A Homebirth with the Terminator
By Joanne Rendell
Web Exclusive - January 8, 2007
Homebirth and Terminator movies are an unlikely double feature. Women don’t usually give birth to the strains of gun fire, screeching wheels, and Arnold Schwarzenegger’s “I’ll be back.” It’s an odd, perhaps ridiculous, scenario. Nevertheless, it’s what I did.
So how, exactly, did a blockbuster action flick factor into my son’s birth? I suppose it started with the woman warrior. If I’d never seen that drawing his arrival would probably have been a more run-of-the-mill affair. I can’t remember exactly where I first spied it—the pen and ink picture of the woman brandishing an ornate shield, with a long sword by her side—but I do remember I was four months pregnant and still undecided about where I was going to give birth. The hospital and home both had their own pros and cons in my book, and neither had emerged as the obvious or right choice yet.
The drawing of the warrior woman captured my attention because of something I had heard at a birthing class, just a couple of days prior. The class’s instructor, a slightly imposing woman who claimed she “loved” giving birth, had encouraged us to banish thoughts of birthing women in passive, sickly, lying-down kinds of roles. To give birth, she explained, was to struggle long and hard, and we’d need to call up all kinds of strength, to endure, to sweat, to scream, to battle onward towards victory. She repeatedly told the room of expectant mothers that we were going to be “fighters…warriors!"
At the time, I didn’t buy it. I smirked at my neighbor and decided the instructor, with her “pain-embracing,” exercises, was a whack-job. However, when I encountered the drawing of the woman warrior a few days later, a link was forged. Something about her beautiful, stoic, strong, determined, femininity reminded me of a group of women dear to my heart: action movie heroines.
Suddenly, the idea of being a warrior in birth became appealing. It resonated. I embraced the idea that I could be Uma Thurman in Kill Bill. I could be Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon’s Michelle Yeoh. Or Geena Davis in A Long Kiss Goodnight. Angelina Jolie in Tomb Raider. Or Demi Moore in G.I. Jane (bad movie, I admit, but you can’t help admiring Demi for those one-armed press-ups).
As I connected the dots (the powerful drawing, the birth class instructor’s fervent message, and my abiding affinity for Uma and the other ladies), my decision of where to birth emerged, strong and clear. Forget the hospital, with its creepy instruments, endless monitoring, and veiled promise of sterile, medicated birth. If my partner could deal with the mess, I would confront the intensity, and together we would welcome the mystery. “Bring it on!” I shouted out loud, “I’m going to give birth, warrior-style, at home.”
To access and develop my warrior self, I decided I needed help. All the homebirth literature I read prescribed distraction and encouragement as the two “musts” of labor. Homebirth veterans talked of baking cakes and ironing. It was written that one woman even painted an entire staircase between contractions. For encouragement, these women looked to loving partners, doulas, or to other women who had been through the same experience.
Of course, I too would need a team of cheerleaders: the midwife, a doula, and my partner. But, I also decided that the best way to be both distracted from the slings and arrows of labor and encouraged in my warrior ways was to watch action movie heroines doing their kickass stuff.
But who would I chose? Uma, Michelle Yeoh, Angelina? Who was to be my companion, my sister warrior? I racked my brain. None of them seemed quite right. They all seemed too beautiful, too lithe, too nimble. Even when bloodied and gashed, they were somehow too, well, too perfect for this occasion.
Then it struck me: Terminator’s Linda Hamilton…a.k.a. Sarah Connor, her character in the film. She’s the one, I thought. Okay, in the first Terminator movie she’s a bit fluffy with that nasty 80’s hairdo and Dynasty-inspired blouses. She definitely has an edge though. Not everyone can survive the Terminator’s ruthless pursuit and then finally crush him in a giant, super-industrial metal press. By Terminator 2, whoa, she’s buff, she’s hard, she’s mad, and she’s intense. If you’ve seen the movie, you must remember her chin-ups: biceps bulging, face steely, jaw set. She’s a woman you don’t want to mess with.
Why her though? In short, because she’s a mother. A mother who is charged with summoning infinite inner resources, laying her own life on the line, sacrificing everything to protect her son and his vital role in the future of the world. In Terminator 2, she is not only mother and protector, but also fearless, intrepid leader, as she trains son John for his rebellious future—expending enormous effort and limitless will to stop the pesky forthcoming nuclear holocaust. This is one, resilient, gritty, unstoppable, mama—just the inspiration, I thought, for my warrior homebirthing self.
My first contractions came in the wee hours. Generally not in prime functioning mode when woken from my slumbers, I felt none too warrior-like. I just felt tired, woozy and irritable. I took a bath with bubbles—not very kickass, I admit—but it helped me relax, collect my thoughts and think, “Sarah Connor. What would Sarah do?” Feeling a little more pumped and positive about the fight ahead, I slipped back into bed and managed to get some sleep.
By morning, the contractions were coming more regularly and more painfully. I gritted my teeth and did some laundry. Again, not very kickass, but I had read that doing household chores could help ease labor pains. I reassured myself that women warriors probably do their own laundry. Who else would wash their bloody clothes or mend their gashed fight suits?
When walking became painful and loading the dryer impossible, I told my partner, “It’s time for Terminator.” We only had the first two movies. Terminator 3 was not available to rent yet. I wasn’t too worried. Surely I’d be done by the end of Terminator 2!? The VCR was turned on. The first movie started. I settled down in front of the television. In between gripping sofa cushions in pain, I ate Powerbars and drank Gatorade. Indispensable fuel for a modern day warrior.
With Sarah Connor and the Terminator on the screen, my labor progressed. Everything was pretty easy at first. The contractions felt like bad period pains and were definitely less important than whether Arnold Schwarzenegger in his Terminator garb was going to get to Sarah Connor.
Then, just as he caught up with her and the chase started in earnest, my contractions got really painful. As I grappled with the increased sensation, something strange happened. I started focusing on the Terminator, not Sarah. It’s not that Connor wasn’t being kickass. She was. I think it was something to do with the gruesome way the Terminator was being shot up, broken, and mangled in the pursuit of his victim. After one altercation with Connor, for instance, the Terminator has to sew up his cyborg skin and take out his damaged eye. In a weird way it was comforting to me, writhing in labor, to see someone else enduring something painful, something over the edge. Watching the Terminator, I wasn’t alone.
This feeling of solidarity with Schwarzenegger only intensified in the second movie, as he morphed into a good Terminator, sent back to save John Connor, not to exterminate him. It’s funny, when I’ve re-watched this second movie since Benny’s birth, I’ve noticed something. Something that might explain my sense of companionship with the Terminator. In this movie he is the kickass mama. Sarah Connor has buffed up, collected a pile of mean looking weapons, and acts tough, remote and, well, rather fatherly with her son. The Terminator, on the other hand, is kind, protective, attentive, and even loving toward the young John Connor. As Sarah Connor observes, “The Terminator would never stop, it would never leave him, it would never hurt him, never shout at him or get drunk and hit him, or say it was too busy to spend time with him. It would always be there.”
I’m not sure whether, in the throes of my increasingly painful contractions, I really noticed this motherliness on Schwarzenegger’s part. Whether I did or not, there was no doubt that it was the Terminator who was my focus and my companion. As the movie’s chase scenes ensued, my contractions were coming every minute or so. They slammed through my body, sucking me up to their inevitable peak and spitting me out, exhausted, the other side.
Sometimes at the crest of one of these contractions, as I cried out in pain, my partner or my midwife would stop the movie to attend to me, to make sure I was okay. Every time I would demand, even scream, “Turn it back on!” The explosions, the gunfire, the squealing wheels, were strangely soothing.
Most of all, however, it was the Terminator—my comfort, my compadre, my inspiration. As he was crushed or shot or maimed, I endured and experienced my own bodily pain. As he rose again, his red eyes glowing, I too would come alive, as the wave of my latest contraction ebbed away. We went on like that together, writhing then surviving, writhing then surviving.
My labor went on much longer than Terminator 2. I’m not sure how many times the movie was replayed. I’m not even sure whether it was still replaying when Benny finally, finally, was born. By that time, Sarah Connor and the Terminator could have been square dancing with the Pope and I would not have noticed. Ultimately, pushing and breathing, pushing and breathing, were all I could focus on.
What I do know, however, is that Schwarzenegger, the Terminator, saved me. He got me through some of the longest, most painful moments of my life. Without him, I would have never made it to that moment, when my newborn was laid on my chest. That moment of utter joy and utter relief. That moment when all the pain, sweat, and tears of battle seemed a distant memory. That moment I looked down at my tiny, writhing, wrinkled, beautiful Benny. Without the Terminator’s companionship, I wouldn’t have managed it. I wouldn’t have been half the kickass warrior mama.
And one last thing. Throughout both movies, the Terminator gets mangled, torn apart, squashed, and shredded. At the end of Terminator 1, he’s finally crushed in that industrial metal press. In the finale of the sequel, he’s liquefied in a vat of molten metal. I am pleased to say I fared a little better than my compadre. Sure, I was bruised and swollen and my body ached like it had never ached before. But I was whole, and totally present. Pretty kickass, I reckon.
Joanne Rendell has a PhD in literature, a three year old son, piles of unlaundered 3T clothing, and a collector’s edition DVD of Terminator 2. She lives in New York City and is currently finishing two novels: “The Professor’s Wives Club” and “The Trouble with Cassandra Gallaway” (with Jay Fisher). Joanne blogs at Getcrafty.com and her column, “A Laptop-Naptime Mama,” can be found at Rolemommy.com.