Before becoming pregnant, I never considered myself a “baby person.” Similarly, before I got engaged, I never anticipated becoming a radiant bride. I know plenty of women who claim that the siren song of motherhood has been serenading them since the day they swaddled their first Cabbage Patch Kid, that they married off their baby dolls daily, but I wasn’t one of them. And in terms of pregnancy, my assumption was that nature would take care of the planning for me. But when preparing for my wedding, I found myself on a slow descent into wedding-planning madness that hit rock bottom two days before the big day when I set out to make (that is, with paper and glue and calligraphy ink) one hundred and thirty place settings that stood up like little chairs. After the wedding, I attributed this domestic mania to a bout of temporary insanity, but I knew the urge to plan was back at some point during my first trimester when I found myself standing inside a baby boutique, paralyzed before an array of sleep sacks and caps, unable to decide which one I wanted my baby to wear home from the hospital.
I eventually made a decision, but soon after began wondering what I was going to wear to the hospital – standard gown or home-brought outfit – and who did I want in the hospital with me, and did I need to go to a hospital in the first place?
The number of choices pregnant women are presented with today is dizzying for some, intoxicating for others. As we’ve all heard from mothers and grandmothers, it didn’t used to be this way. Not only was my own grandmother not presented with an overwhelming menu of labor choices, the few she did make – going to a hospital to deliver, for example – were almost completely erased from her memory by the cocktail of drugs commonly used at the time to induce twilight sleep. I certainly don’t envy her this labor experience, the passivity and imposed submissiveness of it. But I do sometimes wonder if I’ve allowed my own birthing preparation to drift too far in the opposite direction, reaching the point where it seems more like a grand orchestration than a natural life-process.
The madness began early on with my quest for the right pregnancy book. Heading to the bookstore during my second month, I naively assumed there would be a few choices, that I’d browse through them and probably end up going with the book that had the cutest fetal development pictures. Instead I was greeted with an entire section of prenatal literature, a section so big it required subsections on natural childbirth and unplanned pregnancies, pregnancy over forty and professional women’s pregnancy, books written by M.D.s and nurses, doulas and hypnotists, humorists and feminists. Apparently, I was going to have to do some research before I began my research.
And this situation was only a warm-up. It quickly became clear to me that pregnancy was no longer simply a physiological state; it was a state of mind as well. When I mentioned to a pregnant friend that I wasn’t giving up soft cheese, that my doctor had said it was fine as long as it was pasteurized, she looked at me as if I’d just taken a crack pipe out of my pocket. When I admitted in my natural-leaning birthing prep class that I was still open to pain medication, the room fell silent. Looks were exchanged. I saw opportunities for future playdates disintegrating before my eyes. In this sort of atmosphere, it’s not hard to begin viewing every decision you make about pregnancy and labor as a reflection of your personality, a highly-stylized armor with which you can protect yourself against the exigency inherent in growing, then expelling, another person from your body. In this sense, labor day is heading in the direction of the wedding day, an event where every detail and decision is bestowed with such significance that normal women find themselves disappearing inside the whirlwind.
Labor day is heading in the direction of the wedding day, an event where every detail and decision is bestowed with such significance that normal women find themselves disappearing inside the whirlwind.And as with wedding planning, I’ve found myself to be disturbingly susceptible to the trend. Before deciding on a hospital, I toured five labor and delivery units, ruling out one because the lighting in the birthing rooms was too harsh, another because one of the nurses seemed to have a surly look about her. I started packing my overnight bag for the hospital three months before my due date (you never know if you’ll go early!), packing it and then repacking it when I had stuffed it past the point of zipping, then re-packing it again when I decided a streamlined approach was superior. I even spent a whole afternoon debating the pros and cons of a pre-labor bikini wax with my sister: on the one hand, lying on my back deprives my baby of oxygen; on the other hand, aren’t things going to be messy enough down there?
Most people have known or heard of a woman who, at some point during her engagement, devolved into a “bridezilla,” a once-sane woman with a wide range of interests transforming into a single-minded monster incapable of any thought or conversation that doesn’t involve the big day. My fear is that we former bridezillas are now at risk of becoming babyzillas. After putting embarrassing wedding obsessions behind us, we’re presented with so many birthing options, we sometimes lose sight of the fact that labor is a means, not an end – just as many zealous brides find themselves forgetting that in addition to having a wedding, they’re getting married.
“You know, no matter what you decide about all this, when the time comes, it’s probably going to suck.”For me, this insight hit home during a conversation with a friend. I was second-guessing my decision to change from an O.B. to a midwife, agonizing over the option of a water birth, wondering if I was really natural childbirth material, when my friend interrupted and said, “You know, no matter what you decide about all this, when the time comes, it’s probably going to suck. No one thinks labor is fun. But you’ll live through it, and when it’s over, you’ll get to meet your baby.”
Not so long after this conversation, I experienced another epiphany, and this one came in my midwife’s office when I found myself laughing at the woman who was going to preside over my delivery. I laughed because in reminding us to turn in our birth plan to the practice, she said, “All that we ask is that you keep it under ten pages.” Under ten pages? Was she referring, I wondered, to standard sheets of paper? What was the minimum requirement in that case? I was suddenly transported to my undergraduate days, wondering how I might fudge the font and margins, because after eight months of obsessing over every detail of my impending labor experience, staying awake more nights than I care to admit, weighing and re-weighing big decisions like the kind of provider I would use, and small ones, such as which songs belonged on my labor playlist, every preference and impending choice somehow leading to five more, I had finally determined that my birth planning days were over.
Four weeks away from the big day, utterly enormous and more than ready to meet and hold and fuss over the little person who up until now I’ve known mostly by the jab of his heel, I’m feeling more confident than ever about my decision to stop deciding. I’m beginning to think that the second I see my baby, all the decisions about doulas and epidurals will seem as important as that five-hundred-dollar wedding cake fondant, which melted into goo while I was busy dancing.