Why so many pursue the challenges of motherhood
After eight hours of labor, a sort of delirium set in. My conscious brain was no longer in control. I fell into a sleep-like stupor between contractions, as if my body insisted on resting up for what was ahead. When each contraction began, I regained minimal consciousness, just enough to grip the hospital bed rail and attempt to breathe through the pain.
I refused pain meds, not out of bravery, but of fear. It was the mid-’90s, and we were stationed in Monterey, Calif., where the “crunchy” nurses who taught our prenatal classes said that natural childbirth decreased my chances of having a C-section. (During my third pregnancy, I decided those nurses were as nutty as their banana muffins, because epidurals are magical.)
A few hours later, my body had taken complete control, and ordered me to push. In my delirium, I thought birth was imminent, but it took three more hours before the last excruciating push produced our nine-pound baby boy, a severe perennial tear, ruptured vessels turning my eyes’ whites blood red, and a lifetime of parental responsibilities.
Mine is not a unique story. Childbirth has happened more than 100 billion times since homo sapiens first walked the Earth 50,000 years ago. Anyone who’s been to a baby shower knows how the storytelling gets started. “When I was in labor,” sparks the conversation, and before you’ve had a chance to finish your cake, you’ve heard about Karen’s 22-hour labor, Bonnie’s mucus plug and Janelle’s episiotomy.
Billions of awful childbirth stories begs the question, “Why?”
A few days after the birth of my son, my extended family came to our Fort Ord house to see the baby. “What?” I said to my brother, who was staring at me with a grimaced face.
After a few minutes of thought, he pondered, “Men talk about how much weight they can lift or whatever, but I’ve never known any man who would volunteer to do something physical that he knew could cause him to burst all the blood vessels in his eyes or tear his own flesh.”
He was right — the fact that women voluntarily subject their bodies to the physical pain and bodily injuries of childbirth is mind-boggling, which again begs the question — Why do we do it?
Despite all the horror stories about labor, childbirth, postpartum depression, stretch marks, sleepless nights, diaper blow-outs, tantrums, infuriating defiance, back-talking teenagers, college bills and other negatives of parenting, motherhood is, without a doubt, a winning value proposition.
Mothers may enjoy telling dramatic labor and delivery stories, but they often leave out the most important part: the moment they held their babies for the first time.
Twenty-six years later, I can still feel him, smell him, see him, like it was yesterday.
After that final push, my eyes followed him from the hands of the doctor to the nurse and to my chest. I didn’t feel any pain — although the doctor was still prodding and poking to deliver the placenta and stitch me up — only the warm softness of my baby’s skin on mine, the sweet smell of him, and a gush of primal emotion that could only be described as human love.
That night in the hospital, after baths, eyedrops and Apgar tests were complete, I didn’t sleep. Despite my exhausted delirium during labor, I lay awake in my room’s dim light, with my nose and lips pressed gently on my baby boy’s petal-soft head, feeling his warm body snuggled into mine, looking down at his perfectly formed eyelashes, pink lips, fingers and toes, listening intently to his contented newborn squeaks.
Despite my actual physical condition, that moment, along with the post-birth hours after each of my daughters were born, was the best I’ve ever felt in my entire life. Each instance bonded me inextricably to my children and my role as their mother, forever. Women are instilled with a powerful natural tendency that transcends pain, inconvenience and self-preservation, and makes women’s role in society supremely important — the instinct to nurture and grow other living beings.
Happy Mother’s Day to all the women who’ve known the bliss of nurturing those you love.