May 1st, 2006

I’m sitting at dinner with S and T, two friends from college. We’ve just witnessed a massively pregnant woman at a nearby table rise awkwardly and be escorted from the restaurant, in the type of hurry that can only mean one thing. Blank looks pass across our faces as we realize what this woman is about to experience.

“Yikes. She was tiny. I don’t even want to think about how she’s going to squeeze out a baby-sized object,” S remarks.

“I’ve seen smaller women deliver. They manage,” T replies with a shrug. A brand new med school graduate, she’s about to begin her residency in emergency medicine. Hearing her response, S and I stare with the mild disbelief of twentysomethings who can’t quite fathom that the college friends who used to thrash us in 3 A.M. beer pong tournaments are now delivering babies.

“Good God. How do they do it? Don’t answer that. Not while we’re eating,” S says, gulping her margarita.

“Thank God we’re the lucky ones, we have drugs and modern medicine. It seems like the whole experience isn’t so bad. I’ve never heard anyone say it was the worst thing they ever went through,” I toss in.

“Yeah well there’s a reason they don’t say that,” T says drily.

“Because they’re so happy about the baby?” I ask.

“No, because they’ve blocked out most of their memory of the experience. That’s what most people do when they go through a major trauma.”

I blink, processing her words. “Trauma? I’ve never heard it described like that.”

T lowers her fork and gives me a pointed look. “Guys, 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.”

“There’s a pleasant way to lose control of your bowels?” I ask a bit too loudly. A group of preppy men in the adjacent table shoot us alarmed glances.

“I’m serious. My friend in med school had a baby six months ago. She gave herself enemas every day starting a week before her due date, just because she didn’t want it to happen to her.”

S and I exchange horrified looks.

“I’m sorry, but that is flat out awful. No wonder women used to have their babies out in the middle of wheat fields – at least then no one was standing around watching their bodies dismantle themselves,” I reply, shoving a bite of enchilada into my mouth and willing the mental image of my body collapsed on a sterile delivery slab to vanish.

“What can I say, it’s all true.”

I’m suddenly indignant. “What the hell? How come no one ever tells you these things? How come the only thing people talk about is how beautiful and moving and amazing the ‘experience’ is?” I’m gesturing wildly, gaining momentum. “‘The Miracle of Childbirth’ people say. Oh yeah, great. Not once has anyone ever mentioned that the agony and horror of the whole thing are so great you shit yourself in front of a room full of people and you’re too traumatized to even care.”

S is looking green. “Can we change the subject? Feeling a little sick here guys.”

T shrugs. “People don’t want to remember the awful details. We give them drugs so they don’t remember. And now they have a baby, which is definitely amazing.”

We nod in unison; this is not a group with any doubts about its desire to eventually have children.

“Seriously though, I’ll give you some advice,” T continues. “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.”

We’re staring in rapt attention, our mouths slightly open as we carve her words into memory. Elective C-section – check. No standing at my feet – check. After a minute of weighty silence, we turn back to our food.

“Hey S, are you gonna eat that?” I point my fork at her grilled salmon.

“Take it. Take the whole thing. I don’t think I’m going to be eating again for a very long time.”

Comments are closed.