Mid-way through the two-day intensive child birth preparation seminar we attended last weekend one of our instructors asked:
Who here thinks giving birth is going to be the hardest thing you’ve ever done in your life?
My hand stayed firmly at my side, while the hands of those around me shot straight up. The mister and I gave one another a solemn, knowing look, and the moment passed. It was likely a blip on the radar of so many others in the room – the woman who had to turn away during the bloody birth scene in one video, the many others who let out an audible gasp when our instructor introduced us to the Kiwi delivery device (the next-gen vacuum extractor), and the coach who got squeamish when our instructor noted that the prostoglandins in semen can induce labor. But, to me, that 5-second show of hands was one of the biggest takeaways of our child birth education rite of passage. I’m different. We’re different. Infertility doesn’t fade.
Don’t get me wrong, had the instructor phrased that question one of any number of different ways I might have joined in with my classmates. One of the most physically taxing experiences of my life? Sure. Something for which I can’t be truly prepared until the moment arrives? Absolutely. An even that will redefine physical pain for the rest of my life? I don’t doubt it. But, to be entirely honest, I don’t suspect that the physical act of child birth will really, truly be the “hardest” moment of my life. Whispering permission to die in my mother’s ear? Bingo. Walking in to maternity triage to get a double dose of methotrexate to terminate our first pregnancy? Up there too. Enduring 12 hours of contractions at home after being sent away from the hospital to birth our third dead fetus? That definitely is on the list. No, instructor, I don’t think giving birth is going to be the hardest thing I’ve ever done.
For better or for worse, I’m an education junkie and feel quite comfortable in the classroom. That’s probably why I’ve built up the act of attending a child birth seminar in my mind so very much over these past 4.5 years. It’s not that I’ve not gotten excited (and stressed) about finishing the nursery, and I even managed to find a sense of (uneasy) happiness at my first family shower two weeks ago; but, that child birth class? That’s the moment I’ve most been waiting for. That day that would tell me this is real. I’ve always assumed that sitting on a floor huffing and puffing in comical fashion with a dozen other expectant couples would finally normalize this experience for me. In a few ways, it did; but, in most ways, it absolutely didn’t.
Don’t get me wrong, we left with valuable information and I’m extremely comforted by the fact that I now have my bearings in the hospital we’ll be delivering at. (A hospital I never set foot in until Saturday.) Mr. knows where to drop off the car, I know what the birthing rooms look like, and we both know that there’s a definite disconcerting bounce to the upper floors L&D occupies. (Thankfully, I don’t think I’ll be fretting about a bouncing building mid-delivery.)
It’s just that I also left knowing that pretty much nothing is going to normalize this pregnancy after infertility stuff for me. And by that I truly don’t mean to be negative. I couldn’t be happier or more excited to meet this little man in a few short months, and I don’t remotely regret attending the classes. Just as they prepared us to navigate the built environment of the large teaching hospital campus we’ll be using, the classes also provided me with the knowledge that a certain amount of bitterness is going to be my perpetual bedfellow in this journey. I won’t wallow in it, but, sometimes it’s just nice to know the lay of the land.
And, the emotions I experienced during the class aren’t likely to go away as we (oh please God!) transition from pregnancy to parenthood. At just 30 years old, I felt old in the classroom. In league with one or two other couples, we were the “old parents.” We were frequently the babies in the infertility waiting room, so seeing so many faces lacking wrinkles and heads missing gray hair was unanticipated and a good bit unsettling.
Then I realized that most of our fellow classmates knew one another or knew our instructors. The city we’ll be delivering in is kind of a “small town, big city.” The nurses that led the class were the appropriate age to be friends with the parents of the mid-twenty somethings that occupied the room with us, and many of them were. Other classmates were young professionals with the same local firms, and still others came from the nearby army base.
In all of this, one word prevails – “nearby.” Each of our fellow classmates (like most sensible people) are a short distance from their hospital of choice. We, on the other hand, will be traveling just about an hour to get this baby out. We have to; I’m high-risk and this is the only hospital equipped to deal with high-risk patients. As our instructors taught us to leave for the hospital when our contractions were 5 minutes apart, 1 minute in duration, over the course of 1 hour, one casually commented, “… because no one’s from over an hour away, right?” I raised my hand and our instructions were altered to 7 minutes apart, 1 minute in duration, for 1 hour.
But, ultimately, I wasn’t worrying nearly as much as my fellow nervous classmates about deciding when to head for the hospital, because odds are our drive up will be timed to the convenience of our physicians, not my body, as they intend to induce if I get to 39 weeks. And induction means doing it all at the hospital. Being high-risk also means constant monitoring that made our tour of the whirlpool tubs and discussions of laboring in water all the more frustrating to listen to since those won’t be options for me. At times, I found myself sitting back and mentally saying to my fellow students, “Oh, honey, don’t worry about how big that bathtub is… you’re gonna be begging for an epidural the second you roll in. Accept it and move on.”
I had thoroughly othered myself. An older transplant to the region that would never have the “typical” birth story (whatever that is!). That’s not going away anytime soon, so acceptance sooner rather than later is probably a good bet.
Oddly enough, I only started easing into comfort with the classes on the second day when our instructors had learned enough to start calling me out as the special snowflake that I am. On day one I was pretty miserable. The class began as our instructors noted that, while their own pregnancies had been a while ago, they were still L&D nurses and instructors and were abreast of how the field had changed in the intervening years. And, even more importantly screamed one, “My kids have given my grand kids! Squeal!” To which the other one replied, “Yes, my children have been delinquent and haven’t given me any yet, but they will soon or they’ll be hearing about it!” The room laughed lightly, the instructors playfully jabbed one another, I turned a violent shade of fuchsia, formed my fist into a ball, and almost walked out barely thirty seconds into the class. I was fuming for most of the rest of the 2.5 hour session.
Saturday morning was similar in tone, and then came lunch. The instructors sat at our table and did something that oddly made me feel instantly better. We had the names of our OB/GYNs on our name tags (to help us find our “labor buddies” with similar practices?!? Yea, no one else was with my MFM…) so the one instructor asked, “So, why are you with Dr. S? He only takes really difficult cases, no?” That might have made some of you squirm, but to me it was just the opening I needed to start the conversation about how I found her comments the day before a bit unsettling. I listed off my resume – IVF, 3 miscarriages, antiphospholipid syndrome – and she went from playful (bumbling) kindergarten teacher holding the hands of a bevy of nervous fergiles to the educated L&D nurse instructor that she was at her day job. From that point on – during the tour, through our discussion of pain management options, to the section on induction and labor augmentation – she looked me in the eyes, gave me additional tips and advice, and waited until I’d asked all my questions. It’s amazing how you can go from hating something to loving something in the blink of an eye. I even began to cut my classmates some slack, not the least of which because one particularly squirmy gasper overheard my conversation with the instructor at lunch and identified herself to the two of us as the survivor of 7 IVF cycles, the last of which landed her in our midst.
I’ve always known that there are many different and equally appropriate ways for women and men to endure struggle. Mine has always been to latch on and find strength in difference. To be brash in the defense of my journey and emotions. I rarely sugarcoat the death of my mother, and – over time – I’ve come to be downright obnoxious about our IF. It’s what works for me. Others, though, are going to find strength in, well, not necessarily “forgetting,” but in moving on. Child birth videos don’t make me squirm because, well, I’ve watched videos and seen pictures of my laparoscopies and those are a wee bit more frightening to my mind. And, I was always a masochist throughout my IF. I watched the videos, I read the child birth books, I was the most birth-educated non-mother around. Whereas others can compartmentalize, I always wanted to know it all and know it NOW. No one way is better or worse, but I sure wish I had taken the time to reflect on how my methods of coping would impact my move from IF to (lasting) PG after IF to (again, please God) parenting after IF. Then again, I don’t know that I could have worked through this all any earlier than this moment. That I could have anticipated how defining myself through difference would change when the differences became different. And, that’s why I’m oddly happy we did take these child birth classes. No, I didn’t need to learn about the stages of labor, or form bonds with my fellow nervous mamas to be, but I clearly DID need to work through some of this baggage. And I think I’m closer now than I have been at any other stage of this pregnancy…