Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Anxiety, Committment, and Childbirth, Oh My!

I remember the first time I really understood how babies are born. It involved a conversation between my aunts about being cut verses tearing down there. I was shocked and a bit scared to hear the discussion, let alone wrap my mind around the fact that I am a woman. I may have to go through this some day. Being all of ten-years-old, I quickly brushed it off. My aunts did it. My mom did it. Plenty of women gave birth. When the time came, I would, too. Simple.

Most girls and women I know who haven't given birth - including myself - cringe when talking about it. Cringe with fear of the unknown. Cringe with fear of the Worst Pain Ever. Cringe with fear of wondering, "Could I do that?"

I always assumed that when my time came, I would face childbirth with confidence and calm. I would feel prepared and ready. I would know I could do it. I would accept the intense pain because such joy and goodness would come from it.

Well, friends, I'll be 'full term' in a month and I am far from confident or calm. It's a bit of a roller coaster - one minute, I know I can do it; the next, I'm doubting my ability to handle pain. One minute, I am excited to experience childbirth and see our baby's first breath; the next, I am terrified as to how exactly this baby will fit out that little space. One minute, I'm teary-eyed and watching a birthing video as the parents see their baby for the first time; the next, I'm grimacing as I look into the mother's eyes as she experiences pain worse than she's ever imagined. One minute, I'm reminding myself of my strength and perseverance; the next, I'm reminding myself I thought I was going to die running a 10K last July. One minute, anxiety and worry about all of this seems normal and natural; the next, I feel like a crazy person for worrying daily and dreaming nightly about giving birth. (Mostly dreams where I'm done and tweet to the world something like, "I DID IT!!! It WASN'T that bad!" Yes, I tweet in my dreams.)

It's not that I haven't been preparing mentally and physically - Mike and I are taking Bradley childbirth classes, I am doing yoga and other exercises daily to prepare my body to give birth, I am making sure not to gain excessive weight, I am practicing relaxing, Mike is practicing massages on me, and we're both reading books to educate ourselves on the process of labor and birth.

Maybe it's the added pressure to do this all-natural. Uh, that's right. Somewhere in the past six months I decided to try and avoid pain medication during labor and birth.

I know birth choices are a touchy topic, but I want to discuss this because I think it’s a part of my Big, Bad Birth Anxiety. So, let me stop right here and say that a) I don't think pain medication is bad at ALL and good LORD, it's especially not bad during childbirth, b) this birth may or may not go according to plan and I recognize that, c) even declaring this on my blog gives me hives because, What if I let myself down?

At first, I felt the pressure from my family - my mom and most of her six sisters have given birth naturally, with rave reviews about natural childbirth. "Well, that's nice," I always thought, "But we'll see."

I am preparing for natural, with a wiiiide open mind for whatever this childbirth and labor will be like. I'm holding myself to the ideal, while trying not to be overly rigid with my hopes for myself. I know me. I know that I hate "declaring" anything about myself because I don't enjoy being judged or judging myself based on my ability to fulfill my expectations for myself.  Declaring a commitment to something  means failure is a possibility.

(I didn't call myself a vegetarian for a looong time because I don't like committment. I don't like meat, but I really don't like declaring myself something. What if I change my mind? Turns out I'll most likely never change my mind about being a vegetarian and declaring myself one just makes it easier for other people to understand my eating choices.)

So, I'm considering my desire for natural childbirth a casual commitment of sorts. I'm reading every birth-sans-drugs story I can get my hands on (Dooce's and Arwen's were both fabulously interesting, by the way) to help with the anxiety. Telling myself that real people do this and that I most likely won't die of pain.

Most likely, anyway. And I might even come out on the other side saying things like it was a spiritual, sublime, uplifting experience. Or, it might just hurt like hell.
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