Sometimes I stub my toe and I’m like, “Oh god, that really hurt, and I bet like one contraction is twenty times that. Or maybe fifty times that. Wait. Could I calculate how much worse than that a contraction would actually hurt? A million times, probably. Yeah, a million. That sounds right. I definitely can’t do this.”
I really want to focus on the baby. But birth is so damn distracting. It’s just looming there, at the end of pregnancy, like this massive Mount Doom with Sauron’s fiery eye flicking vigilantly back and forth above. I am definitely Frodo in my birth story, with the wide, terrified eyes.
It is possible that I am making birth into too much of a big deal in my head. “My mother did this before me, and my grandmother, and her mother, and her grandmother,” is one of the mantras on the sheet that my doula gave me, which I should be practicing every night, but which I have neglected because really, isn’t television just as meditative, in a way?
I hope that I won’t go into labor when I’m in a bad mood. I hope I will be feeling very positive just then. I am worried about my mood having a big impact on the quality of my labor. It would be lame to have a terrible labor just because I’d been pissy at the start, or agonizing over how flabby my arms have gotten. You can’t feel like a fertility earth mother goddess when you’re worrying about your flabby arms. And it’s definitely best, as far as I can tell, to feel like a fertility earth mother goddess while giving birth.
“I am worried about not feeling empowered enough,” I confided reluctantly in my midwife, since she seemed to be the one I owed a preemptive explanation to—you know, for all the barfing and pooping I’ll probably do on her, during the birth.
To my surprise, she smiled and said, “You don’t have to be empowered. You really don’t have to have a birthing ‘experience.’ You can just have a baby. That’s the whole point.”
“Actually,” she said, “You will. No matter what, whether you’re afraid or happy or whatever, you’re going to have a baby.”
“I guess that’s true.”
She nodded. “It’s true.” And she would know.
“Birth,” she added, “is just a bridge.”
“What if I’m never the same again?” I said in a timid little voice I hardly recognized. I wasn’t even sure what I meant. My thighs, I think. The skin under my belly button. Also my brain, my goals, my ontological potential.
“You won’t be,” she said, without even pausing to think about it. “You won’t ever be the same again.”
“Oh.” We looked at each other. Her gaze was even, gentle, as though she had grown accustomed to breaking this kind of terrifying news to women on a regular basis. There was a long silence, and my baby kicked me, viciously, in the ribs and head-butted my cervix. I winced as sparks of agony burned briefly through me.
Before this, my cervix was just a sort of gross word, something largely useless, unimportantly located, like a gall bladder. Recently, my cervix has become the source of a particular and horrible pain. It has become the gateway through which my baby will enter into the light. My cervix will probably never be the same. I will never be the same. I am now a woman fully in possession of a functioning, essential cervix. I am now a woman who will birth a baby. Whose body and mind will forever be changed. Even though I don’t even feel old enough. Even though I am not sure that I am close to being ready to be a mother. Even though I like my vagina the way it is and I don’t want to see a placenta in person, ever, if I can help it. I will do this, like a hero. Like a regular woman. Like my mother.
Birth is a bridge, I think, later that night, watching a fast-paced, bloody spy show on TV instead of reciting soothing labor mantras (this is probably why my baby is already so violent). From this to motherhood. From here to the rest of my life. And sometimes, weirdly, for reasons I can’t possibly begin to understand, for a few seconds at least, I am ready. I am badass. I am so brave and excited and oddly optimistic. I can’t even wait. I may be the slightest bit empowered.
This is an excerpt from Kate Fridkis's new book, Growing Eden, Twenty-something and pregnant in New York City. You can now find it on Amazon UK and iBooks AU.