Natural Childbirth and Marathons

So, I am not, at heart, a runner. I will jog along like a tired old mare if absolutely essential, but you are not going to make me like it. I think I can say with reasonable certainty I will never run a marathon, and you can’t make me.

But maybe marathons make you feel alive. Maybe it’s a goal you work toward in concrete steps, keeping in mind that the purpose, in the end, is to have fun, be safe and use your body — though completing the race would be beyond amazing. You read about running, you prepare for the big day, you talk about it with anyone who shows even a glimmer of interest. No one’s making you do it, but it’s something you always wanted to try, and if you pull it off, you feel rightfully proud.

I feel that way about natural childbirth. No one’s making me, but I wanted to try, for a host of noble and ignoble reasons (mostly because I’m a control freak), so I put a lot of work and reading into it, and it worked, and I’m proud (though some of that success has nothing to do with me), and I’ll talk your ear off about it if you give me a chance.

Pregnancy sucks for me, pretty unequivocally. But birth — that’s my day. I come away feeling like a shocked, tired goddess. My body, which is mostly something I drag from library to library, is reborn: I DID IT. I GOT THIS SMALL PERSON OUT OF ME!

Maybe you don’t feel that way. Maybe you feel about childbirth the way I do about marathons — why go through that much discomfort if not strictly necessary? Why suffer needlessly when you can watch your way through Downton Abbey during labor? It’s a fair question (to which I counter: why run on a Saturday morning when you could eat bacon and take a bubble bath?). Then again, maybe you like both unmedicated birth and running long distances, and to that, I say: You are so ready for the zombie apocalypse.

We can agree to disagree on these matters. While I still am going to say that I think it’s a really good idea to learn about natural labor just in case you have a lightning labor like my second one — so you know what the hell is going on if the meds don’t work out — like most of motherhood (and most of life, I guess), I think with birth you just do what seems most survivable to you, and that might look different for you than it does for me. As Amy Poehler writes on the subject in Yes, Please“Good for her! Not for me. That is the motto women should constantly repeat over and over again. Good for her! Not for me.”

But I think we can all agree that birth would be even more awesome with rainbow color powder at the finish line.

Motherhood and the Redemption of the Body

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As for me, I will read while you boulder, silly people, circa 2007.

When I was in college, I was your proverbial brain in a jar. I read and wrote all day, and grew cold on the sofa of my 80 degree studio apartment, sipping microwaved tea to warm my sedentary bones. Almost all my memories of the time are cerebral: the excitement of defending Milton’s Adam to a classroom of Satan sympathizers, the frustration of my first crack at Nicomachean Ethics.

In fact, the only real exceptions are a.) sitting outside on a warm spring day to do my reading in the cherry blossoms and b.) the terrible tension headaches that plagued me throughout college, especially my underclassman years. (Also the college cafeteria ice cream bar.)

As a stay at home mother now, I struggle to find space for the cerebral, slipping in an audiobook with chores, carving out time for a book club, writing letters to basically anyone who will write me back. On the other hand, though, in a very real sense, my babies have helped me transcend the brain-vat, into the life of the body. I feel healthier, and more whole, though I miss that dear, unbalanced, brainy old life.

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A rare pregnant day on which I did not throw up; second trimester, Dales Way, circa 2012

This wasn’t a given, going into motherhood. Pregnancy is a series of unpleasant sensations for me, and while I am indeed much more aware of my embodiedness as waves of nausea engulf me, it’s far from a pleasant experience. Give me the life of the mind any day!

So my babies surprised me. Their physical need for me — and, unexpected by me — my physical need for them. So much of my experience of motherhood, so much of my current day to day life, is centered on the body: the press of a soft, marshmallowy cheek against mine; the relief and relaxation of sleepy night nursing; a toddler making my hair “beautiful” while I pray he doesn’t get the hairbrush stuck. Now that I’m no longer cramped in the same tense position, hour upon hour, but instead constantly interrupted, my headaches have faded to the background.

And then there’s the rhythm of housework, of course. A critical eye cast to the texture of the brownie dough, when once I’d only scrounged the cafeteria. The realization that about 60% of housework is moving material objects from one room to the other.

I fall asleep at night more readily, most nights, the soft breathing of my sleeping babies in the rooms beside me. My body is squishier, but also softer, stretched and sore from lifting fifty pounds of progeny all day, from a long nap time on my feet fussing over dinner, from the weight of milk I carry.

I’d failed to realize, back then, that in giving my children their bodies, they’d give me mine.

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Mi body es su body, or something like that.