When I was 17 my friend John told me that his mother said having a baby was like trying to push a watermelon out your rear end.
Sound like fun? Not really. “Fun” and “labor” aren’t two words you usually read in the same sentence.
But labor actually can be fun. Really and truly. Here’s how:
1) Keep a sense of humor and have someone tell you dumb jokes: Laughter is better than valium when it comes to relaxing and when a woman in labor laughs her body loosens up and opens up. In my third labor I remember telling the homebirth midwife, “Okay, I’m ready for an epidural.” She smiled at me. “I’ve got it out in my truck,” she said. We both cracked up and pretty soon after I was in transition. My husband has sort of a sadistic sense of humor and his jokes were so un-funny during my fourth labor (and all at my expense) that they became hilarious (granted, I was a little hysterical by that point anyway).
2) Get in warm water: A lot of women swear by birthing pools, but the idea of sharing my bath with unsightly bodily fluids and maybe a placenta has never exactly appealed to me. But labor is the one time in your life when you can take a shower for as long as you want without feeling guilty about wasting water. In real life I take care of shower business in about three minutes and spend the next two minutes feeling overindulgent (we have a little hourglass in the shower that indicates when five minutes is up and it’s time to get out. My best friend works for the Department of Environmental Quality and spent years on water issues…) A no-guilt shower is such a luxury, I think I’ll have another baby just to get a chance to take another.
3) Remember the women who have gone before you: At some point when you’re in labor you decide you’re going to explode. Then you remember the experience you’re having connects you to all the women in the world who have gone before you, including your mom and your grandmothers. During my last birth I found myself thinking with great awe about some of the women whose stories I had read on the Internet, like Heather Cushman Dowdee’s, and about women in my family, and the amazing woman I met in person who had birthed six children unassisted (and one totally by herself with no one else even there). Labor lets you get all mushy-gushy touchy-feely about stuff like that. And takes you to a Zen place that gives you endorphins. Okay so Thich Nhat Hahn feels that every day but he never got to s–t a watermelon.
4) Smooch with your husband: That’s right. Kiss him. If you relax the lips on your face, the lips on your you-know-where relax also. There’s something counterintuitive about making out in labor. Which is funny. Which brings us back to #1. And kissing (or in this case not kissing) is always fun.
5) Don’t look at the clock: Though your birth attendants may not agree, there’s a timelessness to being in labor. Time gets suspended. Time stops. You don’t actually age (that’s why that reality TV show lady with the 19 kids looks so young). You can have fun with this timelessness by unplugging all the clocks and hiding your watch under the bed (like insomnia, it’s better not to know how long it’s taking).
6) Be curious about what’s happening in your body: You can float outside your body, like Annie Hall, while you’re in labor and use your mind to be interested in all of the sensations you’re feeling. The more intense it gets, the more your body is opening up to make space for the baby. You can think of it as good pain. Or even not as pain at all but as a curious sensation you have the privilege of experiencing. James kept saying, “You have a finite number of contractions. You’re getting through it.” That distracted me into wondering if it were true, did I really have a finite number of contractions? Was I really getting through them? Paying attention to how each contraction (or rush or power surge or wave or whatever you want to call them) feels, and how different they are from each other, is an amazing (okay so maybe it’s not “fun”) experience.
7) You get to have a baby at the end: When I was in labor with Leone the fact that there was a baby in there was actually no comfort at all during the labor. But then all of a sudden, in a rush of fluid, a human baby, a real live bona fide tiny human person, came into the world who had not been there a moment before. James and I both caught her. She cried and spluttered and coughed. You are having a baby (unless you’re actually pregnant with an elephant), and that’s the most fun of all.
What about you? If you have children, what strategies did you use to get through labor? If you’re pregnant, how do you plan to have fun at the birth?