What Do You Tell an Expectant Mom About Childbirth? Nothing!
I sat beside a very pregnant young woman on the bus home from work last night. She was sitting there with her hand on her monstrous belly, reading a book of baby names. So I felt safe asking her what I almost never ask women who look pregnant but may just be fat: "When are you due?"
"Next Saturday," she said, smiling shyly.
"Your first?" I asked.
"Yes. I'm having a girl, I think. I'm pretty sure."
"I know what you mean," I said. "I knew all three times that I was having a girl."
"Wow," the young woman said, "three girls. So how was your first childbirth?"
Careful now, I told myself. Because that's a very telling question. Notice she didn't say: "What's it like having three girls?" or my personal favorite, "You don't look old enough to have three kids."
She said, "How was the childbirth?"
See, most of us instinctively know the unwritten code of womanhood: Never tell a first-time-pregnant woman the truth about childbirth and the horrors of the immediate afterwards or she will jump in front of the next available train, and truthfully, that's probably a less painful fate. (Warning that occurs to me a few sentences too late: If you are pregnant, stop reading NOW. Nothing to see here. Move along.)
Once she has already had a child, the game changes.
Get a group of women who've had kids together and things get gruesome. They try to outdo each other about how many stitches they had, how long the baby's head was stuck in the "birth canal," how long it took before they could pee without screaming.
But you don't tell a woman who's pregnant with her first child any of that. Because you know there's nothing she can do about it at this point except be scared shitless from now until the baby crowns.
You know that, just as it was with you and your sister and your aunts, once she's mid-birth, she will feel like she is live on the set of The Exorcist. She will scream and twist and sob, she will beg for drugs, she will wonder how "this thing" is ever going to get out of her.
And then she'll be fine.
She will even -- eventually -- forget how it almost killed her. It's nature's way of ensuring that we keep getting knocked up. And "the code" is part of that cosmic conspiracy.
So when I looked at that young woman's shining face and innocent, hopeful eyes, I just smiled back.
"It was fine," I said. "You'll be fine."
Then I got off the bus and prayed I wouldn't see her again until after she'd had the baby.
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Second Photo Credit: sigfridlundberg.