A friend of mine who’s pregnant with her first child wrote recently about her worries these days: At times, it scares me and I wonder if I’ll actually be able to do it without drugs and intervention. I was nodding right along until I realized she was talking about giving birth to the baby, not raising it.
I don’t blame her for focusing on the major step of getting the baby safely and happily from the inside to the outside. Birth is huge, and as we waited for Ingrid I put a lot into preparing and hoping for an unmedicated, low-intervention birth. But these days the perfect birth experience is laughably lower on my wish list.
Partly this is because Ingrid’s birth was almost dreamily good. I mean, let me be clear: It was fucking hard, and the first words out of my mouth after she was born were I’ve never been so glad to be done with something in my life. But she came out safe and healthy, and I didn’t have to have surgery, and the hospital people barely touched me, and I felt the whole thing. It was what I wanted, and for no logical reason I’m proud of how it went even though I believe that luck, circumstance, and a couple of good decisions contributed much more to the outcome than did my strength or will.
I hope this birth goes that well, and I’m doing what I can to have it go the way I want it to. But I also feel I was more than a little naive, back then, letting the big ol’ boulder of birth obscure my view of the thousand-mile, snake-infested desert* that is baby’s first year.
I think it’s a mistake a lot of us make, even those who aren’t as stunningly ignorant as I was about the specifics of life with a baby, and it’s an understandable mistake: The Birth Story genre casts a strong spell—stronger, I think, than the scores of mother memoirs on the shelves. Birth stories have beginnings and ends, and their length, when properly edited, is suited to a few minutes’ reading or a half-hour TV slot. There is room for complication and drama and emotion, but not so much that things ever stray too far from the narrative thread before the inevitable resolution: a baby appears in the world. Movies end with births.
I wrote an ultra-long account of Ingrid’s birth, which maybe I’ll even edit down sometime and post here. And no doubt I’ll do the same after this baby’s born. And I still love to read birth stories.
But now, after experiencing a good birth and a tough, tough first many months of life with baby, I’m far more interested in reading—and writing—about how we survive and thrive after the end of the birth story.
* I know, I know. But have you been in the desert in spring? It is as stiflingly hot as ever but there are cacti flowering with the most breathtaking icy pink blossoms.