Any pregnant woman wants a how-to manual on her nightstand — and for good reason. But for all their usefulness, books like “What to Expect When You’re Expecting” can’t speak to the infinitely intimate, lived experience of labor and delivery.
As Dani Shapiro puts it in an essay that’s part of a new anthology, Labor Day: True Birth Stories by Today’s Best Women Writers, “the inner life of a woman about to give birth is a world textured and complex and all its own.”
Here, editors Eleanor Henderson and Anna Solomon share 10 lessons taken from these writers’ harrowing and sometimes hilarious stories, which range from delivering twins to a 10-pound baby, from scheduled C-sections to a birth in the back of a car.
1. Your birth experience is unlikely to match up with your birth “plan.”
Even when labor and delivery go smoothly, there will be bumps, surprises and probably setbacks you didn’t imagine. Julia Glass looks back on the birth of her second child and sighs: “I should have known better than to make any plans.” But if you can be open to what you or your baby wind up needing, you may find your laboring self far more flexible than you imagined. As Susan Burton, who wanted but didn’t get a drug-free birth, puts it, “the IV fluids I hadn’t wanted were better than ice chips.”
2. Choice can be empowering. But it can also paralyze you.
We’re lucky to live in a time and place of such endless options, but the options can be overwhelming –and can often come to feel like ethical and political choices. As Marie Myung-Ok Lee writes: “People espoused breathing techniques, epidurals, the Bradley Method, the narcotic Stadol, doulas, a morphine drip. Each person’s feedback took on the fervency and faith of a Moonie wedding; it was thus hard to know what was ‘normal.’ You have to get an epidural. Don’t get an epidural; they cause C-sections. Make sure you––” Try not to let the chorus drown out your own voice. What do you really want?
3. Understanding what your body is actually doing during labor really can help — if not with the pain, then with the fear. Continue reading