would wish to empty the bedpan would be my husband !

bobvis said...

“I’ve assisted with at least a dozen deliveries, and watched a lot of different types of surgery; childbirth is the worst. The pain is so horrible and incredible that you, uh, well there’s no way to say this nicely. You lose control of your bowels, to put it clinically. And not in a pleasant way.”

When I first read this, I thought the *speaker* was admitting that she soiled herself when watching childbirth. Serves her right. :)